Open-water swimming: how to develop your OW swim skills in the pool

Optimise your pool time and accelerate your performance development in the open water with these simple pool-based swim drills

How to optimise your pool time to improve your open water swimming

Open-water venues may be opening all over the UK but, you’ll be thrilled to know, development can still be accelerated in the pool. (While there, wear your wetsuit and goggles to see if you need to make any repairs/new purchases.)


There are loads of things you can still work on, such as sighting and how to breathe at the same time. Practise sighting every six strokes to really groove a rhythm.

Next – swim intervals. Start in deep water away from the wall. Assume a horizontal position while kicking, sculling and looking straight ahead, before accelerating fast. Turns away from the wall with no foot down can also be introduced – this is hard work!

If possible, practise swimming side-by-side/in groups, within a lane, to learn how to swim confidently in close proximity and draft effectively.

If you have an early-season race, try and get in the open water a couple of times, so that you can adapt to the cold and learn how to transfer your skills.

The Session

Take a 15-20sec rest interval for all sets


100m easy


Drafting swim on feet, change lead swimmer each 50m

2 x 50m
25m head up/25m swim

2 x 50m
25m crocodile eyes/25m swim

6 x 50m
Build to race pace with deep-water starts



2 x 50m

6 strokes head up/6 strokes swim

2 x 50m

6 strokes croc eyes/6 strokes swim

8 x 25m

Sighting every stroke

4 x 50m

Sighting every 6 strokes

starts and turns

6 x 100m

Build to race pace with deep-water starts and ‘no wall’ turns

DRAFTING (in pairs)

10 x 50m

Drafting on shoulder/hip, changing lead swim each 50m


200-400m easy



Learning how to do open-water turns in the pool is lots of fun and can also be used as great conditioning work, e.g. having to accelerate out of the turn with no push-off.


Starting fast/cleanly is important to setting up a great race and potentially ‘catching a draft’. Practise the skill individually and then, if you can, do some group starts in the confines of a lane.



By swimming in a group and practising drafting techniques within the confines of a lane, you’ll develop great discipline and also become more aware of your race pace and how to manage it.

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