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Open Water Swim Drills For The Pool

Open Water Swim Drills For The Pool

There is a regular conversation I hear before every race and it goes something like this.


“Are you ready to race?”
“Yeah…” (chuckle) “If I survive the swim.”

“Well… good luck then.”


Many triathletes experience anxiety when it comes to open water swimming and it is completely natural. For one, our bodies are not designed for swimming. We don’t have gills or webbed hands and feet and we see poorly underwater. And we also do much of our swim training in an artificial environment that has good lighting, temperature regulated, clear, clean water with lane lines and etiquette rules.


The best way to get over open water swim anxiety is to swim in open water on a regular basis. (If you are in the DFW area, join us for our weekly Open Water Swim workouts starting in late March.) However, if access to safe open water is limited by location or conditions or time of the year, there are some drills you can do in the pool to help your open water swimming. Here are my favorites:



If you are swimming longer sets, then this is an opportunity to incorporate your sighting on each lap. Sight at least once per length or every 6-12 strokes. Remember to use “alligator eyes” when sighting. Lift your head just so your eyes get above the water and then turn your head to breathe.

An added bonus, if you have the lane all to yourself, is to swim with your eyes closed and then open your eyes when sighting. This will help you practice swimming in a straight line in murkier water. If you do this, just make sure you know how many strokes each length is for you, so you don’t swim into the wall.


Turn at the T

Pushing off the wall at the end of each length gives you a bit of an added break. You can practice your turns by not touching the wall at the end of each length or turning at the T at the end of the black line on the bottom of the pool. Although this may be a tight turn it does help you practice getting back up to speed after a turn. If you can swim in a double lane, then you can practice wider turns.


Deep Water Starts

It seems most triathlons these days have time trial starts. However, you may end up doing a race that has a deep water start. These starts can happen in chest deep water or deep water. To practice these starts in the pool, do the following:


For chest deep water, stand in the middle of the pool and work on pushing off the ground into a sprint.


For deep water starts, start in the middle of the pool starting your swim for treading water or a stationary floating position.


Partner Swimming/Drafting

Many triathletes see other athletes as obstacles in the water instead of an advantage. Ideally, athletes should spend 100% of the race with their head within 1-2 feet of another’s hip, never having to forward sight and enjoying the benefits of swimming in someone else’s wake. If you regularly swim with another triathlete, then you can practice drafting in their wake just off the hip or swimming behind them on their feet.



If you have questions about anything in this article or are interested in scheduling a one-on-one swim lesson, please reach out to me at Happy training and racing this year!



Jim Rowe is a Playtri Level 4 Coach and Coach Education Lead, a USAT LI Certified Coach, and NASM Certified Personal Trainer who works with adult athletes of all abilities from beginners to IRONMAN World Championship qualifiers. Learn more about Jim at

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