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Let's Be Imaginative With Our Open Water Swims

With the open water season well under way it’s time to look at the sort of work you will be doing when in the big blue.


Many swimmers and triathletes will focus on completing long slow swims when swimming in the open water and this blog is going to look at how you can be far more specific with your open water swims to get the most from the Open Water environment.


My favourite thing about open water is that the possibilities are limitless in regards to what sort of training session you can design for a swimmer and you can really be imaginative with the activities that you set.  I will say as stated in my previous blog that pool swimming is the most important part of any triathlete or open water swimmer's swim program and open water should not replace pool sessions.


So let's look at equipment we can use and how I have modified it to be more versatile in the open water.





Kickboard: For me as a coach kick is an integral part of your swim whether you be a triathlete or swimmer and you can still utilise kick in the open water. The beauty of kick outdoors is that you are kicking with no breaks at either end of the pool leading to a kick workout that is far more challenging. To overcome the issue of having nowhere to put your kickboard I have attached string/rope to my kickboard and a carabiner clip to the other end which allows me to safely attach the board to swim buoys on the course. The Zoggs Kickboard from Simply Swim is perfect for the task.


Pull Buoys: Many of us will wear wetsuits in the open water which will give us buoyancy in the legs but the use of a pull buoy is still essential! Where possible try to swim without your wetsuit in open water! The Ergo Pull Buoy from Aquasphere is the perfect tool for the job as the pull buoy has straps for your legs which can double up to be attached to buoys on your swim course.


Swim Snorkel: The swim snorkel is one of my favourite pieces of equipment for all levels of swimmers, this piece of kit takes breathing out of the equation and allows you to focus on stroke continuity and technique!! Be careful though, if you don’t sight you may find yourself off course. The best product by far is the Finis Freestyle Snorkel.


Hand Paddles: Hand paddles come in all different shapes and sizes nowadays and when used in the right way are an essential piece of kit for any swimmer. When buying hand paddles I always suggest purchasing three different sized finger paddles, medium paddles and large paddles each have their own benefit, with the smaller paddles allowing you to develop an understanding of what an effective catch should feel like to the large paddle which works like a weights machine in the water and builds strength. Simply Swim has a selection of paddles on their site with the Speedo Biofuse range being my preferred choice at present. There is also another interesting hand based product on the market at the moment that helps with correct hand placement which we have just started using at our tri club, check out the Finis Forearm Fulcrum, this will help for those trying to achieve and Early Vertical Forearm (EVF) in their swim.


Water bottle: Hydration is essential when training in open water. More often than not as a coach I see swimmers in the water for 2 hours plus and not take any fluids on board. This is only going to be detrimental to your performance. Check out the Maru Aluminium Sports Bottle, which can be attached to your starting buoy via the clip! You can also look at purchasing a Chill Swim Swim bag which you can store items in and attach to your starter buoy or swim with.


So these are my essential training aids for the open water so now lets look at a program that will allow you to utilize these pieces of equipment!!




This session can be tailored to your own individual needs as swim courses will vary from venue to venue, I will advise that when swimming in open water you do so at a venue that supplies water safety and a marked course.


Warm up: 1 x lap of course starting steady and increasing the pace every 75 strokes


Pre Set: 4 x large lap as ;

  1. Kick to first buoy swim round course back to start at a 70% Pace
  2. Pull to Second Buoy with Medium Hand paddles then swim back to course start with hand paddles focussing on effective catch
  3. Max effort to first buoy collect Kick Board, Kick to second Buoy, swap kick board for pull buoy and swim 3left, 3 right 12 full stroke to course start.
  4. Steady Swim to first Buoy, Max effort to second Buoy, collect kick board and finish course on kick


Main Set: 2 x large laps as: Max effort swim for 50 strokes steady swim for 50 and repeat till halfway point of course, rest for 1 minute and then repeat to course start. Rest againg for another 1 minute and repeat.


Swim Down: 1 x large course own choice at a slow steady pace Hopefully the set above will give you inspiration to design your own open water swim sessions so you can get the most out of your sessions.  



Please ensure when swimming in open water you are always safe! Happy Swimming!