Open Water Swimming in the Pool

Open Water Swimming in the Pool

Many athletes are faced with the dilemma of getting ready for an open water swim when they only have access to training in a pool.  Either they live in an area with no access to the open water or they are training for an early season race where the water and air temperatures for swimming outside are too cold. 

Swim in a Wetsuit or Neoprene Shorts

Unless you're heading somewhere tropical, that early season race is most likely a wetsuit swim. And there's no better way to simulate swimming in a wetsuit then, well... swimming in a wetsuit! A wetsuit puts you on top of the water and a full suit can create extra strain on the upper body - so doing a couple sessions before the race will help you get accustomed to swimming in a wetsuit on race day. A great alternative is a neoprene short like our Core Shorts or Sprint Shorts, which provide the frontal hip and leg buoyancy of a wetsuit without the additional warmth. Swimming in a neoprene short with paddles is our top recommendation for simulating the feeling of swimming in a wetsuit and its much easier to do in the pool then donning a full wetsuit. 

Get to the race a day or two early

Get to the race site one or two days early and go for a swim in the same body of water as the race and ideally the same time of the start. This way you’ll experience the most similar conditions on race day.  Take note of the position of the sun to see if it will be directly in your line of sight as most races begin at the break of dawn. Think about what goggle lenses will work the best: clear and yellow are great for low light and overcast while polarized and mirrored lens are ideal in bright conditions. 

Five Ways to Use the Pool

  1. Same direction at the same time

A favorite of elite triathletes, this one is simple and produces great results for getting use to the contact aspect of open water swimming. Head to the pool with a friend or better yet two and get in the same lane. Swim together at the same time (not circle-swimming as you normally do).  Having two or three people swimming down the lane together will create the bumping and jostling that occurs in a busy triathlon swim especially at the start.  You’ll get use to contact while swimming and you’ll become more comfortable swimming in close proximity to other swimmers.

Rough each other up a bit! Practice crowding your friend into the lane line while you swim side by side, and then switch. The key is for both of you to stay relaxed and in your stroke while bumping into each other and the lane line a bit. - Eric Lagerstrom, professional triathlete 

  1. The Gauntlet

This one is fun. You’ll need at least two other people and the more the better.  Swimmers need to position themselves at both sides of the lane line and splash water towards the middle of the lane as the swimmer swims through the gauntlet.  Begin with gentle splashing and then do a few more reps while you increase the intensity of the splashing.  This will help simulate what you might experience with a choppy swim where water tends to splash around you especially when you turn your head to breathe.

  1. Practice Drafting

Practice swimming on each other’s feet.  Find the distance where you can feel the bubbles and learn to draft without touching their feet.  Any time you make contact with another swimmer’s feet you will initiate the kicking response.  Learn to draft without touching the feet of the swimmer in front of you so that in a race you can draft successfully without annoying the swimmer ahead of you.  The flip side to this drill is to intentionally smack the lead swimmer’s feet to acclimate to what often happens during races. That way you keep your cool with your annoying friend behind you.

  1. 50 Meter Pool

If you have one in close proximity, then make the trip. It's totally worth it. Fewer turns per swim session will give you more of an open water feel than swimming in a short course pool.

  1. Take the Lane Lines Out

If you can get enough people together or your group session agrees to it, take the lane lines out and practice your swim starts and turns around a buoy.  No buoys? Improvise: we've done this session with a swimmer standing in as the turn buoy.  Gather everyone together in as tight space as possible to maximize the feel of a swim start. Everyone races to the buoy to make the turn back to the start.  If you have the resources, you can have a couple turn buoy’s in the pool.  The more you practice being in the center of the swim start scrum the more you’ll be comfortable in the actual race.



Triathlon coach Lance Carter contributed to this story. Carter is a 9-time IRONMAN finisher who has been training and racing since 1993 and coaching athletes since 1997. He is a long-time blueseventy ambassador. His personal mission is "to inspire people to live more fulfilling lives through exercise and mindset elevation." His book 100 Lessons for Essential Training and Racing was published in 2016.