Training TipsSwim

3 Drills for Better Open Water Swimming

by Morgan Johnson


What is an open water swim? It’s any swim that happens outside of a pool. A lot of triathlons have open water swims in a lake or river, so it’s a good idea to practice. Here are three drills you can do in the pool to become a better open water swimmer for your next race.

What is one of the ways open water is different from the pool? There’s no black line to follow at the bottom! Blackout laps can teach you if you can swim a straight line without using the black line. Start at the wall and swim 10-15 strokes freestyle down the middle of the lane with your eyes closed. Then, open your eyes and see where you are — did you stay in the middle, or did you drift to one side? Adjust your stroke a little bit at a time until you can hold a straight line every time.

When you swim in the open water, you’re not alone. Sometimes other people will run into you or you’ll run into other people. Ask a friend to swim next to you in the pool and be as annoying as possible by constantly nudging you on every stroke. Your job is to maintain proper form and swim in a straight line. Trade off which partner is being annoying every few laps.

Because there is no black line to follow in open water, you need to occasionally look where you’re going. For this drill, have a friend sit at the end of your lane and hold three signs with a number on them. Start swimming toward your friend and every three strokes, quickly turn your eyes forward and look at the sign your friend is holding. Have them switch the sign in between your breaths, and then try to remember the numbers they held up in order when you finish.

There’s a lot you can do in the pool to get ready, but nothing can replace actually getting in the open water to practice. Always take a parent or coach when you swim in open water, and remember that big bodies of water can be unpredictable, so always put safety first.

Happy (open water) swimming!

Morgan Johnson is a USA Triathlon Level II and Youth & Junior Certified Coach, and a High Performance Team Coach.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.