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How to get the most out of your open water swim workouts

The triathlon season is well underway in Canada. For many triathletes, this means a switch from weekly pool swims to a few open water sessions in order to get ready for an upcoming race.

While just getting in the open water may help you feel more comfortable, doing focused open water workouts can really make a difference in your swim split. Here are a few things to keep in mind during these sessions.

Open water swim in Clear Lake at the Riding Mountain Tri. Photo: Riding Mountain Tri

Swimming with a group. Swimming in a group either in open water or a pool is one of the best ways to get faster. You will always push yourself harder through intervals when you have someone to chase or stay ahead of. Having said that, you have to know when to back off. Never race your warm-ups, cool downs or recovery periods. This is hard to do in the open water when there are usually not as many stops but it is something to be mindful of.

The start of a race in Ontario. Photo: Brad Reiter

Drills. Don’t forget about them. They are still important to maintain your form and most can be done in open water just like the pool. It may be even more important to do these drills now so you can get familiar with the wetsuit.

Short Intervals. There are many ways to perform intervals in open water. You just have to adjust to the fact there may not be any markers to tell you when to start and stop them. One of the easiest ways to do a short interval in open water and keep them consistent is to count your strokes. For example, you could do 50 strokes “on” and 50 strokes “off”. If possible you could even set up a buoy line. Another way is to go by landmarks. Dock to dock, or to the big pine tree etc. This is also good for sighting practice.

The swim at Multisport Canada Niagara Falls Barrelman. Photo: Brad Reiter.

Long tempo. What’s great about open water is that there are no walls and you can do solid long tempo intervals without any interruptions which of course simulates race day. Just make sure your whole swim doesn’t end up at this pace. This is what happens to many triathletes. They become really good at this one pace but lose some of that high-end speed they worked so hard on over the winter.

The swim at Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2018.

Open water conditions. Of course, being outside may lend itself to many different kinds of conditions. You should try to swim in many of them such as waves, currents, rain etc always keeping safety in mind. You never know what race day will bring and it’s good to know you can execute a great open water swim given any situation because you have prepared yourself and you are confident.

Open water swimming isn’t just about getting used to your wetsuit. There are still gains to be had and both physical and mental preparation to be accomplished.