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Open Water Survival Swimming

The beach provides a great water workout opportunity. It will turn your body into a muscular, lean, fat burning machine.

Strength training in the surf prepares you for beach rescues. Get used to waves washing over you. Sit on the edge of the surf where waves can still reach you. Let the waves soak you again and again until you're used to it.

If you want to lose weight, build muscle, improve sports performance, or just enjoy a good butt-kicking workout, check out the exercises below. Rest 2 minutes after each workout, then move on to the next exercise.

Take longer walking breaks if you really need to. Do the circuit of push-ups, sit-ups, and squats three or four times, or add in a few other exercises.


Define a stretch of beach about 100m long, and place a lifeguard at each end. Enjoy a refreshing dip under the waves and relax for a minute or two before starting with the exercises.

Remember to do a warm up that gets the circulation going and cool-down afterwards. Any strenuous physical activity that begins abruptly has the potential to cause injury.


Open water swimming has different challenges to pool swimming. The water is colder, wind may chill you, rocks and other obstacles can get in your way. Hopefully, the situation will never be so dismal that you must rely on your swimming skill to survive. But this may happen.

Do not swim alone no matter how good a swimmer you are, go with a friend or at an area with lifeguards. In addition to safety, having another person around can help with your technique and motivation.

Open water survival swimming situations can be practiced safely. Swimming competence should not induce you to attempt foolhardy excursions in dangerous waters. Survival swimming skill should augment other survival skills and sound judgment, not replace them. Should you decide to practice these, be certain that you are accompanied by a qualified instructor.

Arriving on the beach in good physical shape is a good safety measure. Boats or kayaks should accompany the swimmers at all times. Hop into the trailing vessel if you become too tired.

Keep Safe and Warm

You should be fully clothed and wear shoes to avoid severe cuts or injury. The water between your skin and your clothes will warm up a bit after a while, especially if your wear waterproof clothes on top. You lose one third of your heat through the head, so put your hood up.

Some swimmers like to use fins, hand paddles, a variety of clothes, boots or socks, neoprene balaclava hats and wet suits, especially during the colder weather if they want to spend more time in the water.

Stay relaxed when you jump in. When swimming in salt water, particularly when wearing a wetsuit, you will be lifted further out of the water.

Cold water can make you breathe more rapidly initially. Simply relax while your body adapts to the water temperature and with time it will adjust, usually after a minute. Concentrate on breathing deeply or visualise yourself handling the swim calmly. This will help you a lot.

Do not swim through seaweed. If you can't avoid it, crawl over the top by grasping the vegetation with overhand movements. Water is quieter downwind of a heavy growth of seaweed. On sunny days water near seaweed is also warmer.

Have Fun

There is more to swimming than just doing lap after lap, turning when you reach the wall at the end of the pool. You can swim in places with no walls, like lakes, oceans, and rivers which offer a great change of scenery.

Go to your local beach for a swim instead of more laps in the pool. Depending on the reasons you swim, you may find it more psychologically rewarding. It can certainly be just as productive for building your fitness.

Open water swimming is to pool swimming what trail running is to track running and can be a wonderful activity. It is a chance to get out and simply enjoy your surroundings. You can stretch out your stroke and get into a rhythm that you can't achieve when there are walls every 25 or 50 meters.

Many swimmers realize that enjoying themselves in open water is a great form of exercise. After working out, they are in a better mood and have more energy. The sun seems to shine brighter, food tastes better and refreshing beverages feel well-deserved.

After Your Swim

Dress up warm and protect against wind chill and sunburn with an anorak or poncho. Wind can cool you down fast, but inside a wind shell you're cosy and warm.

Good food in large quantities is crucial to tired swimmers. Most swim teams enjoy their meals together to discuss the day's adventures. A sense of accomplishment is enjoyed by your group as they sip fine tea and watch the sun set over a body of water they just swam across.

Rinse Your Kit

Rinse all your clothes from salt water, lake water or pool chlorine. All that stuff can rot your kit.

If you rinse it under a tap most salt water will stay in. Wear all your swimming clothes under the shower or in the bath.

Undress slowly, so echa item of clothing gets a thorough rinse. Then hang it up to dry in a well ventilated place.

Open Water Swimming Gear List

The following kit provides a tough workout, but also protects you from sunburn, windchill, rough rocks and aggressive creatures.

Before you attend a lifeguard beach training or boot camp, swim in your workout clothes to make sure they fit well and you enjoy swimming in them. It is important these clothes fit well. Nothing is more annoying than swimming clothes that don't fit or come off. You should be really comfortable in the water fully clothed.

Beach Workout Clothes

Long unlined trousers with waist band or belt, a long sleeve top, and a windproof anorak or cagoule to keep you warm. You'll wear these over your swimwear during training.

Robust Canvas Shoes

Wear them all the time to protect your feet from sharp objects, even when swimming. Simple canvas shoes with drain holes are best. Socks help avoid chafing.

Slip-on Swim Fins

Fins are required for some exercises. Get those with a full foot as they fit better. Again, socks may avoid chafing.

Goggles or Mask

You want to be able to see underwater for some of the exercises, especially in open water. Good fitting goggles or a snorkeling mask is useful for this. The hood avoids hair entanglement and jellyfish stings.

snorkeling in lifeguard anorak
snorkeling in lifeguard anorak


A poncho is useful as warm-up shelter during the break, as changing room, and for some training exercises on the beach and in shallow water.


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