Speedo Q&A 2: Improving your Open Water times

Morning all!

This lunchtime (1-2pm) we're joined by swimming coach Sean Kelly who'll be answering your questions about the open water - training to improve your OW times, tips for tackling lake, river and sea swims, and how to cruise past the crowds in races.

Sean is an open water specialist who coached Team GB swimmers Keri-Anne Payne and Cassie Patten to Olympic success in Beijing. With years of coaching experience at the highest level in swimming, he's the perfect person to tackle your open water queries.

We're opening the discussion now Sean so can get answering your questions at 1pm (rather than having to deal with a rush of questions at once). 




  • As someone new to open water swimming, what drills etc would you reccomend?

    Also how do you get over the nerves of being in the middle of a dark lake!


  • I am new to o/w swimming and seem to loose form much quicker than I do in the pool where I can comfortably swim 2k at a time.

    Is it just to do with the wetsuit and practice or is there some specific stength issues I need to work on?



  • Hi Sean,

     This is my first season of Triathlon and 3 months ago could not do Front Crawl for love nor money!

    In the pool I can now complete a sprint distance in under 6 minutes, however in the local club lake I fail to replicate these times - it's closer to 8 minutes.

    I completed my first Sprint distance a few weekends ago and posted a 07:43 swim leg over 400m, but I know I can go faster. Why is my pool times not converting to OW?

  • Afternoon Sean,

    do you have any top tips as to how to minimise/avoid the shock/hyperventilation when in colder water?  It seems to be mostly on first getting into the water.


  • Hi Sean.

    Must admit - I love open water swimming. Much nicer than in the pool and my speed is better. Key thing that nags me is "sighting". How annoying it is to think your driving nicely through the water, only to look up and find you've gone 15 degrees off target and wasted a load of effort.

    Any tips, please, on efficient sighting?

  • *lurks for the answer to FeFe's question as I suffer with that"
  • Supplement to FFs question... 

     Every single open water mass start I am able to swim about  25 metres then find myself surrounded on all sides and being swum over, my adrenalin is pumping and breathing all over the place. I always end up having to stop due to hyperventilation, swim some breaststroke to get my breath back and then carry on. After about 5 minutes of this faffing i can settle into a decent rhythm and swim the rest of the course with ease.

     In more recent races I have tried to prepare for this and tried to relax, slow my breathing and slow my stroke but I have not been able to make a difference - what else should I try? Its becoming really irritating that i lose 5 mins every race due to this, especially as I am a reasonable swimmer so would love to demonstrate that with my swim times.

  • As most of the time you get in the water and don't get chance to do any swimming to get warmed-up, do you have any advice on good warm-ups to do before you get in
  • @Sean

    is there much of a difference between an OW freestyle stroke and a pool freestyle stroke?  Keri-Anne's freestyle looks more like a typical pool swimmer and looks more elegant than other OW swimmers.


  • Hi Alistair,

    The way to get over the nerves of being in a dark lake is just to do it. It's not as bad as you think. Some drills would be- practice swimming with your eyes closed for 5-10 strokes, learn to swim straight and also practice in the pool learning to sight so that you know your going straight.


  • Hi Beth,

    I don't think doing 2k in the pool is enough. I think you need to be able to swim up to 5k and you need to do it at least 6 times per week.

    You could maybe do this once or twice per week in a wetsuit. Also introduce interval training in the pool.

  • Hi Sean,

    If I'm swimming in a pool going in a straight line is never really an issue, if I try 4 strokes per breath and go for 6 or 7 breaths without sighting, I end up going off at about 45 degrees to the left of where I want to go, the only way I've found of fixing this is to deliberately reach across with my left hand when it enters the water so it is across my body, is there a more efficient way of sorting this out please?
  • Hi Nathan,

    The pool will be faster because you have turns and also it sounds like maybe you are not swimming straight so practice swimming straight.

    As before black out your goggles and practice lifting your head in training to sight.

    Good luck.

  • Hi Ferrocous,

    Before you swim sit with your feet in the water for two minutes- that should cool your blood down so you avoid hyperventilation.

    Hope this helps.

  • Hi SlowerthanIlook...

    Practice with your eyes closed for 5-10 strokes in the pool. The better you get the further you can go.

    Also practice in the pool- lifting your head to sight. It's a very common theme.

    If you are daring you can also black out your googles and practice in the pool with people watching you to ensure your safety.


  • Hi Kleptomania,

    Two things- to stop hyperventilation put your feet in the water for two minute to cool your blood and get used to the water temperature. Also try to swim to the outside of the field so you are away from the pack. This should help.

  • Hi Robert,

    Not really- just good mobility of the arms and shoulders. Skipping can be a good way of warming up.

  • Hi Bos,

    Keri-Anne has a great stroke but the main difference is depending on which side you breathe, you breathe on the opposite arm forward to sight and then continue to breath to your breathing side in the same movement.

  • Hi Sean,

    I am doing the Eton swim that is part of the Speedo Open Water Series. This is my first race... what would be you top tips for getting through this?



  • Hi Power,

    As before - practice with your eyes closed until you get used to swimming in a straight line for between 5-10 strokes.

    Stroke count each length and then when you get better at this then black out your goggles under supervision with people in the water and this should give you a better feel for swimming straight.

    Also practice sighting every 5-10 stokes and if you find you can't swim straight you will need to keep sighting as you go. Hope this helps.

  • Hi Archie,

    Start slowly and try and stay out of trouble in the swim. Start to build your effort to finish well in the swim and just remember that you will only get better from here on.

  • Hi Sean,

    What training equipment would you suggest for open water swimming? Don't want to buy the whole shop!

  • Hi Sean

    There's so many different wetsuits on the market what would be the best one for a begginer?

  • I find that my transition from swimming to cycling takes the longest, any tips for getting my wetsuit off quickly?
  • Hi Marianne,

    I would say goggles would be essential- Speedo biofuse are great. It's always best to try them on in the shop to see what fits best. Dark googles for when it's really sunny and a clear pair for when it's cloudy and when you are training in the pool are essential.

    A good Speedo wetsuit is must. You will also need to get a pull buoy (again Speedo do these) - this is to recreate your body position when you are wearing a wetsuit when you are training because it raises your body up similar to the way a wetsuit would in open water.

  • Thanks Sean.

    How are you and your athletes feeling about the World Champs in Sanghai?

  • Hi Natasha,

    You can get some good entry level suits would be best. I wouldn't recommend buying the cheapest one as this will affect your swim. Many wetsuits on the market are designed more for water sports than open water swimming so stick with Speedo and you won't go wrong.

  • Hi Steve,

    Practice makes perfect. Wet your suit and practice getting it off. As you are coming out of the water you need to start unzipping immediately. You will need to have the top part of your wetsuit off before you reach your bike.

  • Hi archie,

    We are really excited and a little bit nervous but we've done everything so far in preparation to qualify for London and we hope to continue with that.

    We need to finish in the top 10 in Shanghai to qualify for the London Olympic Games. I coach Cassie Patten and Keri-Anne Payne. We have altitude training in two weeks time to give us an extra edge.

  • Hi Sean, thanks for your response, agree with the sentiment about swimming away from the masses but not always possible and actually i want to be able to get in there with the best of them. Is there some specific activity/drill/practice i should be doing to try and eliminate "the fear"?

     My OH has suggested taking me sea swimming and then simulating swimming over and being swum over until i get over it!?

     Thanks, klepto

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