How Do You Prepare for a 1-mile Open Water Swim?

How Do You Prepare for a 1-mile Open Water Swim?

In general, you should prepare yourself to manage the following aspects of a 1-mile open water swim:

* Distance

* Conditions

* Water Temperature

* Degree of Competition – Speed and Stamina

* Equipment


If you training for open water swims, it is a general rule that you should be able to swim non-stop for at least 60% of your anticipated open water distance.  So if you are preparing for a one-mile swim, you should be able to train consistently and non-stop for at least 0.6 miles or 960 meters (round up to 1,000 meters).  In a 25-yard short-course pool, 1000 meters is 44 straight laps without stopping.  In a 50-meter pool, 1000 meters is 20 straight laps without stopping.  For your reference, one mile is approximately 70 laps in a 25-yard pool or 32 laps in a 50-meter pool.  

So for a one-mile swim in the open water, try to consistently do at least 44 straight laps in a 25-yard pool or 20 straight laps in a 50-meter pool.  Add a few sprints at the end of the practice so bolster your total distance and give yourself an added bit of confidence. 

Remember: this is the minimal amount of distance that you should be training.  It is always better to do more and train longer if you can.


If you train only in a pool, try to enter your first open water swim that is in flat-water conditions.  If you do an ocean swim when they are big waves or large ocean swells, your experience may be quite intimidating.  On the other hand, it is best to go to the open water venue where your one-mile race will be held and do a few practices at the venue.

Learn how to breathe in the open water without swallowing any water and learn how to sight.  Sighting means to look up ahead of you as you raise your head while swimming.  Learn to swim head-up like a water polo player or lifeguard.  You do not need to always swim with your head up, but occasionally lifting your head in order to sight what is ahead of you is a critical skill in feeling comfortable and confident in the open water.

You do not have to do weight training to finish a one-mile swim, but having a stronger core will help you maintain a flat body position.  This will help you avoid any back pains.  

On the morning of your race, make sure to eat conservatively (i.e., lightly) and do not consume any new or spicy foods.  You do not want to have an upset stomach while you are swimming in the open water.  You should be well hydrated for sure.

Also learn how to bilateral breathe so you can breathe both to your left side and right side.  You may feel more comfortable breathing to only one side, but having the ability to breathe to both the left and right will come in handy in open water swimming.  You want to be able to see competitors, boats, Jet Skis, paddleboards, kayakers, lifeguards, landmarks, jetties, piers, turn buoys and intermediate buoys on both sides during your swim.

Water Temperature

Similar to how you should prepare for the water conditions (currents, waves) and distance, you will need to acclimate yourself to the expected water temperature. This is best done gradually over time with at least 2-3 months of lead time.  If the water is cold, then prepare yourself in cold(er) water.  If the water is warm, then prepare yourself in warm water conditions.

Degree of Competition: Speed and Stamina

If there is a time limit of the race (i.e., a maximum time to be in the water) or the race is with faster athletes, then you have to train yourself to swim a certain pace.  Interval training in a pool with a swim team or a private coach can be priceless.  You also have to train yourself to swim the distance.  If you are swimming a 10 kilometer swim for the first time, make sure to train at least 6 kilometers in practice – as a bare minimum.


Your equipment can include your swimwear, goggles, swim cap, ear plugs.  But it can also include fins, skin lubricants, innoculations, or a wetsuit or a techsuit.

Be comfortable in your swimsuit.  Similar to a wedding, it is proper to be attired in the right swimsuit.  In a highly competitive race, wear a techsuit.  If wetsuits are allowed or encouraged, buy the right kind of wetsuit that fits you well and reduces chafing around the neck and is flexible enough around the shoulders.  

Goggles can be clear or dark, polarized or prescription depending on your eyesight.  The fit of your goggles must be just right.  If your goggles then to fog up, then use a little baby shampoo is make them less foggy in the water.  

Make sure your swim cap fits snugly and won’t come off in the middle of the swim.  Or wear two swim caps and put your goggle straps between your two swim caps so the goggles won’t come off your head.  

If the water is cold and you are worried about your acclimation or the pollution in the water, then purchase silicone ear plugs and wear them in the water.

If the water is polluted or if there have been problems with urban runoff, then innoculations may be a prescribed prevention tool.  Tetanus, hepatitis A or B, cholera, typhoid are shots taken if the water is very polluted or gamma globulin are sometimes used that can protect you against certain diseases.  

Skin lubricants are frequently used by open water swimmers. These can include Vaseline or lanolin or Desitin or various kinds of synthetic skin lubricants or sunscreens to prevent chafing or sunburn.

Photo: Flower Sea Swim

Need more information? Try our Open Water Swimming Course.