Picture of Sophie Hotchkiss
Sophie Hotchkiss

Triathlon & Swim Coach @ Endura Performance

Getting into the open water can be difficult. There are many differences in open water swimming that make it more challenging than pool swimming. Here are a few things to keep in mind when getting into the open water.

Swim Stroke

Pool swimming is very smooth and clean. In the open water, allow your stroke to be a bit messy and aggressive. Keep a faster cadence in open water to help combat waves, chop, and current.


At the start of your swim, try sighting a buoy or prominent landmark with every breath. Once you are confident in your direction, you can begin to sight every 2 or 3 breaths. Sight by lifting your eyes out of the water at the beginning or the end of your breathing stroke.


Turning at buoys can be difficult with other swimmers clumped around you. Try turning close to the buoy while maintaining momentum. A faster turn can help you drop any swimmers who may be drafting you.


Remember the drafting triangle. The most effective drafting positions are beside a swimmers knees or directly behind their feet. The closer you are, the stronger the draft. Practicing drafting in the pool or swimming in a busy lane can help you be comfortable with swimming near others.


The ideal breathing pattern is every 3 strokes, breathing to both sides (bilateral breathing). This breathing style is more efficient and can help reduce any soreness you may get from constantly breathing to one side. It is important to be comfortable breathing to both sides when you get into the open water! Let’s say the sun is in your eyes on the right, or waves keep splashing you from the right, or you’re trying to draft a swimmer to your left. If you only know how to breath to your right side, you’re going to have the sun in your eyes, waves in your mouth, and you’ll likely lose sight of that other swimmers draft. Practice bilateral breathing as much as possible in the pool to become more efficient!

There are many ways to practice in the pool and prepare for open water swimming. All you have to do is add some open water specific swim drills to your pool session.

Try adding some of these drills to your next pool swim:

  • 4 x 25m Fast turnover/ 25m slow turnover, making sure you can hold proper form.
  • 3 x 50m breath every 3/5/7 strokes (one 50m effort at 3 strokes per breath, next one at 5, next one at 7).
  • 4 x 25m sighting practice, look up to the end of the lane, sight every breath.
  • 200m swim no walls: practice swimming without touching the walls to turnaround.
  • 4 x 25m mass starts: with a group of 3+ people in one lane, push off the wall all at the same time to simulate a busy race start. You should be swimming shoulder to shoulder! Swim fast for half a lane, then cruise to the end.

For some swimmers, the open water is just scarier than pool swimming. Try wearing a wetsuit, bring a bright coloured swim buoy, and swim with a friend or similar paced group. These can help calm your nerve when going for an open water swim. Although, the only way to be more comfortable in the open water is to practice in the open water. Try getting in at least 2 open water swims per week to help become more relaxed in the open water environment. Take it one swim at a time!

Sophie Hotchkiss

You can find Sophie and more resources from Endura Performance below

Sophie Hotchkiss in the open water