Intro to open water skills and drills & techniques to practise in the pool

Guildford Lido

With the open water season just around the corner, the lakes are gradually starting to warm up, but before the temperature gets comfortable, now is an ideal time to make the most of practising your open water skills in the pool.

This could be particularly important if you have an early season open water triathlon coming up. The lakes are currently hovering around 13 degrees, but that's still very cold!!!

If you’re not used to these cold temperatures, you might experience claw hands, the chills across you back and ice cream head, and the weird feeling when you exit the water of feeling slightly detached from your feet.

But don't panic, Guildford Outdoor Lido is a balmy 24 degrees! That's pretty comfortable for wet-suit swimming!

As an intro to open water, why not book a series of 1-2-1 swim lessons with Speedy Swimming at Guildford Lido? We run lessons all through the summer months and tailor our coaching to suit our clients specific needs.

By having lessons in a warmer pool, you'll have chance to acclimatise and swim in your wet-suit, while tuning up your open water skills.

Quite often if open water swimmers and triathletes have an early season triathlon, actually getting to the lakes to spend enough time practising can be time pressured. However there's quite a lot you can do in a swimming pool to sharpen up and improve, ready for the open water.

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The following are just a few of the techniques we teach in our pool based open water skills and drills sessions:

1. Drafting

Drafting techniques will help save you time and effort in a race. You could save as much as 18-25% energy swimming in open water by drafting efficiently and effectively.

This means you could save up to 90 seconds over 1900m, or 3 minutes over 3.8km!

By swimming in someone’s wake that is slightly faster than you, you’ll save quite a bit of your energy in open water, enabling you to swim faster than you would normally. Practising swimming in close proximity to others will ensure you get used to this feeling.

2. Sighting and navigation reference points

Did you know that you can add 20% or more to your overall open water swim race distance by not sighting effectively or often enough? We often see GPS swim tracks where swimmers have gone further than they expected. For example, swimming 2700m in a 1900m half Ironman swim due to poor sighting. Sighting every 6-8 strokes and checking on your navigation reference, regularly, is important, as is sighting effectively so you swim in a straight line.

3. Deep water starts

There are 3 methods we teach open water swimmers, all of which can be practised in the pool. These will simulate the open water start and get you ready for the best position and ensure you get into your swim rhythm and race pace faster.

4. Turning around buoys and "Crazy Ivans"

Try swimming slightly wider around the buoy away from the corner where everyone tends to congregate. Practice turning around the T at the end of the lane in the pool first, then progress to open water. You'll need to sight straight after your turn to re-align with your navigation point ahead quickly.

Depending on the race course, you may end up performing up to 4 or 5 turns around a buoy, or other non-moving object in the water. You should be practising to use these pace changes to your advantage.

5. Pacing control and awareness

Being able to maintain and control your race pace under fatigue, i.e. maintaining your technique, is really important in the half and full Ironman swim.

Great swimmers have a variety of speeds, including warm up, aerobic training speeds, lactate speeds and pure sprint speeds. Having knowledge and an inherent feel for what these are will help you in swim races, and in particular knowing whether to sprint in mass starts.

By learning what your race pace is, and how to hold onto it, by making minor adjustments to your technique, drafting and sighting well, and navigating effectively, will ALL add up to the time savings we all know are there.

Click her to find out more about our 1-2-1 swim lessons at Guildford Lido

Open water skills and drills

  • Deep water starts

  • Drafting feet and hips

  • Power drafting

  • Paceline drafting

  • Mass starts groups of 3,5,10, 20+

  • Mass starts technique - horizontal and vertical and race start

  • Sighting and navigation reference points

  • Turnarounds and crazy ivans

  • Disorientation training - somersaults, eyes closed, barrelrolls

  • Individual TT pursuits

  • Bridging a gap

  • T1 practice

Try these swim sessions in the pool as practise for your next open water swim race or triathlon:

OWS session 1 (FC = front crawl)

Warm up:

400m as 1st 200m FC then alternate by length back crawl and breast stroke

4x 25m Kick “head lead body dolphin with fins” to get undulating effect

Main Content:

10x 200m front crawl with 30 rest @75 - 80 % effort

No.s 1 + 3 front crawl turnarounds and bilateral every 3 Numbers 2 + 4 disorientation training - 5 x somersaults and horizontal barrelrolls per length No.’s 5 + 6 swim front crawl easy No.s 7 + 9 front crawl double sighting every 5 No.’s 8 + 10 front crawl time trial hard 85% effort

100m FC push phase 90 degrees - paddles with just fingers through loops 20 rest (if losing paddle then push phase of stroke is incorrect. )

Cool Down:

2 x 100 FC each of 25m polo drill (head up) and swim easy

20 rest between each 100m

Open water skills and drills session 2

Warm up as above

Main Session (T Pace / Improving Technique session)

8 x 100 @ T pace /100 40 rest

Drafting and deep water starts 4x50m FC

Deep water starts from middle of pool 20 rest 4x50

FC (3 swimmers) power drafting in a V formation 2 x 100 FC in-line drafting in pairs changing leader every 50m (+15s)

400 FC sighting every 5th stroke 30 rest

4x 200 as (50 FC Sprints Deep water starts 150 FC hard ) 30 rest

4x 50 as 25 FC / 25 fly Sprint 15 rest

Cool Down

100 fc drag fingers 100 fc zips

Open water swim - pool and open water race training plan 6 weeks

We have also designed a range of open water swim plans from 1500 metres to 5km.

This open water swimming training plan by Speedy Swimming will have you ready for the open water season in no time!

Over the course of a 6 week period you'll become much more experienced and capable in open water swimming. You'll learn the skills and drills you'll need, plus become a technically better swimmer and be more able to hold your race pace for longer in open water.

There are 4 sessions week with 2 TRX core based sessions - these include arms and shoulders, chest and back, and core and stretching.

If you have any questions you can email Nick at or call on 07958 635142

Read and learn how to control your swim pacing and awareness in our previous blog post

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