Open water swimming: what you need to focus on if you are a pro

Triathlon & Open Water
Written by: Nico Gil at 21 November '15 0
You are reading: Open water swimming: what you need to focus on if you are a pro

“Open water”  swimming  will show how good you are, how tough you are, your strength, your discipline and your bravery. But that is not enough, as you know. If you want to achieve great results you must be ready to deal with a vast array of complicated variables. Open water swimming has been described as one of the toughest and most exhausting sports of all. But you already know that and, indeed, that is what motivates you. Learning how to master all the skills required for this sport is what makes you a great swimmer, a great competitor and a great man (or great woman).

The various aspects of training may be divided into three basic blocks that are the stepping stones to success: the body, mind and surrounding environment.


Structurally speaking, statistics tell us – as does logic – that the world’s best swimmers are of average build with a moderate percentage of muscle mass (they do not weigh much but have great endurance).

Can you see yourself in this description?

In physiological terms, it should be pointed out that open water swimming at the highest levels is a relatively new sport, so there is not much scientific literature available about it, but it should be obvious that you need to develop a great capacity to maintain a pace close to your VO2max and also be able to produce a good sprint finish.

Do you have your VO2max measured regularly?

As regards training and bearing in mind that endurance is extremely important for the sport you are involved in, it is vital you explore and develop this capacity to the maximum. In addition to swimming, you should run, row, ride and skip rope etc. And test yourself out whenever you can. Get to the top of that mountain, improve your bike times, increase the number of reps in your drills and, above all, put everything into your swim sessions.

Are you motivated enough?

The entire training process requires proper recovery. It is essential you keep to your recovery schedule, also making sure you make full use of the right therapeutic aids, such as massages, physiotherapy, cryotherapy and paying the utmost attention to every aspect of nutrition.

Do you agree?

So here are some things you must take carefully into account out in the water:

– Technique: body position and the stability of your upper body are crucial factors, particularly in terms of “economising on energy” over long distances.

– The ability to handle all the variables that crop up: wind, waves, orientation, nutrition/hydration.

– Experience: being familiar with your fellow competitors, race routes and the conditions you are likely to encounter will allow you to devise your own customised race plan in advance, in order to take full advantage of the slipstream and currents and also choose the right technique and strategy, not to mention the right type of swimming goggles and ideal skinsuit for that specific competition.

Open water swimming: what you need to focus on if you are a pro


We have now come to the very crux of the matter: your psychological preparation!

In endurance sports it is the mind that guides you and helps you win races. Literally….

It is the mind that helps you keep your concentration, fight to achieve your goals and make your dreams come true. Your mind will give you the strength required to get up early each morning and never miss even one of your  exhausting training sessions. It is the angel that fights the devil inside your head when you have to decide whether to go out with friends or train inside the gym, whether to eat fruit or a chocolate cake, whether to put up with the pain and chase victory or simply admit defeat.

Your mind is your best friend, your ally, the only thing that really believes in you and can help you achieve the impossible..

Train this aspect: sports psychology, mental coaching and disciplines like meditation or mindfulness are extremely powerful tools for boosting your self-confidence and the belief that you can achieve your goals. It can certainly be the ace up your sleeve, particularly in long-distance races or if your aim is to make the podium.

I would like to take this opportunity to share my favourite saying with you: “Pain is temporary, Glory is forever!”

Open water swimming: what you need to focus on if you are a pro


There are two kinds of surrounding environment: the natural environment and the environment formed by the people around you. We have already spoken about the natural environment: remember, if you aspire to win, you must become an expert at open water swimming, with a deep understanding of the sea and its conditions, rivers and all their  variables, lakes and their temperatures. You can and must train these various aspects, particularly when completing your preparation for an event or during the tapering period.

When referring to the people around you, I am talking about your family, friends, teammates and trainer. It is vital that the people around you support you, respect you, motivate you and, most importantly, believe in you. Dialogue and honesty are a vital part of this…

I would like to conclude by summing up all this advice in one simple – but at the same time complicated – equation that teaches us that we can only achieve the results we are striving for by combining all these vital components:

Body training + mind training + tactical training + experience + proper nutrition and recovery = success!


Written by:

Nico Gil

Nico Gil has lived and breathed sports ever since he was a child. Chosen to represent his country Argentina in international swimming and water polo competitions, he finished his career as a professional athlete in Europe. Today he is a renowned High Performance personal trainer. His career as an athlete, coupled with complex ongoing training and experience acquired over the years, has enabled him to develop his own cutting-edge training systems geared to different branches of physical activity: Health and Sports Performance. Today, Nico manages a sports centre in Tenerife and coaches world class swimmers, triathletes and surfers.