Group swim pool training for better open water swimming


We hope you have been practising our recent technique tips for getting open water swimming training right in the pool.

You should now be reasonably confident swimming in open water, and have been using the pool to refine your technique. The next step is to add some other swimmers to your training sessions, to take you through your journey to becoming a proficient open water athlete.

Let’s get you mentally and physically ready to take to the start line, listening for the gun, eye focused on the first buoy next season.


Three is not a crowd!

Most of what we will be suggesting in this article needs three swimmers, though if there are more of you, all the better. You need to be similarly matched in swim speed ideally so break up into teams of equally matched trios.

We are looking at three things here, drafting, the “washing machine analogy”, and managing dirty tactics.


Perfecting your swim drafting technique

Your drafting technique needs to be second to none. If you get it right, you will swim faster and will be less tired as you exit the water. This has got be good news for any triathlete.

Get it wrong however, and you could ruin your race. If you choose to follow the wrong person, you could head off in the wrong direction blindly following someone who can't sight. If you end up swimming with someone slower than you, because you are drafting, you will think the easier swim is because you are being smart. Only hindsight will be able to tell you.

By staying close to your lead swimmer, you will save huge effort by being pulled along in their slipstream. The lead swimmer will create a bow wave, which moves forwards and sideways. Ideally you need to position yourself between ankle and hip in the middle of the sideways wake. This will keep you away from the messy water coming off the lead swimmer’s feet, and you will not have to lift your head to look over the swimmer to sight.

It takes more practice to draft effectively in open water than simply sitting on someone's feet - which we all do for an easy ride in the pool.

In a race scenario the start and finish will see you involved in a lot of sprinting and kicking, so at these points in the swim you need to sit on the hip of the lead swimmer. Mid-race you can drop back to the feet position where the water is smoother, but without the bow wave.

It’s best to keep your options open when racing and, as is our oft-repeated mantra, you must remember to practice both sides!


Swimming in a washing machine!

The next step is to move onto swimming in the washing machine. Not an actual washing machine of course, but the metaphorical jumble of water that is part and parcel of the open water swimming scrum in busy races. You need to get accustomed to choppy and turbulent conditions and how to take the occasional blow to head or body with a flailing arm or foot.

So for this, there needs to be three of you in one lane, tightly packed for some specific sets.

  1. Deep water start, single lengths, three abreast, flat out.
  2. Deep water start, singles, three abreast all breathe left.
  3. Repeat all breathe right.
  4. Repeat right hand person breathes left, left hand breathes right, middle person bilateral.
  5. As above so everyone gets practice in all places.
  6. Swim in a line and swop leader every 50m, everyone swimming the lead twice.
  7. Repeat with lead swimmer pulling onto poolside at deep end and rejoining the back.
  8. Repeat, with third swimmer sprinting to front on first length and holding front on second.

By the time you have done all of this, you will have forgotten to sight. Admit it, you forgot to sight didn’t you? So, when you have perfected the above, try adding in a sight mid-length and you will see that it's getting harder now.

To make it even harder, see if you can use the pool to swim diagonally, this means there is no black line to follow. Obviously if you are in a public pool with genteel lane swimming going on, you might not want to raise the anger of that many other swimmers!


Adding a buoy into the mix

On another day set up some buoy practice, using each other with a bright swim hat on if need be, or a pull-buoy with a weight hung from it so that you have something to aim for.

You need to do these sets packed together so may need a lane to bring you all together once you have mastered the sets without.

  • All race to the buoy and do a 90 degree left turn, stay close and really get used to fighting for your turn space, then sprint out of the turn.
  • Repeat right.
  • Repeat with 180 both left and right turns.

If there are enough of you, put in a gate with two buoys (a great thing to do with any resting swimmers!). Position these, say ten feet apart half way up the pool, start in line alongside each other, race to the gate and get used to the arrow effect of all heading for one place. All turn left, then repeat the distance again, all turning right.


Managing dirty tactics

When managing dirty tactics, we do of course mean coping with being the victim, not being the deliverer. So let’s just get that straight first!

In the washing machine you will be fighting for space to actually swim in clear water, and invariably you will be swum over. When this happens, you will feel a hand go down on the small of your back and the other swimmer will push down as s/he swims over you. This isn't really a dirty move per se, it's just what happens. To best react to this, let yourself go under and then come up for air and carry on swimming.

And so, in the safety and calm of the pool, practice swimming over each other. If you know what to do when it happens to you, you will be thankful. You will also need to know how it feels too. If you are a frequent competitor on the triathlon racing scene, it is only a matter of time before you get your first taste of it.

When you are on the receiving end of someone who has decided to not play by the rules, you will also need to know how to cope…

Pulling someone else's ankles to propel yourself forward is not good sporting conduct. Again practice being the victim and just getting on with it rather than reacting, pointlessly, in the water. The time for altercations is not in the middle of a lake as other triathletes sail past you.

Then we have zip pulling, and this one is definitely a dirty tactic. It will ruin your race if the zip comes down fully. Your wetsuit will instantly fill with water and it will be impossible to do up again. Make sure you tuck your zipper pull inside the collar return to make it hard to grab hold of easily in the water. And if someone does it to you, make sure you get their race number.

Goggle removal is another show of bad sportsmanship, though they can be pulled really easily from your head in the scramble into the water. It is really simple to avoid this one.  Simply wear a swim hat, then your goggles and another swim hat on top. Sorted.

So all that remains to be said is to get out there with some of your closest swim buddies and practice your worst-case scenarios.


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