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The Triathlete Blueprint Newsletter #61-How to Transfer Your Pool Speed into Open Water

Read time: 3min.

By Coach Yan Busset

Why Your Pool Speed Doesn't Transfer to Open Water?

Are you struggling to maintain your pool speed when transitioning to open water? You are not the only one, it’s  common among triathletes and swimmers, but with the right techniques and preparation, you can successfully transfer your speed and enhance your performance. In this article, we’ll dive into practical strategies to help you adapt and thrive in open water conditions.

Understanding the Differences:

Open water swimming presents unique specificities  compared to pool swimming, such as water temperature, visibility, waves, current, and wind. Additionally, the presence and potential contact of other competitors around you in a triathlon environment further differentiates it from pool swimming. Without lane markers, you need to navigate more actively. Also, in the pool, turns and pushing against the wall help maintain momentum, whereas in open water, you may be slower without these advantages. 

Stroke Cadence:

If the water is calm and you swim on you own, no much issue, but when things go side ways, water is more choppy and you are in the middle of the pack, maintaining a higher stroke cadence is key to keep momentum and handle disruptions from waves and other swimmers. A faster stroke rate helps you stay on course and minimizes the impact of external disturbances, such as other swimmers bumping into you. Also don’t skip th gym! Strength conditioning and having a strong core also help maintain your technique in these challenging environments. 

Arm Recovery:

In open water, a higher arm recovery helps avoid your hands hitting the water during the recovery phase, especially in choppy conditions. Practice this technique in the pool to ensure your hand clears the water effectively. While it may not look as smooth as pool swimming, effectiveness is the key. You need to go straight to the goal, as you won’t get extra "artistic points" for being the smoothest swimmer in the lake, what counts is the efficiency.

Anxiety Management:

Swimming in open water can increase anxiety due to darker waters and the inability to see the bottom. This can hold you back. A lack of proper warm-up can exacerbate this anxiety, especially if the water is cold. In a pool, we usually warm up properly before executing intervals, but in open water, you might start too fast and get out of breath quickly. This combination of cold water and breathlessness can increase anxiety. Face you fears and train more and more closer to race day conditions. Swimming with a group can simulate race conditions and help you get used to the chaos of mass starts.

Wetsuit Adaptation:

Training with a wetsuit is crucial as it changes your swimming technique and body position. A high-quality wetsuit provides better flexibility and comfort, allowing you to swim more efficiently. If you feel unusually tired or slow in open water, it might be due to a restrictive wetsuit. Invest in a well-fitting, high-quality wetsuit to maintain your natural stroke technique and reduce fatigue. [Read more on how to choose the right wetsuit here]Accept that a wetsuit changes your position and can be a bit disturbing compared to your pool position. However, it often offers better speed due to increased buoyancy, which might make you higher in the water with a different feel. Always test your wetsuit in open water before race day to ensure it fits well and supports your performance.

Bilateral Breathing:

While bilateral breathing is beneficial, breathing every three strokes can lead to oxygen debt, especially for age-groupers with a slower stroke rate. Holding the breath for three strokes can be too long, leading to a lack of oxygen. Instead, practice breathing every other stroke but switch sides periodically. This helps maintain oxygen levels and allows you to adapt to different conditions. Regular practice in the pool is essential to become comfortable with bilateral breathing. For more detailed insights on bilateral breathing, check out this blog article [Read more here].


Without lane markers in open water, paying attention to your direction is crucial. Swimming straight from point A to point B is essential to avoid losing time. For more detailed tips on orienteering, refer to my recent blog article [ read more here ].

By focusing on these key adjustments and techniques, you can effectively transfer your pool speed to open water swimming. Remember, if you are training for a triathlon, your training should reflect race conditions. Only swimming in the pool and not getting used to the open water environment can create a significant gap between your pool times and open water performance. Emphasize regular practice, the right gear, and mental preparation to boost your performance and confidence in open water. Share this article if you know a pool shark that becomes a gold fish in open water!.


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