Thinking of Joining USA Triathlon?

Be a part of our 550,000 member community of multisport athletes. Membership benefits include a subscription to the quarterly USA Triathlon magazine, discounts from USA Triathlon partners, inclusion in the national rankings, excess accident insurance at events, and savings at races. To see why you should join or renew today, visit the membership benefits page. Already a member? Login below.

Forgot Password  |  Forgot Member ID  |  Help Renew Membership Become a Member

Boost Your Comfort in Open Water

By Lisa Lynam

swimmingOpen water workouts are beneficial to include as part of your swim training during race season to boost your comfort in open water conditions. Whether the water is murky, weedy and wavy, or clear and calm, regular practice that allows you to find your form and maintain focus regardless of the conditions, both of which are key to success on race day.

This open water workout will increase your comfort with sighting, drafting and endurance pacing, plus bilateral breathing and treading water starts.

Workout Notes
Before working out in open water, consider these factors:

  • Safety: Don’t swim alone, and always know your limits. If the currents, tides, or waves are too much for you, don’t hesitate to stop and seek help from the lifeguards on the course. Consider what help is around in case of emergencies.
  • Wetsuits: Use a well fitting suit to provide you with warmth and buoyancy, and more ease in the water.
  • Group skills and strategies: Practice with a group will allow you to best develop your abilities to handle the challenges of open water in a typically chaotic triathlon swim.

If the open water is not marked with distance buoys, set your watch timer for your aerobic pace for 100s to get an idea of your distance covered.


  • 400m, or time equivalent swim, freestyle

Main set (open water swim skills practice)

  • 5x — alternating 30 seconds of sighting/navigation and 30 seconds of eyes closed (use your watch timer to beep every :30).

Note that any veering off course may also pinpoint the need to correct part of your stroke since a dropping elbow on one side will result in a stronger stroke on the other side pulling you to one direction. This skill may also be beneficial during your event in order to tune out all the outside stimulus (including frightening looking water!) and focus on your on internal body and breathing. Learn to enjoy getting in the zone without the use of sight and feel for the bubbles of the person in front of you to draft in.

  • 2x200m or time equivalent of free style inserting back strokes every 20 free strokes (the use of periodic back stroke with your freestyle teaches you to check out the pack behind you and the environment around you). Rest interval 20 seconds.
  • 4-6x200m or time equivalent in a group. Rest interval :30 for base pace work in early season, or 4 minute easy recovery for faster than race pace effort done in race season. Practice with a group similar in ability in order to rehearse drafting and changes of leadership. Get comfortable passing with a strong kick, and being passed closely and still staying relaxed.
  • 10x(50 strokes on as fast as you can/50 strokes off easy) Work the power and distance per stroke.

Breathing for wave conditions

  • 9 minutes relaxed: 6x(:30 of swimming breathing to the left, :30 of swimming breathing to the right, :30 of bilateral breathing).
  • 3 repeats of treading water starts: 3x(1 minutes tread water [with hands out of water for advanced] followed by a fast start and 50m sprint), rest interval 1 minute. 

Exits and wetsuit removal
Just because you hit the beach, doesn’t mean your skills for the swim portion are over. Like the entry at the start of the race, exiting the water and removing your goggles, cap and wetsuit efficiently is another skill to add to your triathlon tool kit.

Lisa Lynam is a USA Triathlon Level II Certified Coach and the director of the Women First Swim program in Austin, Texas. She is also the author of Triathlon for Women: A mind-body-spirit approach for female athletes.