Go Open or Long in Triathlon Swim Training

I understand the comfort of your indoor 25 yard short course pool.  Your times are familiar.  Compared to what I’m about to talk about, they’re fast.  And that short way to the other side is the oh so forgiving wall.

Now if you’re a Master’s swimmer who is only going to compete at meets in a short course pool for the rest of your life … ignore this post.  However, if you’re a triathlete (and if you’re on this site more than likely you are), then you might want to hear me out.

You need to be open water swimming or swimming in a long course pool, preferably 50 meters.  Here’s why:

1.    Better Stamina Building

Whether you’re a professional at flip-turns or a slow open turn kind of swimmer, the wall is a break.  ALWAYS.  Going into the wall and coming out – in both instances – are moments when you’re not swimming.  You’re gliding.  You may not think you’re getting a rest each time (especially when you feel out of breath) but you are.  And if you never swim in open water or a long course pool, you’re hindering crucial stamina building.  As triathletes, we almost exclusively race in open water.  There’s no wall in sight within a lake or the ocean.  Which means you’ll be swimming stroke after stroke until the distance has been covered.  That means no pushing off stone and no free gliding.  Swimming in long course or practicing in open water is much akin to the incredibly crucial weekly long ride or long run.  Increasing stamina through “no break” swimming is just as important.

2.    Easier to practice sighting

Both in long course and obviously in open water, it’s much easier to practice sighting.  This is because most likely you’re taking about 20 strokes or less per length in a short course pool, which does not give much time to pop your head up and then resume proper form before the wall.  You also aren’t looking very far ahead.  In a 50 meter pool you’ll have ample time to practice sighting every few strokes per length as well as focusing on keeping proper form in between each sight.  In the open water you’re forced to practice.  And since that’s how you’ll be racing, it’s a necessity.

3.    More time to “feel” the water

Much can be encompassed in this last point and part of it may just be personal opinion.  But I believe long course and open water gives you the opportunity to be “one with the water” much more so than you’ll ever get in a short course pool.  Long course and open water brings out the true swimmer in you.  With little to no rest your swim form will take on what you’re actually going to be doing for the majority of the next race.  Therefore, this gives you the opportunity to increase swim fitness and focus on keeping proper form longer in training.  I also believe doing drills in a long course pool is more effective.  The longer you have to “feel” the water before the wall, the greater the chance that you’re going to be able to make minor adjustments in order to slice through the water more efficiently.  Also, with open water your technique may actually change.  Swimming in this environment is different than in a pool.  It changes more when you’re wearing a wetsuit.  So why train one way day in and day out and then attempt to race a different way?  That’s like doing 100% of your training on the road bike and only using your TT bike for racing.  And for those who have access to an outdoor 50m pool, you get a bonus advantage.  Swim when it’s sunny and you’ll be able to your shadow on the bottom of the pool.  This is a great way to get a visual of some obvious stroke mistakes.

TriDot Takeaway:

These are my three reasons training in open water or a long course pool is essential.  If you don’t have easy access to either of these then there’s not much you can do and you’ll have to make the best of the short course pool.  However, if you do have access, I urge you to get out of your comfort zone.  Your times in the long course pool will be disheartening.  Choppy waters and cold temperatures in the open water can be daunting.  But training in these environments bring out the best in a triathlete.  Get out of your comfort zone and I know you won’t regret it.

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