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5 Open Water Swim Tips From Ben Allen

Shifting from pool swimming to open water swimming is not a simple skill to master. Many of us aren’t as comfortable in the water once you take away that black line and the bottom of the pool.

In events like the upcoming XTERRA Phuket in Thailand on April 1st, athletes will dive into to the blue waters of the Andaman Sea for a 1500m open water swim. Large buoys will mark the course, but there won’t be any lane lines or pool floors to guide you. To help make the transition from pool swimming to open water swimming flow smoothly, pro cross triathlete and open water swimmer extraordinaire Ben Allen, has put together 5 open water swim tips and a quick workout to help you prep for your race.

Layan Beach Phuket - 5 Open Water Swim Tips from Ben Allen
Layan Beach will be the start of XTERRA Phuket, in Thailand on April 1st.

Ben Allen’s Top 5 Open Water Swim Tips

1 – Streamlined Sighting

In order to increase your ability to sight in a race, practice sighting in the pool. Throw in a few sightings while swimming across the pool. Look up two to three times and try to keep a streamlined position by not dropping your hips and legs. Being efficient at this skill is important because you’ll be doing it many, many times in a race.

5 Open Water Swim Tips from Ben Allen

2 – Multiple Goggles

Always bring two pair of goggles to a race; a clear set and a dark set. I use the clear set of goggles for rainy or cloudy days and the dark set for sunny days or when there is a lot of glare off the water. Practice with both pairs of goggles during your pool sessions so you are equally comfortable with both pairs.

5 Open Water Swim Tips from Ben Allen - XTERRA Phuket

3 – Wetsuit

A wetsuit is a great investment. Not only will it keep you warm, but more importantly it will provide buoyancy. That added buoyancy will put your body in a more efficient position, help keep you on top of the water, and make it easier to swim. A proper fitting wetsuit can take minutes off your swim time.

4 – The Right Start Position

If you can swim well, you should position yourself front and center at the start of the race. If swimming is not your strong suit, then it’s best to seed yourself towards the back of the pack. Once the gun goes off, take your time getting into the water. There is no reason to battle the chaos. It’s totally fine to swim 10-20 meters off to the side to avoid the washing machine mess. If you’re worried about losing a few second because of this, don’t stress, the more comfortable you feel in the water, the better your swim will go. You’ll make up those few lost seconds over the rest of the swim.

5 Open Water Swim Tips from Ben Allen

5 – Open Water Skills

If you have a chance to train in the open water or conditions similar to a triathlon, take advantage of it. There are many factors that go into having a great swim.  It’s not always the “fastest” swimmer that exits the water first, but the one who swims the smartest and uses the ocean conditions to his or her advantage. Practice drafting behind other athletes, learn how to read the waves, and get used to not getting a break every 25 or 50 meters from turning at the wall.

5 Open Water Swim Tips from Ben Allen - Photo: XTERRA Tahiti


To get your ready for race day, here is a short, but sweet, 20 minute swim session that Ben created.

Key Focus: Feel for water, race pace effort, and loosen up ready for race day. By swimming as much of this continuously (very little stopping), it’s good open water swim practice that can be adapted for pool swimming.

Warm Up

  • 5 minute easy warm-up (continuous swim)

Main Set

  • 4 minutes building to race pace
  • 1 minute rest (swimming easy)
  • 4x [30 seconds hard, 30 seconds easy]
  • 1 minute rest (swimming easy)

Cool Down

  • 5 minutes easy cool-down (continuous swim)

Come join Ben and the DirtTRI crew at XTERRA Phuket in Thailand on April 1, 2017.

5 Open Water Swim Tips from Ben Allen - XTERRA Phuket Website

5 Open Water Swim Tips from Ben Allen - XTERRA Phuket Facebook

5 Open Water Swim Tips from Ben Allen - XTERRA Phuket Instragram

5 Open Water Swim Tips from Ben Allen




Will Kelsay

Will Kelsay is one of the top cross triathletes in the world with a 10 year career spanning 5 continents competing in more than 18 countries. He has 20 career wins and more than 70 top 5 finishes. Anyone who has met him knows his passion for the sport is only overshadowed by his huge smile & his appetite for fun.

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