Training for competitive open water swimming

    oudoor training   pool training

All open water swimmers have their preferred place to practice, but there are three things all open water swimmers should think about, whether practice is outdoors or in the pool.

  1. Technique: developing a biomechanically sound freestyle stroke to optimise your efficiency in the water, often through the use of specific drills and visualisations
  2. Fitness: developing swim-specific fitness that will ensure that you can maintain your technique, at speed, over a prolonged distance, often through the use of interval sets using Critical Swim Speed (CSS) as a benchmark
  3. Open water skills: adapting your swim stroke for the specific demands of the open water environment. These include getting used to variable conditions and the close confines of swimming near many other swimmers

Training outdoors is excellent for longer stints. Sighting and drafting skills can be refined. It is a good idea when swimming outdoors to wear what you’ll be competing in. It will give you a better idea of how you will perform in an actual event. Although it is essential to train outdoors, it is also important not to forget the positive benefits that a session in the pool might offer: namely technique and fitness development. The pros and cons of both pool-only and open water-only environments are listed below. These are taken from a recent article by Swim Smooth in H2Open magazine. Best results are achieved by adopting a combination of both methods.

Open water training


  • Develop safety skills that are specific to open water swimming
  • Experience a wide range of conditions and learn how best to handle them
  • Cold water acclimatisation
  • Less claustrophobic than a pool


  • Sometimes hard to find suitable venues
  • Ideally you need someone else to be with you or supervising in case of emergency
  • Technique and specific fitness work can be harder to practice than in the pool
  • For longer swims, nutrition feeding strategies can be hard to execute without a support paddler/boat

Pool training


  • Controlled environment
  • Much easier to practise drills and distance-orientated interval sets
  • Can attend by yourself without additional support or assistance
  • Much easier to monitor progress with measurable distances against time


  • Not specific to open water swimming
  • Indoor pools can be too warm and may hinder cold water acclimatisation
  • Busy lanes can make structured drills and fitness work hard to follow sometimes
  • Following the black-line relentlessly can be boring

Competitive open water swimming is completely different to racing in the pool. Optimum performance can only be attained by many hours of effort and the best results come from training in a combination of both outdoors and in the pool.

Image Credit: and


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