When it comes to the sport of triathlon it doesn’t take a long time to realize that swimming in a pool with a black line to stare at vs. swimming in an open body water are 2 completely different things! In this article we are going to compare the 2 ways to gain an advantage in your swim training. First lets look at the pros and cons of swimming in the pool. At the pool you have temperature control in the water and outside of the water, calm water, perfect visibility, pace clock, masters swim coaching (most of the time), convenience, lack of sun exposure (if indoors) and lifeguards. All of this can create the best and safest venue for someone to gain swim fitness. Now for the drawbacks of pool swimming: crowds, regulated lap swimming hours, cost of a pool to swim in, chlorine as well as the monotony of going back and forth like some kind of guinea pig on a wheel.
For open water swimming lets examine the positive benefits: lack of crowds, mimics race conditions like sighting for buoys, scenery, makes time go by faster, as well as the joys of being outside. Now for the negative’s: rough seas, temperature extremes, marine life, too much sun exposure, water quality, lack of lifeguards at times, motorized boats as well as too many long straight swims.
So now the million-dollar question, which option is going to give you the best result for your next triathlon? I like to use a few simple questions to help come up with a solid game plan. First and foremost is convenience, how close are you to the nearest open body of water? Is the triathlon you are training for in really cold or hot water temperatures? Do you have anxiety about swimming in open water? Do you need/have a wetsuit? How frequent do you swim in open water vs. the pool? How much experience do you have swimming in open water? I find most triathletes can find the answer they are looking for by answering all of these and come up with a game plan that best suits their needs. Now if you are a beginner in open water, then getting in an open water swim is paramount in your build up to race day. I have seen some of the most experienced swimmers get into open water and either get too much anxiety or are not used to the sighting skills required. If this fits your description, then do yourself a favor and get some practice in. For those used to open water swimming I find an 80/20 rule works best if you have the resources to do an open water swim. . Meaning if you spend 80% of your time swimming in the pool and the remaining 20% in open water then you are more than ready for the big day. This way, you can do drills and short intervals at the pool and save the open water swims for time trial efforts.