Open-water swim technique: the key components

Legend Chrissie Wellington shares her key five components of a good open-water swim technique


In open water, an overly-long stroke can be less efficient because of the introduction of dead spots and pauses. So it’s important to have a faster turn-over. This doesn’t mean erratic changes, but alternating between high and low recoveries or the depth of your pull, which can relieve tightness. Finally, if you do get kicked, punched or swum over in the swim, try not to retaliate.

Advertisement MPU article

1. Unless you’re turning your head to breathe, your eyes should be focused towards the bottom, rather than looking forwards (which lifts your neck and can cause your legs to sink).

2. You should have a flattish and wide hand entry, with little or no glide/reach. It’s important to keep your hand relaxed and your fingers slightly apart.

3. A high elbow provides a strong anchor for the catch. Swimming in choppy conditions may mean that you need to use a higher arm recovery. If it’s too low, your hand could enter the water too early or be hit by a wave, causing you to lose balance. You can also use your arm recovery to wriggle your fingers to relax your arms and increase blood flow.

How to improve your ‘catch and pull’ phase in front crawl

4. The backwards pull should come straight to the side (rather than an ‘s’ shape under the body). Maintain a hyperextended hand at the end of the stroke (as it is when you try and lift your body out of the pool) to increase the length of the ‘propulsive zone’.

Advertisement MPU article

5. While some are frequent kickers, this isn’t necessary in open water. But an ‘effective kick’ is still vital. Kick mainly from the hips; keep your ankles loose and turn your feet slightly inwards. The downbeat of your kick should only be chest deep; the upbeat should just break the surface of the water with your heels. Your kick should keep your legs high enough to give you a good body position, it should be low drag and low effort so it minimises energy.

How to swim in a wetsuit

Front crawl technique: the key components

How to improve your open-water swimming in triathlons

9 open-water swim problems and how to put them right

How to improve your front crawl breathing