2 Drills to Increase Your Comfort in the Open Water

Back Float

The ability to float on your back and relax is a valuable skill. Some people could literally back float all day. I'm not going to ask you to do that, but I would like you to perfect a relaxed back float. Similar to treading water, if you are nervous about floating on your back, begin learning the skill near the wall, a lane line or in shallower water.

When on your back, minimize arm and leg movements to begin. See what happens when you tilt your chin to the ceiling more. What happens when you move your chin to your chest? Can you add minimal arm and leg movement to propel yourself, while using nearly zero energy?

Once you have the back float mastered, add it to your warm-up on occasion.

Warm-up No. 2

Swim 300 to 500 on your own. Include swimming, kicking and a few drills. Then do:

4 to 8 x 50: On every 50 begin by swimming 12.5 to 25, until you are in deep water. At that point stop, roll over and float on your back for the count of 3 to 5 seconds. You can skull water with your hands and add a minimal kick so you are moving in the same direction as you were before rolling over.

Be aware of where the wall is if you're in a 25 yard or meter pool. Know that the flags you see running across the pool give backstrokers warning that the wall is near. Good backstrokers know the number of strokes it takes them to reach the wall after they've seen the flags. After practice, you will gain a sense of where the wall is relative to the flags.

The last second or so of your count, begin kicking your legs. Grab a quick breath, then roll over and begin swimming freestyle again. When you begin swimming again, don't use the lane line or the wall for help. Finish the 50. Take 10 to 20 seconds between each 50 to recover.


  • Begin the 50 on your back. Propel yourself about 12.5 by gently skulling and kicking on your back. Roll over and begin swimming.
  • Alternate by doing back float on the odd-numbered swims and tread water on the even-numbered swims.
  • Kick on your back for 12.5, roll over and kick on your frontside for 12.5, swim the remaining 25.

More: 4 Open Water Fears...and How to Conquer Them

Skills, Confidence, Relaxation

As you gain the skills to tread water and float on your back, while expending minimal energy, you will find that your confidence in the water will increase and you can be more relaxed during open water swims. The knowledge that you can tread water and make goggle adjustments, if necessary, while staying relaxed is a skill to your advantage.

More: Dave Scott's Open Water Swim Tips

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