How to Overcome Open Water Swim Anxiety

How to Overcome Open-Water Swim Anxiety

You finally took the leap and registered for your first triathlon. But…like many others, you are a little intimidated by the prospect of swimming in a river, lake, or ocean. It’s completely understandable–every triathlete can relate to this feeling at one time or another. Since tri season is heating up, we wanted to offer some tips we’ve learned from our own experiences and others. Here is some guidance on how to overcome open-water swim anxiety.


Find a local open-water swim group to join. The best way to reduce anxiety about open-water swims is to swim in open water and become accustomed to it. (Swimming alone is never a great idea in open water anyway, regardless of experience level.)

Not only is there strength in numbers, but group members can also offer helpful tips about swimming and sighting where you’re swimming. And you get the added benefit of a simulation of a mass group start for a race. Here are some local groups that can help you get the open-water practice you need:

Juno Beach Open Water Swim Facebook Group

Inlet Tri Club

Palm Beach Masters WAHOO

Breathing Technique

We know what you’re thinking about this one: “Duh!” But seriously—focusing on how you’re breathing can help ease anxiety while swimming. Breathe out gently and steadily between your inhales. Your inhales shouldn’t be “gasps” for air. They should be steady too. Count your strokes between those inhales—most swimmers do. It will help to refocus your nervous system.

*Breathe – stroke – stroke – breathe*

Stroke Techniques

Usually, go with long, steady strokes and use those core muscles to help keep your body aligned and afloat. Most open-water swimmers use the freestyle (or crawl) stroke to accomplish their goals. However, if you feel yourself panicking or need to sight and still move forward, use the breaststroke. It’s a great way to slow your breathing and help you correct your course, if required.

If you need a break to slow things down, you can also backstroke or make like a starfish on your back to float. Any of these techniques will help.

Open Water Swim Gear

Make sure you have quality, reliable gear for your swims. Here’s a basic list to get started with:

  • Goggles
  • Colorful swim cap
  • Swimsuit, tri suit, shorts, shirt
  • Swim buoy

Your goggles should have a good seal, and you need at least some tint or mirror feature for swimming outside—even early morning or evening swims can have glare on the water. Use a brightly colored swim cap to make you more visible in the water and to help keep your goggles in place (swim cap over the goggles–trust us on this one).

If you’ve signed up for a race that will probably be wetsuit-legal, practice wearing your wetsuit at least a few times before your race. Swimming in a wetsuit requires some getting used to and is not something you want to do without practicing before you race.

Lastly, invest in a swim buoy–they’re great for visibility and taking breaks. We carry fun, colorful New Wave Swim Buoys in the store.

In addition to the essential items we listed above, there are additional training items such as kickboards, pull float, and fins we can recommend to help further refine your form and stroke.

We proudly carry a variety of essential items you’ll need for both training and race-day swims. We want to support you as best as possible for your triathlon journey. Many of our staff members are also triathletes, and we are happy to help you find the right gear for your needs and offer tips and advice for every aspect of triathlon training and racing. You’ve got this!


View posts by Julia
Triathlete, Gravel Rider, Word Nerd, Trivia Mistress, Salesperson/Content Creator at Bikes Palm Beach
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