Tips for Swimming in Different Conditions

When it comes to ocean swimming you are open to the elements and it can be quite a new challenge to face if you’ve only been used to pool swimming or even just fair weather open water swims. The tips below will help you to understand the impact of rougher conditions on your swimming and what you can do to get the best from yourself whatever the weather throws at you.

Rough water experience is essential to be able to deal with sudden changes in weather and water conditions. It makes for a well-rounded and adaptable ocean swimmer and is essential for ongoing safety.

For swimmers working towards an event it is important to train in a wide variety of conditions to ensure that you are prepared for whatever the day may bring. There are a number of things that can influence swimming conditions such as location, rips and wind direction, so the more experience you have the better prepared you will be.

Big swell with no wind will not produce rough water, where no swell and wind will. Rough water is a product of wind, usually onshore or cross-shore, and often caused by that much-disliked by open water swimmers phenomenon of wind-against-tide. Swimming into head-on wind is different to following wind and different again from cross wind.

Head-on wind and chop

Head-on chop is both tiring and will slow you down. It will also affect the normal balance of a stroke making the stroke shorter. With asymmetric short period waves, there will be no discernible pattern of waves to the swimmer. Sometimes having cleared one wave, you will crash immediately into another. Repeated impact across the head and shoulders can be the main problem. Also, the timing for sighting and breathing can be challenging.

To overcome some of these issues you will need to learn to adjust your stroke. In head-on chop you can try to drop your head lower than normal and keep your body position low, whilst maintaining rotation, to go partially under some of the chop and small wavelets which minimizes the impact.
As with all ocean swimming, try to separate your breathing from your sighting. In head on chop, as soon as you sight, you may have a sudden wave directly in front of you. Try to time your sighting from the top of a wave.

Tail wind and following chop

In tail-chop (a following wind) it can be very easy to swallow a mouthful of water. As you roll to breathe a wave can come from behind and wash over you. One solution to this is to focus more on your feet as an indicator of something coming, in essence an early warning system.

If you are about to breathe and a wave arrives from behind, you may chose to not breathe and maximise usage of the wave for speed, taking little surfing bursts of speed if you can. This is where hypoxic training can prove useful, to be able to adjust breathing timing or delay a breath to account for changing circumstances.

Side chop and cross winds

Side-chop is the most difficult for many. Breathing into side-chop can cause obvious problems with too much water being swallowed. The best solution is to breathe to the opposite side to avoid the oncoming waves. Bilateral breathing training will help in this instance so that you are well used to being able to breathe on either side. This way you can adjust your breathing according to which way the waves are coming and even change multiple times throughout a swim if you change direction a number of times.

Local effects

Obviously the location of your swim will have a big impact on the conditions you are likely to face. Some areas are particularly prone to certain types of wind, water depths and rips will vary and the direction of the sun even plays a part, especially when it comes to sighting.

If you know you are taking part in an event the best thing you can do is train at the event location as much as possible beforehand to start to get a sense of how the water works there. You might find it useful to speak to lifeguards or even local swimmers to see if they have any good tips about the potential conditions you might face on the big day.

If you find that you can’t train repeatedly at the event location then try and get there as early as possible before kick-off so that you can have at least one good training swim beforehand. A good warm up on the day is vital also so that you can adjust your swimming to suit any new conditions that have presented themselves.

These tips are provided as a rough guide only and we always recommend you seek professional advice specific to your needs. If at any time you feel uncomfortable with the condition of the water it is always best to think safety first and stay on dry land. You should never push beyond your comfort zone and swimming ability and where possible alert a lifeguard to your swimming plans.