Transfer speed improvements in the pool to OWS

It’s dark there’s bodies everywhere, you try to breath only to narrowly avoid being kicked in the face you roll to the other side to breath and cop a slap in the face with the back of someone’s hand  Yup, you’re doing an open water swim or a triathlon early in the morning.  But it’s ok you’ve trained for this, you have put in hours of hard work in the pool, lap after lap plus you can swim a 1500 in about 17 minutes. Not too shabby. After what felt more like a UFC fight you exit the water look at your stop watch and what the hell???? 24 minutes for your 1500m open water swim but how can that be you trained so hard in the pool.


Ok so there’s no point comparing apples with oranges.  Pool swimming is completely different to open water swimming. Great swimmers such as Grant Hackett have tried to do open water swims but has been completely smashed by no name swimmers in the open water. So why is this? As is with most things in swimming it came back to technique, your open water technique needs to be different to your pool swimming technique.  Let’s take your stroke style in training at the pool, normally your will have high elbows in the recovery of the stroke and your hands will drop lower closer to the water. However in the open water that’s not going to work because if the water is choppy your hand will clip the water making you fatigued more and slow you down.


So how do you transfer skills from one to another. Well you kind of don’t.  Instead you practice the skills as if you in open water.  Some of the open water skills you need include spotting your marker’s, drafting, high hand drill, Polo drill and irregular breathing drills. These drills help to simulate the skills you might need to compete better in open water and you can practice all of them in the pool.


So when you swimming out in open water, as most open water swimmer would know you need a target or “Marker” to swim to otherwise you will swim around in circles. So the trick to picking a marker is to pick something in the distance, something beyond where you are swimming to. If you are swimming to the beach pick a high tree or a mountain out in the distance. Now to do that in a pool can be tricky but if you lucky enough to train in an outdoor pool try to use things in the distance like TV aerials on roofs, chimneys, trees or high buildings. If you’re training indoors try the best you can to use a marker beyond the length of the pool. When you go to sight your marker it is important you don’t breath at the same time, you would think you are killing two birds with one stone but your actually being counter productive. spottingWhy is that you say? Well simply because it’s slower. The action of lifting your head, looking around and trying to breath all at once can through off your momentum and make your legs drop. Of course if you are swimming in very choppy water or the ocean try to time you sighting when you are on the crest of the swell. The easiest way to see you marker is to just put a little more downward pressure on your leading hand and raise your head slightly so that you can get just your eyes out of the water. I good way to practice this skill would if you are in a short course pool would be to do 3 sights in a row in one lap and then 1 on the other and I would look to do about 8 laps.  The reason for the 3 in a row is because you may not spot your marker right away so in an open water swim you could lose your bearings, people could be in the way, it might be choppy or early morning and dark and you might need to look a little more. Another good drill is the water polo drill. Grab a water polo ball or any sort of large sports ball and then swim freestyle with it between your arms and you head up for the full lap and try and sight your marker. You can vary this drill by getting your coach or a friend to move around the end of the pool while you swim forcing you to try and find them, but once you have found them you must then put your head down for 4 strokes while they move and then you find them again.  This will help you build on your sighting technique.


My grandfather used to say “Why bark when a dog can do it for you”. So basically in open water swimming and triathlons the skill of drafting comes in pretty handy.  There are two sorts of drafting direct and arrow head.  As the name implies direct drafting is where you get in begins someone and swim behind them with your hands entering the water just being there feet.  Be sure not to tap their feet to often as you most likely highly annoy someone and cop a kick in the face. The plus side of drafting behind someone is that studies have shown you can drop your heart rate by 7 percent. The downside is that it can make sighting your marker’s tricky.  

drafting 2
Direct drafting

Arrowhead drafting is the other type and as the name also suggests you actually swim not to the other swimmers forming an arrow like shape. So if you can imagine that there is one person out in front that is leading the race, instead of trying to pass them or directly drafting behind them,  you could just sit on there hip so your hands are entering the water at about where their hands are exiting the water on the pull as you swim behind them. Then when you breath you breath to the side their on  and try to get as close as you can and keep your stroke timing synchronised so that you don’t clash hands. This form of drafting can be more effective than direct drafting as you can see your markers better plus keep an eye on the completion better.

Arrow head drafting 2
Arrow head drafting

So one last tip for converting pool speed to open water speed would be your stroke technique, believe it or not there are small things that make the two different. So in pool swimming you have your constant which is the water. Most of the time when you swim your swimming through still water you can replicate the same pull action and recovery each time. In open water swimming however there may be variables that can change your stroke, such as currents, waves and tides. So try to mix up your training think outside the box, for example if your in a 50 meter pool have some training mates lie in the water with their hands on the end and get them to kick fast and then you swim up the pool behind them so they generate turbulent water for you to swim though. This makes you have to change your breathing plus get you used to swimming in the middle of a pack where you have nowhere to go. Another one you can do, if you can, is to pull some lane ropes out and swim in a pack as close to each other as you can, so you could do 10 x 50’s freestyle on the minute but 3 people start and then 2 swim behind them giving the lead swimmers a 2 second head start. Then another person would lead 2 seconds again and would have to try to swim around or through the pack.  Then  everyone rotates around so that every person gets a chance at swimming at the back of the pack. Each one of these drills would make you have to adjust your stroke technique and breathing to fit the situation.


Don’t forget to do the right warm up before you race as this will calm the nerves and get your body ready. Plus do a few distance training sessions in your wetsuit  so you get used to parts of the suit rubbing. There are few more tips that I have found but this might do for now…..