"How is ocean swimming different from pool swimming?"
I'm able to swim in a pool but have never tried in the ocean. This summer I'm going to the beach and would like to try to swim in the ocean. What things are different about swimming in that situation? Do I have to worry about waves, or currents, or anything else?
Jennifer J. | Oakland, CA | May 16, 2016 |
Swimming | 3 Answers
Hi Jennifer -
Ocean swimming is drastically different from pool swimming. In a pool, you have the luxury of swimming without currents or waves - swimming on flat, unmoved water allows you to pull your body more easily through the water, without added resistance or physical elements to combat. In the ocean, you are facing rip tides, waves and swells that can push and pull your body in a number of different directions, depending on the conditions. Even if you are in good physical shape, it is highly recommended that you hone your swimming skills in the pool first, before you engage in open water swimming in the ocean. Even the most physically fit swimmers can be at risk in the ocean - the often overlooked elements such as the sudden sense of fear, shortness of breath and cold temperature shock to the body, can endanger even a good pool swimmer, if they have not properly prepared for the ocean.
Bottom line: hone your skills in the pool first and then seek out a seasoned open water swimmer or coach who can help to teach and acclimate you to the elements of ocean swimming.
Good for you to consider stretching your swim limitations to consider open h20 swimming; a wonderful alternate challenging swim environment to the pool, and a mentally refreshing experience out in nature! As pointed out from the previous Coach's response; open h20 requires a higher degree of physical conditioning, mental focus and awareness of all the nuances out in open h20. In addition, it is highly recommended that you never swim alone in open h20 and always check in with Lifeguarding staff for current conditions and recommended swim areas and if you're not conditioned to cooler water you may want to wear a wetsuit initially until acclimated. Many
many distance and Channel swimmers have not had the luxury of open h20 for the majority of their training, yet many of them have successfully completed various long distance open h20 Channel and swim events with pool training.
Some suggestions for pool work; sighting/guiding. One of the biggest challenges in open H20 is swimming straight due to currents, waves/swells, wind, and no "black line" to follow and due to the common habit of swimming either too far to right or left depending upon breathing patterns! However, you can practice sighting or guiding in your pool workouts to become more aware. Whether you breathe right/left or bi-lateral, just start practicing in a pool in a lane that's open, with eyes closed for 6 strokes, open and sight on either a fixed point on the pool deck or the end of the pool and see how you're swimming off course, then correct and close eyes again and repeat. The timing is as your "breathing arm has finished the stroke and about to enter the h20:....This drill gives you an awareness of how you tend
to pull off course and you can immediately adjust when sighting in open h20. For sighting; practice "alligator" eyes, just taking a peek over the top of the water to ensure you don't loose too much of your streamline and dropping hips. Then drop your eyes and get back into balance. IF you cannot spot your fixed point on one "peek" just drop back down then take a second quick "peek" with the next swim stroke so you're not out of balance too long. In time you'll know if you veer too much to the right or left which will help in open H20 where you just want to peek or look up every 10-12 strokes.
Another tip is to vary your speedwork and tempo in a distance set in the pool; alternating between long smooth strokes for getting in your groove, to shorter quicker strokes when swimming against a current or pacing to get through the surf or back to shore or around a buoy in a race and build your distance base of 80% of the course you intend to swim in open h20 so you've got the endurance. Always pick a fixed point on land if possible to guide off of for swimming and exiting; could be a tree, building, sign, roof, dunes, buoy or Lifeguard tower etc. Time the sets when entering and "duck dive" under the force of the waves and when you come up check to see if another wave approaching to dive under again. In the pool you can practice by running in the shallow end and dolphining down, pushing off the bottom and repeat. When EXITING the ocean....."never turn your back on the ocean" and as you freestyle towards shore, check under your armpit behind you and if possible ride a wave to shore or if a wave breaking, turn around and go under and when the energy passes continue forward again until you can stand.
Start conservatively with a half mile swim or so, then build as your confidence increases. Stay safe, swim with a buddy and check in with Lifeguards and have FUN. Ocean swimming is one of the joys of living by a coast or open h20.
What I would advise first and foremost - get a swim buddy - do not swim alone anywhere! Secondly wear a wetsuit for the cold water and thirdly I would recommend that you swim with fins at least the first few times out and even after you start swimming without fins I would recommend that you attached the fins some way - some how to your suit in case you need them. If you are new to fins - practice swimming with fins in a pool!