Training > Swim

Open water skills swim session

Sharpen up your sighting, drafting and turning with this session from John Wood so you’ll be ready to race

Many think that swimming in open water requires a different technique to swimming in the pool, but I’d suggest you keep things as simple as possible and swim as you usually would. There are three things you need to consider when you tackle open water, though: the lack of a push-off, sighting and drafting. Of course, you can modify your form if you want to, but that’s just another thing to think about.

The best thing you can do in a race is be calm and, by practising the skills outlined here, you’ll have more time and head space to focus on your effort and positioning.

You can perform the following drills in a club or public session, although for the drafting drill you’ll need to make sure that there’s plenty of space!


4 x 150m easy

As 50m freestyle, 50m non-freestyle

15secs recovery after each 50m

6 x 50m

As 2 x 25m side kick and 25m swim at moderate effort

15secs recovery after each 50m

8 x 25m

4-step descending effort so that the 1st rep is slow and easy; the 2nd and 3rd are quicker; the 4th a sprint. Repeat

Main set

4 x 25m

1 length head-up swimming,
1 length easy

15secs recovery after each 50m

4 x 100m

Sprint the first 5m of each length,
no touching the wall

15secs recovery after each 100m

4 x 25m

1 length head-up, 1 length easy

15secs recovery after each 50m

4 x 100m

Sprint the first 5m of each length

15secs recovery after each 100m

8 x 25m

Drafting. Swap positions after
each length

8 x 25m

Count your strokes on 1st length. Blind judge the distance using your stroke count on the 2nd. Open your eyes 2 strokes before the end. Alternate for 8 lengths and get a feel for where and how hard you pull.



As 2 x 50m backstroke and 2 x 50m
front crawl

Adapt for beginners

Take longer recovery periods, do fewer 25m reps and only swim half the length with your head up.

Adapt for Ironman

Instead of 100m reps, do 200m. Push harder on the head-up swims and sprint for longer out of the turns.

John Wood's top 4 tips

Make room

Starting from a horizontal position as opposed to treading water vertically not only gets you moving quicker but also gives you space around you. So get your legs up behind you ready to go!

Follow the lead

Drafting makes a big difference to your swim speed and/or effort if you tag onto the right person. Get as tight as you can to the person in front, either behind their feet, on their hip or near a shoulder.

Head down

The more you raise your head out of the water to sight, the more your legs will sink and create drag. Pop your eyes above the surface, get your bearings and then drop it back down into the water.


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