Why you should get in to outdoor swimming this summer (and how to get started)
There is something gloriously life-affirming about swimming outdoors.
Maybe it’s the direct connection to nature, or the bracing cold of the water – whatever it is, outdoor swimming is a fantastic way to get fit and make the most of the warmer weather – and you should probably give it a try this summer.
We get it – the thought of plunging yourself into some unknown, wild river or lake is daunting. So you need to be prepared, have your technique on point and feel as confident as possible.
We went along to an open water swimming masterclass co-hosted by Nike Swim and Swim Dem Crew – and their experts shared their experiences and best outdoor swimming techniques.
Sighting is something that you never have to have to think about until you swim in open water for the first time.
Swimming pools have lane ropes and guides painted in them, along with clear water that all help you swim in straight lines. There isn’t any of that in open water except for the buoys that are spread across the water.
The two main parts of sighting are to look forward just before you turn your head to breathe and to ‘sight’ every nine or so pulls.
If you do it too often, you can bring an unnecessary strain on your neck and shoulders.
Make sure to eat before you enter open water. Your body has to work harder to stay warm due to the typical cold temperature of lakes and the sea.
It’s even harder to stay warm when you haven’t fuelled correctly, so we advise to having a hearty breakfast before a morning open water swim.
After your first open water swim, you’ll get an idea of the parts of it that are too uncomfortable to want to do again, thankfully, there are plenty of accessories out there to make the transition easier.
- Ear plugs
- Nose clip
- Rash vests (with neck material prevent from ‘wetsuit burn’)
- Body glide
- Safety buoy
Open water swimming is about efficiency. It’s not about thrashing about as fast as you can in the water, it’s about swimming effectively so you can travel the maximum distance with minimal effort from each pull.
This means incorporating an effective glide in the water after each arm pull and kicking your legs for body balance first, rather than propulsion.
The starts of open water races are chaotic. Avoid the faff by starting on either side of the big crowd at the start of the wave.
That way you can get into your swimming rhythm in your own time, rather than being forced to sprint for safety at the start.
‘If you have never been in open water before – go in a group of a few people the first time,’ explains Peigh, co-founder of Swim Dem Crew.
‘Get an induction, don’t be silly like me and sign up for a triathlon having done no training – that did not go well!
‘There are places that do inductions and help to acclimatise you the water, there will be a classroom session and they will go over dos and don’ts, so you won’t have to just jump in at the deep end.
‘When you get in the water, flush your wet suit, get water all up in there – just get a feeling for it. Take it in stages. Don’t see it as this one, big thing that you have to do – there are lots of steps to ease you in to it.
‘You’re this small thing in this big body of water – that is the harsh reality, and you have to respect that and just take it slowly.
‘For me, personally, open water swimming is a time to just escape. That’s what I love the most – it feels like pure escapism. You get in the water and you’re in another world. Sometimes you need that.
‘In the hustle and bustle of the city there are very few places where you can actually escape the pace of that and let your brain really tune out from it – open water is a place that allows you to do that, and I love it for that.
There is an enduring myth that black people don’t swim, and while Swim Dem Crew are categorically proving that this isn’t true, it is true that swimming isn’t the most accessible sport – particularly for people from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
‘It’s super important for me to get people who wouldn’t normally swim into the water,’ explains Peigh.
‘I think I would have seen that, it would have encouraged me to do it – because I learned to swim very late in my life. I taught myself as an adult after a running injury.
‘It’s definitely about visibility and representation.
‘I try to not even say that stereotype that we have all heard about black people and swimming – but unfortunately it is there. I want to dispel that and debunk those myths.
‘We’re doing it. We do swim. And you can as well.
‘People will find confidence in that – in seeing us doing that. If you can see me, someone who didn’t know how to swim and taught himself as an adult, doing what I’m doing – that’s got to give people confidence.’
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