• Mark Durnford

My Breathing becomes panicked when swimming in open water

Updated: Mar 30, 2020

I find my breathing becomes panicked when open water swimming. Even though I can swim all day in the pool, I end up having to stop after just a few metres when I'm swimming in open water. I feel short of breath and become easily out of breath - why is this?

What has been described can be very common and although it can make you feel a bit embarrassed, virtually everyone goes through it when transitioning their swimming from the pool to open water. This aside, knowing what to do to help overcome this is what's really needed.

I've referred a little bit about this in the following article - How to prepare for open water swimming - although it tends to focus more on some of the other areas of open water swimming than dealing with just the breathing issue, so some further recommendations can also be found below:

- Mentally prepare before getting in. Reflect on how it previously felt to swim in open water and use this experience to prep what to expect when you're about to enter the water.

- Get into the water before your event / swim begins where possible to help give you time to completely acclimatise. In doing so, place your face in the water on occasions while treading water to begin helping with the concept of cold water on your face.

- When entering your open water environment, allow the water to gradually seep into your suit rather than opening up the neck of the suit to encourage a fast rushing gush of water to flood in. This can often take your breath away and create a physiological shock effect. Both can be avoided by a thought out calm approach.

- If possible, do some breaststroke with your head out of the water for a minute or so to allow a warm up, while avoiding your face going in. This can also calm any nerves or tension with being in this environment before placing your face into the water.

- Before starting your swim properly, do some front crawl short swims with your face in the water. Prior to each short swim, take a deep breath in and start swimming, slowly releasing your breath while doing so. Concentrate on the breath release rather than the temperature. When the breath runs out (hopefully after 8-10 strokes or more), then continue with a little breaststroke to breathe freely before repeating.

No matter how frequently you swim or how familiarly you are with the environment, each time you enter open water your preparation should form a ritual including a combination of the above. Feel free to add / subtract any steps to your own individual process, but ultimately by doing these each time, open water swimming becomes easier, safer and more effective from the onset of your swim.