How to train for open water swimming in the pool

3rd May 2017

With the thought of open water swimming becoming more of a reality as the weather begins to warm up, it’s time make sure your skills are on point. An off-point mistake (such as veering in the wrong direction) can be costly on race day so it’s important to brush up and get back into the right mindset. Mentally it is also a great stepping stone from your comfortable setting of a swimming pool to a more daunting environment of the first open water session of the year (brr!). To help you transition to the open water this season, our friends at Zone3 have compiled a handy guide on how to prepare yourself while you’re still in the pool.

Open water swim preparation: which stroke?

1. Choose a stroke that you are most comfortable with. Front crawl is the ‘go to’ for most triathletes and open water swimmers as it is the most energy efficient and usually the quickest. Breaststroke is allowed in all triathlons and open water swims, but avoid backstroke as for safety reasons many events do not allow it.

2. If you only have one comfortable stroke, try and get competent in another e.g. breaststroke, in case something happens in the swim but you can continue e.g. injury, swallowing water etc. It uses less energy and allows for recovery time.

3. Be competent in your stroke for your race distance. Minimum race swims are usually 400m (16 x 25m in the pool) so if you can, have that as a minimum distance when you train. If you are swimming from scratch, work up to it and then make sure you have swum that stroke for that distance at least once.

4. Get your stroke used to swimming in a wetsuit with our Neoprene Buoyancy shorts. They’re perfect to wear in the pool to add buoyancy to the hips and keep you aligned and horizontal to the water surface. This will get you in a similar swimming style to when you’re in a wetsuit.

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Open water swim techniques: in the pool

Who said you couldn’t practise your open water swimming in the pool? Check out these top tips:

Entering the water

  • Practise your start from treading water. There’s no wall to kick off or dive from in open water. Get used to treading water as you could be doing it for a couple of minutes at the start of your race.


  • There are no lane ropes in the open water, so you need to practise looking ahead to find a marker in the distance to follow.
  • Using Zone3’s Buoyancy Shorts will again help with keeping your legs high and not slowing your swim down when sighting, hopefully like your wetsuit will.
  • Perfect looking up every few strokes, that way you won’t disrupt your rhythm.

Breathing both sides

  • If you’re able to breathe both sides in your stroke this will really benefit you, both in terms of sighting and if there is a tide out in the sea. Focus on the technique by using our pull buoy to concentrate on your arm pulls and which way to breathe on each stroke.
  • Allow your head and therefore your spine to rotate with your shoulders, inhale quickly, then turn your face back into the water with your shoulders each time.

Group swimming

  • Loads of other swimmers in close proximity can come as a bit of a shock in your first open water swim. Try and get a group for swimmers together to practise and also show off your Zone3 swimming gear!

To view Zone3’s full range of wetsuits to hire or purchase as well as other tips and advice articles and videos visit the Human Race Hub.