Everywhere Edge

Ask the Expert: Training for open water swims in the pool

October 31, 2007

Q: I am interested in open water swimming and triathlons, but have had limited experience with both. In open water, is a workout simply swimming straight for a long period of time, or do you mix up strokes and speed? What types of workouts can I be doing in a pool, to help with the transition to open water? For now, I only have access to the pool at my university. Jennifer K., IN

Margaret: While it may be optimal to train for open water races by training in open water, for many of us, this is not always a feasible option, particularly as we head into the winter months. The good news is that if you’re swimming at the university, you probably have access to a long-course 50- meter pool which is better to work your endurance compared to the short-course 25-meter pool.

Create a consistent schedule of workouts based on a two or three week cycle so you can track your progress as the cycle is repeated. And by balancing your workouts by alternating between days of distance with days of speedwork, it will make you a stronger swimmer all around.

In terms of stroke, focus on freestyle for the main set of your workout with variations in length and speed for nearly every practice. However, it’s a good idea to change strokes during the other parts of your workout. Even though you will be swimming freestyle in an open water race, mixing up the strokes during practice give your shoulders a break from freestyle and reduces the risk of overuse injuries.

The experienced open water swimmer definitely has the advantage so as the opportunity arises, swim in the open water—ocean, lake, or basin—in all water conditions—hot, cold, smooth, and choppy—and the more experience the better. Good luck!