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Open-water swimming tips from the pros
April 27th, 2012
07:13 AM ET

Open-water swimming tips from the pros

Editor's note: In this post from Triathlete magazine, pros Julie Dibens and James Cunnama share five rules of a successful open-water swim.

Rule 1: Keep your space

“In the pool, you’re in a lane by yourself. In a triathlon, you have 50, 100, even 200 people trying to get to the same spot. It’s hard to stay in a straight line. You have to figure out how to make the most of it and get a draft,” says Dibens.

“Don’t hang on to a boat, kayak or buoy [before a deep water start],” adds Cunnama. “It doesn’t make a good start because something is in your way. It’s hard to get a good kick in. Get some space.”

Rule 2: Run when you can

“For a beach start, you want to run as far as you can into the water without falling over because most people are faster running than swimming,” advises Dibens.

Cunnama adds, “Once you’re up to the thighs, it’s hard to get that dive going,” so leap in the water once it’s up above the knees.

Triathlete.com: Learn to love the pool (really!)

Rule 3: Control your breathing

“At the start of a race, your heart rate is going to be very high, so for the first couple hundred meters, I breath to one side and get to bilateral breathing later on [in the race],” says Cunnama.

Dibens adds, “Bilateral breathing is a great skill. It helps you watch certain people and see where you’re going, but I definitely have a favorite side during a race. I prefer my left.”

Triathlete.com: How to analyze your own swim strokes

Rule 4: Exit quickly

Rather than standing up as soon as possible at the swim exit, Dibens recommends to “swim in as far as you can” toward the shore. “Once your fingers start scraping the sand, stand up,” says Cunnama.

Rule 5: Watch where you’re going

Without lane lines to keep you on course, sighting becomes very important. “Eyes up at the start of a stroke,” says Cunnama. “Look forward, then turn your head to the side and take a breath before dropping the head back into the water.

Dibens adds “And don’t lift your head too high, just enough to have a look. Using a buoy to sight is okay, but they’re not huge, so ideally you want something big like a tree, building or mountain that’s behind the buoy.”

Triathlete.com: 11 tips for becoming a fearless swimmer


soundoff (41 Responses)
  1. mattski

    Elbow up like it's being pulled by a string, fingers spread. Pretty much what you see in the photo.

    April 27, 2012 at 07:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Sage

    I sure wish they would run a bright colored line along the tops of the buoys. Its tough to see the buoys when they are really spread apart.

    April 27, 2012 at 10:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. JT

    pretend like you are pulling yourself along a rope to help stay straight – looking forward constantly will tire you out and make your neck sore.

    seems like rules #2 and #4 contradict each other – the first one says to run in shallow water and the second says to keep swimming... and either way both are common sense – move fast.

    April 27, 2012 at 14:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tri Jane

      They are actually consistent. In entering the water, it said to dive in when the water is about knee deep. In exiting, it said to swim until your fingers start to scrape the sand, which will be about knee deep. At both ends, you don't want to be walking/running in water much above the knee because that is going to be slower than swimming.

      April 27, 2012 at 19:48 | Report abuse |
  4. rodney

    always wondered whether the fingers should be spread

    April 27, 2012 at 16:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Max Brooks

    Don't forget to regularly take massive bong rips of marijuana as well to improve lung function. It worked great for Michael Phelps

    April 27, 2012 at 16:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Frankie

    Forget this article. Just watch the movie "Open Water" and you'll come up with your own tips.

    April 27, 2012 at 21:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. John

    "Watch where you're going"
    Wow, that's pretty profound, glad I read the article; never would have thought of that.

    April 28, 2012 at 17:15 | Report abuse | Reply
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