For those of us who are fortunate enough to live by the coast, ocean water swimming is a great option for exercise. It has been shown to greatly increase endurance and stamina, strengthen muscles, improve skin health and boost your mood.
Open water swimming can, however, be a more risky and demanding workout. Due to strong waves and currents, substantial depths and distances, and fluctuating water temperatures, there is a lot of prep that needs to go into open water swimming prior to hitting the ocean.
Here are our top tips for training to become an ocean water swimmer.
1. Practice in a pool first.Before you head to the ocean, practice swimming in a pool. Remember that in the open water, you can’t just ‘stand up’ or ‘swim to the nearest ledge’ if you get tired. This is why it is so important to practice both swimming and treading water in a pool beforehand. Once you are completely confident in the pool, then you are ready to venture out to the open water.
2. Perfect different strokes.Different water conditions call for different swim strokes. It is therefore vital that you vary the amount of strokes that you are comfortable performing. Choppy waters call for short, shallow strokes that will keep you closer to the surface of the water, whilst calmer conditions allow you to vary your style. Have a back-up stroke for when you get tired too (breaststroke is often recommended).
3. Work on your breathing. You may be used to turning to the same side to breathe, however when waves are involved, it is beneficial to be comfortable turning to either side. Practice varying the side in which you turn to breathe. This way, when you start swimming in the ocean, you will easily be able to turn away from incoming waves.
4. Practice sighting. Unfortunately, there are no lane lines in the ocean. This makes it very easy to lose your sense of direction when swimming. There are a number of ways you can prevent this. However, one way is to practice swimming in a straight line. When swimming in the pool, close your eyes for a bit and take note of whether you veer to any particular side. Try again, avoiding any veering until you're able to swim in a straight line.
Additionally, you should practice the method of sighting. Sighting involves using an object or landmark (such as a tree, rock or cliff) to keep yourself oriented. Swim with your head up so you can keep track of your landmark, and swim in a steady direction in reference to it.
Ocean swimming does take a significant amount of preparation and training, and it can get very repetitive doing the same drills. One of the best ways to spice up your swimming pool training is to invest in a waterproof iPod or MP3 Player.
Being able to listen to your favourite music, podcast or radio show will make training much more engaging, and will help to ensure that you are adequately prepared to take your swimming to the open water!