How to overcome your fear of open water swimming

Fear of open water swimming

It’s common to have a fear of open water swimming as a newbie (or even experienced) triathlete. Although it’s the shortest part of a triathlon, the swim often causes the most stress and anxiety. There are ways to overcome these fears and feel more empowered and confident in open water.

Here are some of the most common open water swimming fears…

Fear of fish/creatures/plants in the water

This is a really common fear, but honestly it’s unlikely that you will ever come into contact with any creatures in the water. Fish and birds are more scared of you than you are of them, and will stay away from swimmers. Personally, I find it really relaxing when I’m swimming in clear water and I can see tiny fish swimming around below me. Sometimes your arm might brush against weeds under the water which can be unnerving, but just remember it means that the lake is healthy if plants are growing there.

Fear of open water swimming

Fear of not being able to touch the bottom or sides

One of the main differences between pool swimming and open water is that there are no poolsides to hold onto and you usually can’t put your feet down on the bottom. Remember that your wetsuit will keep you afloat if you need to stop and rest. Always choose a venue which is supervised and designated for swimming, rather than jumping into a random body of water. There will be lifeguards and safety crew in kayaks, so you be assured that you are being looked after even if you feel anxious.

Fear of cold water

Getting into cold water can be a shock to the system which can make you panic and hyperventilate. Never jump or dive in, always wade or lower yourself into the water slowly to let your body acclimatise to the temperature. Submerge your face and blow bubbles- this helps to relax the lungs and alleviate shock to the body.

Wearing a wetsuit provides insulation as it traps a thin layer of water between your body which is warmed by your body heat. It’s also worth wearing two swimming caps as you lose most of your body heat through your head. Another top tip is to pee as soon as you get into the water! I’ve never been able to do it myself, but most triathletes do and it’s a quick way to warm up!

Fear of open water swimming

Fear of swimming in a wetsuit

Wetsuits can feel restrictive around your chest and shoulders, especially if you are used to training in a pool without wearing one. It’s really important to make sure your wetsuit fits properly- it should be snug but not so tight that it constricts your breathing or restricts movement. Try on a few different brands and practice swimming in it before race day (triathlon expos are good for testing out different wetsuits). Remember that a wetsuit should aid your swimming by providing buoyancy and warmth, so take advantage of it!

Fear of swimming in a group

In a triathlon mass start, you will be swimming in close proximity to other people which can lead to being unintentionally kicked, boxed in or even swam over. If you are a new or nervous swimmer, then position yourself to the back or side of the field. You might have to take a longer line around the buoys, but it will make for a more enjoyable experience than being caught up in the competitive front of the pack. If you are a member of a club, then it’s also worth practising mass starts either in the pool or open water to get used to the feeling of coming into contact with other swimmers.

Fear of open water swimming

Overcoming your fear of open water swimming comes down to practice- the more you do it, the more comfortable you will feel in the water. Build up your distance and time in the water gradually, try to stay relaxed and focus on your breathing. Most of all, enjoy the water!

Do you have a fear of open water swimming? Or any tips for overcoming anxieties?

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