Practicing in the pool is possible to prepare for your open-water swim

By Kaye Lopez | Photo by Ryan Wilson and Chuttersnap/Unsplash

Incorporating open-water swim drills in your pool training is a great way to learn race-specific skills without the hassle of traveling to a beach. But nothing beats the real thing so try to schedule one or two open-water swim sessions in the weeks leading up to a race. This allows you to get a feel for swimming in open water as well as an opportunity to experience and adapt to the race conditions before race day.

Here are five open-water swim drills you can practice in the pool when you don’t have an ocean nearby:

Tarzan Drill

Swim freestyle with your head out of the water for the entire 25 meters to strengthen your neck muscles for triathlon swimming. Look forward as if you were sighting a buoy or landmark in open water.

Head-up/Dighting Drill

Modify the Tarzan drill by lifting your head to sight every three to six strokes just before you breathe or roll to the side. This drill will teach you to integrate sighting into your stroke without sacrificing form and speed.

No Walls

Practice buoy turns by doing a long swim set without kicking the wall or touching the floor. You may go as wide as needed in order to negotiate the turn but try your best not to lose your form or pace when turning.


If you want to save as much as 30 percent of your energy, practice drafting behind someone who swims slightly faster (about five to 10 seconds per 100 meters) than you.

Crowded Starts

To get accustomed to chaotic swim starts, modify the drafting drill by starting each interval with everyone pushing off the wall at the same time and sprinting the first 50 meters or so, focusing on quick arm cadence, then organize into a pace line for the remainder of the interval.

And a few more things to consider:

When swimming in cold water

1. Be sure to do a practice swim in the water the day before to see how your body reacts.

2. On race day, warm up your core with a short jog then swim as close to gun start as possible.

3. Slowly ease into your race pace unless you’ve practiced fast starts in training.

When the water is choppy

1. Adopt a high-hand recovery by lifting your hand high above the surface of the water so you don’t slam it into a rogue wave.

2. You may need to breathe on one side to prevent the waves from splashing into your face as you breathe.

3. Study the wave pattern and just allow yourself to go with the flow, rolling your head to the side to breathe in as the wave crests and exhaling underwater during the trough.

4. When you feel panic creeping in, count slowly as you exhale underwater.

5. Turn your face towards your armpit as you take a breath. This allows your head, shoulder, back, and recovering arm to block your mouth from an oncoming wave and create a cove of air for a clean inhale.

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