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"Can I train for the open water swim in the pool?"

How is swimming in a lake or ocean different from swimming in a pool? How should a training regimen incorporate each type of swimming?
Hi Jennifer,

I'm actually a running coach but have done a lot of swimming... and I saw you unanswered here.

You can train in the pool, which is far better than not training at all. However open water swimming also involves dealing with currents, swells, salt water, a different water temperature and possible cold pockets, decreased visibility, no flip turns, no line at the bottom to help you keep swimming straight if your stroke is a little stronger on one side, and generally no visible goal 25 to 50 meters ahead of you. I would strongly suggest you swim in open water to get used to all of those factors before race day. You risk coming out of the water having swallowed excessive water and air, more fatigued than you expected and quite possibly much colder than you are used to going into your transition. All of these would be negatives for your overall confidence level and performance. You want to prepare for anything that would otherwise be a shock to your system.

You may want to use the pool for form, breathing and intervals as well as the occasional longer swim. Swimming in the ocean would be better for longer swims and what I'll call "navigational consistency" through swells and currents. Assuming you can see the bottom, the lines in the sand are generally parallel to shore and as long as you are swimming a consistent angle relative to them, you are generally swimming in a straight line, which will decrease the frequency you may need to pop your head up and see if you are still on track for the buoy or whatever you are aiming at. You can also alternate your breathing side to periodically keep wherever the shore is in some kind of view unless you are heading straight out. If you can handle the ocean, you can handle a lake.

In general, you do want your training to incorporate and mimic the intensities and difficulties of your race events, but it should ultimately also involve going faster than your race pace at shorter intervals and longer than your race distance at a slower pace as well. The closer you approximate the race conditions, the better your preparation.

Phil Orr

Running | Riverside, CA

June 16, 2016
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Hi Jennifer,

In the pool you can train for endurance, technique and to some degree the navigation skills you are going to use in open water swimming! For anything else you would have to swim in actual open water, even lake swimming could be different from ocean swimming for obvious reasons. Practice in the actual or near the actual environment if possible - you need to develop a technique for entering the water - are there waves or not, would you have to go under them or stay on the surface as you enter - once out there you need to know how to navigate your way around the swimming course so that you would not go off course, lifting your head often after a few yards to make sure you stay on course - then the exit - if there are no waves should be fairly easy continue swimming until you can fully stand and start running out of the water getting your feet out in front, if there are waves try to time the waves in such a way that the waves will help you swim out of the water without being slammed by them.

Carlos A.

Triathlon | Gardena, CA

October 06, 2016
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