4 ways to transform your swim workout into effective open water training

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by Kyle Schulke

Almost every triathlon holds their swim in a lake, river, or ocean.

There are many challenges triathletes must face in the open water that are difficult to simulate in a pool. Unfortunately, many of us only have regular access to a pool for swim training.

Swimming in a pool is great for learning how to swim and perfecting your swim technique, but there are some aspects of open water training that are difficult to replicate in a pool. There are some steps you can take though to feel more confident about open water swimming without having to locate the nearest lake, river, or ocean.

Below are the top four ways that I help my swimmers prepare for open water triathlons from the comfort of our own training pool.

1. Lose the Lane Lines

If your pool allows it, take out all of the lane lines for a real open water experience. This is the best way to replicate open water swimming without having to swim in a lake or ocean. Start in one corner and swim the perimeter of the pool for 10 to 20 minutes. Turn at each corner of the pool to mimic turns around buoys. This is also a good time to practice sighting. Being able to sight properly will help you find the buoys during the race and help you to see if there are swimmers around you. Place cones or other objects on the pool deck and at different points in your swim pick your head up and look for the nearest object.

If you swim with a large group, strategically place people in the pool at different points along the perimeter and arm them with kick boards. As people swim by, have them churn up the water with the kick boards. This will make the swim more realistic and challenging. It will also give the swimmers with kick boards a good arm workout!!

2. Pack the Lanes

One of the most daunting aspects of swimming in a triathlon swimming in a pack of people, all fighting for the same space in the water. Many new triathletes get panicked when they are hit or kicked in the water, but this is a common occurrence in most races. In order to feel more confident in your abilities, you need to get accustomed to swimming with people around you.

To get used to the chaos of swimming in a pack, swim 25s with two other people in the same lane. All three of you should start at the same time and fight for the lead until you reach the other end. Practice some strategies you may have to protect yourself from the wailing arms and legs of your competitors. Have competitions to see who can navigate the maelstrom and become king of the lane!

3. Ditch the Walls

When you train in a pool, it is easy to grow accustomed to pushing off the walls during every lap of a swim. The walls give you extra momentum and can provide you with a brief rest during your set. Using flip turns during swim train makes your practice more effective and more enjoyable, but you need to be accustomed to swimming in open water. Getting used to swimming without a boost from the walls is important to be successful in the open water.

To replicate the experience, I will have my swimmers flip or turn at the “T”. When you do this, make sure not to push off from the bottom of the pool. You want to remove any assistance the wall or bottom provides to simulate the constant swimming of being in the open water. This will be awkward at first because it is difficult to start swimming from a stop. Sometimes in a race you may need to stop to sight or to get around a buoy. Getting used to swimming from a dead stop in the water will improve your overall swim fitness and get you ready for the open water!

4. Tread Carefully

Not all triathlons start the swim on the shore or in shallow water. Some races start the swim leg out in the middle of a lake or river. Races such as these required athletes to tread water, without touching, for an extended period of time. Being unprepared for this can be daunting for first-time triathletes and seasoned veterans alike.

Prepare for this by treading water in the deep end of the pool for at least five minutes before starting each set of a workout. Use a breast stroke kick and scull your arms to keep your head above water. The goal of treading water is to keep yourself afloat without tiring yourself out. This exercise will give you practice keeping yourself afloat without wasting too much energy.

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