Training for Open Water in the pool

Training for Open Water in the pool

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Open water swimming can be a bit of a shock to the system if you’re not fully ready. But luckily, there are plenty of ways to prepare for open water in the comfort of your own pool.


When swimming a long distance, it is vital to be comfortable with your stroke.

The majority of open water competitors will swim front crawl so start by making sure yours is in good shape.

A few tweaks to your front crawl technique could make huge differences to your stroke efficiency and save you valuable energy for that final 200 metres!

Try incorporating some stroke work into your swimming sessions - get into the habit of counting the number of strokes it takes to complete a length then aim to reduce your stroke count but maintain a similar speed.

It also helps to have a back up stroke to swim easy with if you need to recover.


Open water swimming is no splash and dash.  In fact, most mass participation events are at least 1km (that's the equivalent 40 lengths of a 25m pool or 50 lengths of a 20m pool).

  • Before attempting your open water swim, you need to be confident you can complete the distance and although many lakes are no deeper than chest height, it is useful to be able to swim the distance without putting your feet down.

The best way to prepare is to make sure you can comfortably swim FURTHER than your open water distance in the pool.

As a newbie to open water, you'll probably want to stay outside or at the back of the pack in your event which might mean swimming further than the stated distance.

  • If you're a bit daunted by the distance of your swim, gradually build up to it using the challenges section of MySwimfit.

Choosing from a selection of rivers, lakes and coastlines of mainland Great Britain, you can log the distance of each swim and track your progress on a Google map in MySwimfit.

You don't need to swim 1km straight away - just gradually build up your distance as you feel more comfortable swimming non-stop for longer periods.


So you're front crawl might be poetry in motion and you might have the endurance of the Duracell Bunny but you need to be prepared for a few more surprises the open water will spring on you.

And luckily, you can prepare for most of these challenges in the comfort of your own pool.


  • You may not know it, but without the lane lines and ropes the chances are you wouldn't swim in a straight line in the pool. The bad news is in the open water you won't be able to see the bottom of the lake and you will want to stear as far away from the banks as possible.
  • All this means you need to look ahead of yourself during your swim to find a marker in the distance then keep looking up to make sure you're heading towards it.
  • Looking up is a fairly simple thing to practice in the pool - try perfecting it so you don't disrupt your rhythm.
  • Practise swimming in a straight line by (while supervised and in a safe environment) closing your eyes while swimming and seeing whether you naturally swerve off left or right (most people do). Try tweaking your stroke to straighten your natural line.

TECHNIQUE: Deep water starts

  • There is no wall to hold on to or kick off in open water so get used to starting from treading water.
  • You may need to tread water for a while before the start of an event so it's a good idea to practice being able to do this in the deep end of your pool without using too much energy or raising your heart rate.


  • Very few open water swims are completely straight line from start to finish - most will involve turning around a marker buoy, often four or five times a race.
  • If you have space in the pool and a willing practice-mate (you could take it in turns?), swim up to and round your friend without touching the walls or bottom of the pool.

TECHNIQUE: Breathing both ways

  • Breathing on alternative sides is recommended for pool swimming anyway, but in open water events it may become a necessity.
  • If you're swimming side-by-side with another competitor, it's preferable to breathe away from them to prevent splashing or being caught in the face by their arm.
  • Breathing both ways may not feel natural at first, but focus on your technique and it will become more comfortable.
  • Let your head and spine join the rotation of your shoulders, inhale sharply then turn your face smoothly back in time with your shoulder rotation.

TECHNIQUE: Group swimming

  • Larger open water events can be somewhat chaotic with scores or even hundreds of people swimming in close proximity to each other.
  • Needless to say this will come as a bit of a shock the first time you swim in an open water event so you may want to try and stick to the outside of the pack.
  • However, practising group swimming with four or five of your friends in one lane of the pool will certainly help you get used to the feeling.

Got any tips you use to practice open water in the pool? Let us know below.

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