Pool training for open water swimming



Now we are in the off season for open water triathlons, you will reap dividends practising some skills in the pool.

These are not eyeball out intensive sessions, but ones to give you some of the skills you will need to become second nature. Practising in training sessions will make these skills instinctive to you on race day in the heat (or actually more like cold) of the moment.

We will start in this article with things you can do on your own, before moving on to group sessions in the next piece.


What to wear

Begin by wearing your normal pool swim kit, then and add in a mix of trisuit, trisuit and wetsuit and swimskin if you are planning non-wetsuit racing next year.

You can also take this as an opportunity to try out a different pair of goggles rather than assuming your existing ones are right for you. Also try out a new swim hat, neoprene hat or different goggle combinations. Finding a new piece of kit that changes your game is a revelation and you will never know what works best for you unless you try out new things from time to time.

Take a toy buoy or big buoy and buoyancy shorts with you to the pool to simulate the higher body of a wetsuit, but don't fall into to the trap of only swimming with one. So mix it up a bit with the gear you wear over the winter training season and keep yourself on your toes.


Go in at the deep end, after all you have no choice with a deep water start

OK let's start in the deep end and let’s work on those deep water starts. When racing you need to learn to command your space, so tread water and spread your arms wide and scull with them. If you can, tip forward slightly and make a gap behind you too. Do a massive horizontal breast stroke leg kick and half a dozen strong freestyle arm strokes. Repeat with the other arm doing the first stroke.

Because the start is usually total chaos you will need to see where you are heading and be able to breathe. So to prepare for this, practice lengths in the pool with your head out of the water, looking forwards. Don't breathe to the front but take a breath to the side and then rotate your head back to the forwards position for sighting. This way your legs won't drop as you breathe, and you won't take a lungful of water instead. As per our normal nag, make sure you are able to breathe either side. Winter is the time to practice!

Now mix the two drills from the deep end, start hard and do a length fast. This way you can control your pace and place, swimming how and where you want to swim.


Practising sighting, turning and pacing

The middle of a triathlon race is all about sighting, turning and pacing. In your pool sessions, you need to learn to breathe twice to one side, then three strokes, and two breaths to the other. This keeps your options open on seeing what is going on around you when out in open water, and it means you are able to mix up a pattern if need be. Try a length to the left, a length as above, a length to the right and then a length bilateral.

Now, count how many strokes for a length, deduct 4, pull your hat over your goggles, swim the strokes. Do you stay straight? Do you always veer the same way? Now is the time to find out. Sighting practice in the pool is essential. The straighter you swim, the less often you will need to sight.

In most waters you can sight with “crocodile eyes”. Essentially you will breathe to the side, like we practised at the start, rotate your head with only your eyes out the water, sight, drop your head straight back down and carry on stroking. If it's rough water you may need to really lift your head high and this may be better chance for you to catch a breath then. Practice now in still water.


For when you need eyes in the back of your head

Let's learn a clever trick to see what's going on behind you, if you need to know. Essentially you roll on your back, have a sneaky peak, and roll back onto your front in one motion.

So to practice this, take a stroke with your right arm and leave it outstretched in front of you. Roll your body away from the outstretched arm, and then as you roll onto your back finish that stroke with a backstroke. Your left arm then backstrokes and by this point you are able to look behind you. Take your right arm into a backstroke as you roll back the same way. Once facing front again, the left arm resumes a front crawl stroke.

You should lose very little momentum if you can nail it and it’s easier than fitting wing mirrors to your goggles.


Goggle management

How many times have you heard people complain that they lost their goggles, or that they filled with water or they fogged up? Get your goggle management under control!

Firstly, make sure you invest in decent goggles to start with and once you have them, look after them. Keep them in a goggle case for instance, rather than just chuck them to the bottom of your swim bag.

To combat water sneaking into the lenses, do some lengths to halfway up the pool. When halfway take off your goggles completely and then put them back on without refilling them with water. Make this your personal challenge to defeat this, and you will reap dividends when racing season is back.


Practice the pool exit, and exiting that wetsuit

We all know the feeling of collapse on exit of the water in a triathlon – you are coming to the finish, and it is the terrible stand up and be dizzy moment. This can be all but eliminated by getting the blood flowing round your whole body before you exit the water. Nail this technique now in the pool.

Swim your penultimate length normally and then another length with your legs kicking hard but your arms NOT turning over any faster. Try not to just swim faster. Then try finishing at the deep end, hauling yourself out of the water and standing up.

Once you are out of the water, every time you are swimming with a wetsuit on, practice getting it off in a hurry while you are at poolside. Time yourself with the pool clock. Don't for goodness sake though put a lubricant in it to make it quicker, the swimming pool don't want an oil slick spread across the top of their beautifully clean pool and they might not let you back next time.

Lastly, and there is always a lastly in our articles, rinse your wetsuit in the showers, inside and out. Make sure to rinse your goggles and your hat too to get all the chlorine out. Take the whole lot home in a drybag and hang it inside out to dry and this way you will keep your kit in tip top condition too.



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