With fluctuations in water temperature, surface chop and currents open water swimming can sometimes feel like an entirely different sport to pool swimming, therefore requiring a different skill set than pool swimming.
However, even the best open water swimmers in the world do much of their training in a pool. Pools offer objective feedback, interval training, and a controlled environment where coaches can have a greater impact on performance. Also, depending on where you live, you may not have easy access to open water.
Introducing drills and sets that target open water skills can make pool workouts more specific and enjoyable, and are a great way to keep practicing these open water skills over the off-season.
Dolphin Dives: Beach starts and finishes in ocean races require the ability to quickly dolphin dive under or with waves. Using the waves properly will let you shoot forward and often gain an edge on competitors. In the shallow end of the pool, dive down with your arms out in front, touch the bottom with your hands then feet, and explode off the bottom at a 45-degree angle (jump forwards and towards the surface).
Watch this video to learn more about dolphin diving in the ocean.
Sighting: Sighting is an essential skill in any open water swim. Practice keeping your head as low as possible while still being able to spot your destination, then rotating your head to either side for a breath as you finish the sighting stroke. Place 3 orange cones at different positions on the other side of the pool and alternate sighting between the three. Tarzan drill (swimming with your head up) is also a great way to strengthen the neck and back muscles required for effective sighting.
Learn more about the finer points of sighting here.
Pace Line: With a group of swimmers, do several long swims where everyone leaves 2-3 seconds apart and the leader rotates each 100. The leader can drop off at the 100 and hop on the end of the train, or for a more challenging set, the person in the caboose can sprint alongside the train to take over the lead when it’s their turn.
Pack Swimming: Swim 3-4 swimmers wide in a single lane to simulate the contact of pack swimming. If you’re on the outside, get on the middle swimmer’s hip – that’s where you’ll get the greatest draft. If you’re in the middle, try to drop them.
Stroke Rate: A high stroke rate is preferred in open water, especially in rough water, where surface chop and currents would laugh at an extended arm attempting to glide. Figure out what tempo you comfortably swim at in strokes per minute (spm), and increase from there.
Deck Ups: The reason the sprint up the beach at the end of a race hurts so much isn’t because you’re not a good runner, it’s because the rapid transition from horizontal to vertical causes a significant heart rate spike. Get used to this in the pool by sprinting 50s and immediately upon finishing, climbing out of the water and standing straight up. No hunching over!
Finally, the next time you’re stuck in an overly crowded lane at the pool, smile and remember it’s great open water training!