Open water swimming vs pool swimming. But which is better for triathlon training? Now that the triathlon season is well upon us and the water temperatures have increased to a balmy 18.5 degrees C it is perfect for open water swimming practice.
Personally I much prefer open water swimming. The idea of open water swimming in crystal clear seas or lakes compared to a swimming pool inspires me.
Since triathlons are largely open water swimming events, in particular anything over Olympic distance triathlon, then being specific about your swimming will certainly pay dividends.
Open Water Swimming VS Pool Swimming For Triathlon?
Pool based swimming is very popular with triathlon clubs and individual triathletes. A perfect place to practice drills and fitness alike, as well as being a perfect arena for beginners to safely enter the water and practice swimming.
I am of the opinion that swimming open water is a very important part of swimming for triathlon and that if your race is an open water swim then you must practice just that – open water swimming.
I have heard of a situation where a beginner to triathlon had entered a relay race, and her leg was the swim. She was well accustomed to the swimming pool but had never swum in open water.
On the day she panicked and gave up, leaving one of her team mates to do an extra leg. The situation was most unpleasant for the beginner triathlete in question and could have been prevented had she tried open water in training.
In addition to this, open water swimming is a different sport to pool swimming, with elements such as navigation to consider, the water temperature and the buoyancy of the wetsuit helping weaker and advanced swimmers to maintain an ideal position in the water.
My Open Water Swimming VS Pool Swimming Experiment
Finally I want to tell you about an experiment I did last year. I had entered the little woody half-ironman triathlon, which has a 1900m open water swim and as an experiment I took a completely different approach to swimming.
- For a year up to the event I had not done a single pool swim, I only swam open water, and my overall volume was only 1 swim weekly for the weeks leading up to the race.
- Each swim consisted of an interval session lasting a few minutes at a much higher than race pace effort, followed by concentration on navigation and technique drills. I did a maximum swim of 2.4km.
- I also focused on shoulder and lat flexibility out of the water.
Race day arrived and I had the best swim of my life, exiting the water at approximately 30 minutes and in the top 20 – amazing for me since swimming is my slowest.
Open Water Swimming ‘3rd Best’ Sport
In my opinion triathlon training often focus too much time on swimming and for the beginner and intermediate triathlete two things happen.
- They get confused, frustrated and tense so all form disappears and swimming becomes inefficient on race day. Piling on more practice just exacerbated this.
- So much time and effort is spent in the pool (a different environment to the race so not specific) with the aim to shave a matter of seconds or minutes from their triathlon.
I feel time would be better used either recovering, or on cycling which can easily shave large chunks of time off your event, and has low impact in training.
Try A Wetsuit Demo Day
An ideal time to get training advice, wetsuit advice and a great opportunity to try the best kit for you is a demo day.
Modern technology and wetsuit design has revolutionised open water swimming and it really is a sport that is accessible to all.
A triathlon training centre or open water swimming lake is a perfect setting for testing wetsuits. Often with shallow water, clean water and well marked laps. Pop along for a great introduction to open water swimming and to find your perfect wetsuit.
I hope you found this post useful. Of course if you have any questions about triathlon, benefits of open water swimming vs pool swimming, wetsuits or equipment, or the best places to go open water swimming then please let me know.
Happy training, Nico.