1) BEFORE YOU GET IN THE WATER
1) Become familiar with the open water you are about to swim in. Here at the Gyro Loop, there are few surprises—the water is usually calm and less than 6 feet deep at any point most of the swim season. There is never a current, although winds and waves can make swimming challenging. Consider the weather and water temperature before getting in. Learn more about this swimming area on the home page here at gyroswimloop.com
2) UNDERSTAND WHAT MAKES MANY SWIMMERS ANXIOUS ABOUT SWIMMING IN OPEN WATER
What is different about open water swimming, compared to pool swimming? Any of these resonate some anxiety with you?
- Deeper water—can’t stand or see the bottom.
- Dark unfriendly water—no lines, no lane ropes.
- Cold water—harder to feel relaxed.
- Different taste.
- Things in the water—wildlife, weeds.
- Things on the water—boats, watercraft, waterskiers, kiteboarders, debris, other swimmers.
- Waves, currents and wind.
- Can’t easily swim in a straight line (sighting is needed);
- Distances look longer, more daunting.
- Less support (no lifeguards nearby)–more confidence required in your fitness and your abilities to help yourself.
- Swimming in a wetsuit, which may feel restrictive.
The more uncertainties you have, the more you lose a feeling of control and start to feel overwhelmed—and anxious.
This series of lessons is intended to get you comfortable with most of these variables, but they require putting in some time in the water, and practicing some of the prescribed drills regularly.
3) UNDERSTAND THE BENEFITS OF YOUR SWIM EQUIPMENT (to help lessen anxiety).
- Wetsuit– Gives thermal protection, improved floatation, improves core stability/better body position, and faster swim times.
Making sure your wetsuit fits!—good size, comfortable around the shoulders, chest and neck. Some tightness is expected. Give your shoulders as much play as possible: Put it on properly, make sure it is right up into the crotch to allow maximal redundancy for your upper body, especially your shoulders. Above 20°C water temperature, thinner neoprene, sleeveless or shorty wetsuits may be better options.
- b. Goggles—Improves visibility in water, and eliminates irritation to your eyes. You need to make sure your goggles fit your face, that they have a good seal, and they don’t leak. Goggles are a personal item based on your face shape-find a brand that works well for you and keeping buying the same model as a replacement…. newer ones are best for a reliable seal and anti-fogging, especially for races and long swims. When getting in, improve the seal with a bit of moisture on the gasket, and press them lightly onto your face for a suction fit. Be aware that the split strap is intended to straddle either side of your occiput, so it does not slide up or down. For open water, goggles should have some extra features: consider tinting, reflective or even polarized goggles to reduce the effect of glare. Some prefer a larger “mask” goggle to increase peripheral vision and sighting needs.
- c. Swim Cap — Keeps your head warm, streamlines your hair, and allows others to see you better if they are brightly colored. For insulation a silicone cap is thicker than a latex cap, and you can even double cap in colder water (15°C or less). In open water, the brighter the color, the better. Some put goggle straps under their caps. Some even consider a neoprene cap if you swim in cold water regularly.
- Personal Swim Buoy. One of the latest open water technologies to improve your visibility in open water. This is something you tow behind you as you swim. It makes you more visible to people monitoring you, as well as to watercraft. It can also provide you extra floatation and something to hang on to if you need a break—they can easily hold anyone’s head above water. It provides a feeling of security for open water swimmers.
IN THE WATER:
1) ACCLIMATIZING TO THE WATER
- Walk in (don’t dive), get your hands and feet wet—that will tell you how much adjustment you will need. When the water is under 15°C, the water may feel painful to your hands, feet and especially your face, but will ease with continued exposure. Splash water on your face and neck, to reduce the conflict of the cold shock response and mammalian diving reflex (the first stimulates heart and respiratory rate, the second suppresses it).
- Then dunk in, do a few strokes to get some water in your wetsuit to start warming it up.
- Swim some more to find an easy breathing rhythm that you can maintain, and stop. Does the wetsuit feel comfortable, and not restrictive anywhere—neck, shoulders?
Are you breathing harder than expected? Is your heart pounding more as well, or faster than expected? Notice any brain freeze? Notice the added challenge of finding the right breathing pattern. This will depend on how cold the water is. Your breathing needs to be in control before restarting. Easing in to your swim, and staying relaxed allows you to maintain breath control easier.
2) THE POP-UP DRILL
To get comfortable with the floatation ability of the wetsuit, try the “sit on the bottom drill” for 10 seconds. You will find that your net buoyancy pushes you steadily upward, no matter how hard you try to sit on the bottom. This drill proves that open water is not out to get you or swallow you up, but rather wants to spit you out!) Remember that scuba divers in wetsuits have to wear weights to keep them from floating back to the top. Your wetsuit is your built in life preserver—feeling a little less anxious yet?
3) DEVELOP AND GET COMFORTABLE WITH A REST/RECOVERY POSITION WHEN IN DEEP WATER (YOUR “HAPPY PLACE”)
When you need a rest in a pool, it is usually easy to stand, hang on to a lane rope or pool edge, or get out of the water, none of which are easy in open water, such as when swimming across a lake. Therefore, if you need to take a rest in open water for whatever reason, you need to trust a new rest position, such as floating on your back, treading water, sidestroke, or breaststroke–something that can help you mentally and physically regroup, calm down, and/or reclaim control of your breathing if you have lost it–before restarting your swim.
To practice this, try a sustained swim for 200-400 meters or more, following the marked buoys if you prefer, taking recovery rests as needed without putting your feet down on the sand. Get back into your stroke when you are ready.