Ask the Experts: Open-Water Q+A with James Lock

Hi everyone,

Elite triathlete and founder of British triathlon brand Zone3 James Lock will be answering all your open-water questions live in the forum tomorrow between 1-2pm.

James was a nationally ranked junior swimmer and runner, who then discovered triathlon at Loughborough University. A swim specialist, in 2006 he became World Biathlon Champion and World Amateur Aquathlon Champion. He continues to lead the swim section of a number of high profile elite races.

In the same year he graduated with a First Class degree in Architectural Engineering and he also won a prize in the Loughborough University Business Plan competition. This prize encouraged James to work at the Loughborough Innovation centre where he developed British triathlon brand, Zone3.

James will be joining us live in the forum on Wednesday to answer all your questions about open-water swimming. As an expert in the field, he’s the perfect person to quiz about training or racing technique. He’ll also be able to advise you on any kit quandaries you have.

We're opening the discussion now so James will be able to get stuck in straight away at 1pm tomorrow - so start posting your questions now!




  • I'm due to do my first non-wetsuit open water swim in 2.5 months.

    How will this differ to wetsuit swims?

    How can I prepare for this event in training?


  • E mmyE mmy ✭✭✭

    Hi James,

    This may sound like a really stupid question but I have a fear of open water. Do you have any suggestions for those that are not particularly confident in open water or suggestions for overcoming it? I know rationally there's nothing to be scared of but that doesnt stop me from shaking like a girl when i'm near the edge.

    I'm sure that HTFU is the most likely (and best) advice but anything else would a bonus.

    Thanks, Emmy.

  • BookyBooky ✭✭✭

    Hi James, 

    I was wondering how you would go about managing nutrition on a long distance open water swim? I'm considering a 10K and know I would benefit from taking on fluids/food during, but am not sure how I would manage the practical aspects of actually eating and drinking. Any tips would be great.

    Thanks, Sarah.

  • Hi James,

    I have a strong swim background so tend not to struggle with distance when training for open water swimming. Over the last few swims my times have been exactly the same, what advice would you give me in terms of training to have a faster open water swim?

    Also, I will be taking part in the london tri in a few weeks, and am worried about being able to get my wetsuit off as it is quite tight around the feet and ankles. Is it ok to cut the bottom to mid calf to ease taking it off?

    Thanks, Julia

  • Hi James,

    I'm rather 'directionally challenged' when it comes to open water swimming- apart from sighting more are there other things I should be looking to do or change?


  • BookyBooky ✭✭✭

    Hi James,

    One more question if I may! How important is bilateral breathing? Is it something that I should focus on improving, or does it not really matter?

    Thanks, Sarah

  • Hello everybody, thank you for your questions so far. I'm looking forward to going through them with you now. James

  • To Kate,

    One area which some novice swimmers forget is how important the leg kick is during front crawl. Once you have a strong and fluid leg kick this can seriously help your body position in the water and have a knock on effect to improving your arm technique. Integrating more front and side kicking into your swim training will not affect your run speed and hopefully will improve you swim technique and speed. Just remember to keep the ankles really relaxed and floppy so your toes are facing directly behind you.

    Hope this helps!


  • Hi Ktpie,

    It can feel very different swimming without a wetsuit, especially if you are always used to using one in open water. You’ll have to deal with the reduced buoyancy as well as the cold water. You can build up to swimming in cold water by getting in as much as you can….with water around 20oC now it could be the perfect time to start getting used to it as it will certainly drop off over the next 2.5 months.

    Buoyancy wise, you should focus your training on getting into the streamlined swimming position and working on a strong and endurance leg kick. If your leg kicks fades then your speed will really drop and the swim will get harder and harder. A wetsuit will always keep you up in the right position but without one you’ll need better core stability and a smooth and consistent leg kick.

    Good luck!

  • Hi James,

    Recently I've been swimming in a pool with a wetsuit and I was surprised just how much quicker I was. I was expecting to be a little quicker but I was cruising at around 3 or 4 seconds per length quicker than normal. What I took from this was that my catch was probably okay but that my body position is holding me back. Maybe sinking hips.. Are there any drills you could suggest to fix this?



  • Hi Emmy,

    It’s not a stupid question and I know loads and loads of people who have the same thoughts. I think everybody does at some point so it’s just about controlling the worry, keeping positive and starting slowly to build confidence.

    There is no need to go hacking off straight onto a 1500m loop. Try and get in the water slowly with some friends and just create a small straight of around 15-20 meters close to the edge where you can start and stop regularly.

    In the UK you’ll need to be prepared for not seeing anything under the water (there is nothing to see anyway) but just focus on your stroke technique and start with just very short distances until you feel ready to go further. Try to always stay relaxed and think about your breathing.

    I hope this helps


  • Hi James I've entered the Windsor triathlon sprint next year- my first ever and besides dreading the open water bit, what advice can you give re wetsuits? What type ? What do you use to lubricate it etc thanks prob very basic Q but I'd love some advice please. Thanks
  • Hi Sarah,

    Although I haven't done a 10km swim race myself, I know that a lot of the event organisers do have 'feed stations' along the course where you are able to stop and take on some fluids. I would only stick to drinks and energy gels rather than going for any solid food and make sure you have swallowed it well before starting swimming again. More importantly prepare for the 10km a couple of days before and on the day of the event. Increase your intake of carbohydrates such as pasta, rice, potatoes and ensure that you have good energy stores before the start. Also, consider making sure that you're well hydrated before the start and supplements such as Dioralyte are popular among the top athletes. 

    Hope the swim goes well!


  • Hi Sarah,

    Also, I don't personally think bilateral breathing is that important. This is the way that most swim teachers will tell you how to swim as it can help with balance and sighting in the water. But, I always breath every 2 strokes and just rotate which side I breath to every 25m or so. For me it's all about getting as much oxygen in as possible and keeping it aerobic. 


  • Hi Julia,

    Open water racing and training can be very different to pool training. I really had to change my approach when switching from pool to open water. Try doing more sub-threshold swim sets but for around 20-40 mins. Keep it as aerobic as possible so you're going as fast as you can but without going over the red line! Combine this with some shorter distance speed sets nearer the time of the race to get peak fitness. Also, train in the open water and aim to get a more relaxed and fluid technique - be less worried about perfect form which would be needed in the pool.

    For your wetsuit, yes most suits can be cut down on the arm and the legs to allow them to come off quicker but I would only recommend cutting the legs and use v sharp sissors. The Zone3 wetsuits are design with a silicone coating on the arm and the legs to try and help this common problem. Example below:




  • Hi FF,

    When it comes to sighting in open water it does take some practice. Sighting can often slow someones swim down a lot if it is not smooth so practice trying to perfect your technique so it becomes part of your stoke. Before you breath to the side, gentle raise your head upwards, take a look at the direction and then swivel your head from that position to the side and take your breath.

    Also, if you are finding it hard to see the buoys before you start look at what is in the skyline behind the buoys - maybe there is a tall tree or landmark you can head for instead which is more clear.

    Hope this helps


  • Hi Brian,

    Exactly, the most common problem for all swimmers is body position in the water. It is so much hard if you have to drag your hips or legs lower in the water and will make you much slower. As I mention to Kate, I'd try and do a lot more work with and without a kickboard. Work on your front and both sides. Hold the board at the very top and also with just your finger tips at the bottom. Work on using your abs and kick to keep yourself alinged in the water. 

    The Zone3 buoyancy shorts have proved to help many swimmers with this problem:

    A wetsuit also has a slick surface as well which reduced any drag from swim trunks, body hair etc so this will also make you faster.

    Thanks for your question


  • Hi Alison,

    Great to hear that you have entered Windsor - I've done the race myself many times.

    For your wetsuit you should definitely get a triathlon or swimming specfic wetsuit. This will ensure that you a performance fit and give you lots of flexibility around the shoulders whilst also giving you buoyancy to help your endurance. It will really help to improve your swim speed. There are a number of brands available and price generally go from £100 up to £1000. If you can spend over the £200 you will get a much better suit for your money and have a more comfortable swim.

    Some swimmers will but a lubricate such as bodyglide on the back of their neck incase the wetsuit rubs but again they should be build for comfort so this is not always needed.

    As I said to Julia, the Zone3 suits could be a good option because you will be able to get them on and off easily which can always be a problem for novices.

    Here is also a link to some of our reviews so you will know what to look for: 



  • A quick question from me:

    How competent do you need to be at swimming before you take on your first triathlon? If your swim is weak, can you still make up the time on the bike and run?


  • Yes, you could always make up the time on the bike and run but swimming open water can always be a challenge in itself so it's always best to be as prepared as possible. You don't have to be a strong swimmer but you should try to train regular for the race, be comfortable and confident about swimming the distance and also have some open water experience before starting. Sometime failing to prepare can be preparing to fail! 

  • That's all we have time for!

    Many thanks to James for such excellent advice and thanks to everyone who joined in the webchat. 

    We'll have more webchats over the next few months, so do keep checking back at 

  • Thanks very much James for the advice image
  • Hi KittenKat,

    Yes you are right, I am a keen swimmer and I am training for my first triathlon, so wanted to make the most of having an expert to answer my training questions and settle my nerves about cutting up my wetsuit image

  • KK - I don't think strong swimmers are disadvantaged in olympic or sprint races. In an average olympic race a strong swimmer could make up 3 or 4 minutes on the swim over the lead group. I don't think a strong biker or a strong runner would make up any more than that on the bike or the run. Do you think they could? In your case you must have been well above average in 2 of the 3 legs so it makes sense that you did well.

    In iron distance races i would definitely agree that the swim should be longer but that would probably raise problems for nutrition. If it was much longer I think you would need some kind of drink and food stop on the way.

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