There’s more to open-water training than swimming in a lake. These plans will help you make the most of your training time.

A key principle of any successful training programme is being specific in what you want to achieve. This applies to swimming, where no matter how good you are in a pool you still need the confidence, fitness and skills necessary to swim fast in open water. Open water can be exhilarating and rewarding, but also presents a range of unique challenges – deep-water mass starts, close proximity swimming, navigation and turns around buoys, swimming in currents and tides, breathing in turbulent water or swells, cold water immersion or sun glare and transitioning through a variety of swim exits.

Don’t leave your open-water swimming to race day. Use the following session examples to build some structure into your open-water swim training, develop your performance and take on more exciting open-water swim challenges with confidence. If you are a novice, you should spend some time in the pool developing the skills required for open-water swimming: sighting, swimming straight, bilateral breathing, drafting and close proximity swimming. Otherwise, find a venue that’s safe and provides an environment that helps build confidence, such as a shallow gravel pit lake with calm water, and ideally get some coaching support.

No matter how experienced you are, try to train in waters that are similar to those in your goal races. Surf swims are very different to lake swims! These three open-water sessions should add plenty of structure to your workouts, so you get the maximum benefit from your swim time.


Open-water warm-ups
Pick any one of these warm-ups and complete it after a short initial acclimatisation swim of 100-400m.

Open-water main sets
Pick any one of these main sets and perform it after you’ve done a warm-up. It is also occasionally worth including specific time trials over a set course, or taking part in single-discipline swim events to test for improvements. Try doing ‘round the buoy’ relays (with a beach exit and entry if the venue allows). It’s great fun and motivational in a training pair or group. It’s important to practise in open water before you race in it.

This article was originally published in Triathlon Plus magazine. Save time and money by having every issue delivered to your door or digital device by subscribing to the print edition or buying digitally through Zinio or Apple Newsstand.

You’ll find loads more triathlon training advice in’s Training Zone section.

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