STRIVING to Swim: Open Water Swimming Tips

On Saturday morning, the STRIVE Team headed down to Brighton for their first official open water swimming session. The Core team and triathletes are preparing for their 3.5KM swim across the the Straits of Messina from Italy to Sicily as part of the final stage of the Virgin STRIVE Challenge 2016. 

Whilst many of our team have been racking up the lengths swimming pools or outdoor lidos, swimming in the sea is a new and daunting test. For one of our Core Team Strivers,  Abdullah Puri, the training session was a challenge in itself….

”Since I saw the The Steven Spielberg film Jaws, in which a human-hungry great white terrorises a small New England resort, I’ve always had a phobia of swimming anywhere my feet can’t reach the floor. So when I first got told we have open water swimming training in the sea in Brighton, I was quite apprehensive. I was even more anxious on the day due to the weather conditions causing the sea to be extremely choppy. However, after a few self motivating mantras I did manage to motivate myself to dive in. There were times where I started panicking and was close to giving up (partly due to the fear of a shark following me). It was then that I realised what striving is all about, overcoming your greatest fears, and in the end I did manage to finish the session albeit slower than the rest of the group. On the whole it was a very good experience and one that I’m excited about trying again in September” – Abdullah Puri  


Whilst the weather was a little cooler, and there was no sharks and jellyfish in sight, the experience of  the coastal swim was great practice for the strong currents and waves the team will face in September. Before the team headed out into the waves, they gathered round in their wetsuits to hear some swimming tips from their coach Rick Kiddle. Rick shared his expert tips from choosing the right equipment to perfecting your technique.  Here are some of our favourites:

Relax, Relax, Relax in  the Water. How do we relax? It’s all about swimming with Confidence & Control.




Wetsuits are great for open water swimming. You will go a lot faster in the wetsuit, but remember you will be using more energy, so tire quicker. Making sure you get the right fit is important!  Your wetsuit fit should be snug, but it should not constrict you swimming movement. Chaffing can be a huge problem in the wetsuit even for the most experienced triathlete, so try to use a cream such as BodyGlide to prevent the problem, especially around the neck area.

Our local supplier in Sicily is comfortable that each swimmer chooses whether or not to wear a wetsuit for their swim section of Strive 2016. However, it’s a delicate balance of weighing up the benefits of wearing a wetsuit (buoyancy support, confidence for some swimmers etc) with the potential problems (discomfort due to lack of training in it, and possible overheating).

Thank You Speedo for supplying all our Core Team with awesome wetsuits! For more tips on training in your wetsuit check our our Wetsuit Guidance Doc.

Swim Cap

The brighter the swim cap the better…  then we can spot you from the boat! Swim caps are also great to prevent heat loss from the head. We will be providing some awesome Speedo swim caps for the Straits of Messina 🙂



Mask type goggles that cover your whole face are great for open water swimming. The stress that you get from not being able to see outweighs how much you look like a frog! Your goggles should stick to your face and not fall off even without strap. If they do fall, it may be time to invest in a different pair.

How do you stop your goggles from fogging up? Don’t use spit or washing up liquid- it never works! Buy some anti-fog lens spray. It will last for one swim per use and will make sure you can see clearly for your whole swim. Make sure you wash your goggles out afterwards and check the instructions if  you wear contact lenses as well.



Stroke Technique 

For efficient swimming your main focus should always be about on your shoulder rotation.  For long distance swimming, don’t kick your legs! They are the biggest muscle and if you kick the whole way you will run out of energy. Instead you need just a flick-  the movement should just be flicking your ankles. It should be enough to help you balance and elevate you a little. There are only four times in a race when you should kick, at the start, round the buoy, to catch another swimmer,and at the end to make sure your legs don’t go dead… but remember this is not a race!!


Always look forward, never look down



Breathing is key in open water swimming!  Don’t use bilateral breathing (breathing to both sides).  Instead, breath every two strokes. Timing is important too. Try counting one for a breath in, and three for a breath out (breathing out should be three times longer than breathing in). When you are breathing out, you should be blowing out bubbles. Remember… in the water, everything should feel like it is in slow motion- no panic!  

Another tip would be to try Pop-Eye Breathing, so called because it looks like pop-eye chewing spinach.  This is where you angle your mouth to the side; it will make  you keep your head low without swallowing water.

Always breath in through your nose and out through the mouth.  Breathing properly releases hormones that calm you down. It is a great way to help you relax so that you can feel confident and in control. A great way to practice this is through parasympathetic breathing. Check out this great speedo blog for further tips.



Use the ‘Crocodile Eyes’ technique to sight. This is where you  lift your head slightly to look forward, to check the direction you are swimming. Don’t sight at the same time as you are trying to breath, because if you lift your head to high, your legs will drop and you will start to sink.  Instead, time your sighting, when you are blowing out, just before you take a breath. Only lift up enough to get your eyes out of the water.

It is great idea to practice this in the pool as well, so it will come easily when you are in the sea, and won’t disrupt the rhythm of your stroke.

Check out this youtube video for a visual explanation…


Getting in and out the sea

Simply make your way in slowly and watch the waves.  Never try to jump over the ways; always duck under. When you are coming back to shore, keep watching over your shoulder. Still duck under the waves, to avoid smashing into any of the rocks. The waves are powerful and you can easily get knocked over.


The next steps…

The conditions on the swim in Brighton were tough… so for all those who came along you should be feeling fairly confident for September . If you haven’t had a chance yet, get yourself down to some open water swimming sessions so you can have a relaxed, control and confident swim in September!  

Thanks to everyone who came to down to the swim support us, including the Jigsaw Medical team who will be providing all the medical support on the road in September!