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Open Water Swim Sample Workout and Training Tips

Open water swimming (OWS) presents a unique set of challenges and exhilarating experiences for both seasoned triathletes and dedicated swimmers alike.

Unlike the controlled environment of a pool, open water introduces variables such as currents, waves, and unpredictable weather conditions, demanding a specialized set of skills and preparation.

Whether you’re training for a triathlon or a standalone swimming event, training and preparation are paramount for success and safety in the open water.

In this session, we’ll delve into a carefully crafted training regimen tailored to enhance your performance and confidence in the open water, equipping you with the skills necessary to tackle any OWS challenge with poise and determination.

Rather like you would in a swimming pool it’s always good to have an open water swimming session plan and goal for your session, so you focus on specific areas of your swim.

Example Open Water Swim Session

Location: Choose a calm, shallow area in a lake or ocean for this session.

Warm-up (10 minutes):

  • Start with a gentle jog or brisk walk into the waters edge to acclimatize your body.
  • Perform dynamic stretches such as arm swings and leg swings to loosen up your muscles.
  • Get into the water by walking confidently into the water. Getting water on your wrists and splash your face can help to get you acclimatized more quickly.
  • Swim easy for 200 meters, focusing on getting into a steady rhythm and adjusting to the water temperature. Starting off with breast stroke is fine.

Main Set (20 minutes):

  • Swim for 5 minutes at an easy pace, focusing on your breathing and stroke technique.
  • Perform 4 sets of 1-minute intervals, alternating between easy and moderate effort. Rest for 30 seconds between intervals.
  • After completing the intervals, swim continuously for 10 minutes at a comfortable pace, gradually increasing your speed as you feel more confident.
  • Practice sighting every few strokes to get comfortable with navigation in open water.

Cool-down (5 minutes):

  • Swim easy for 200 meters back to shore, focusing on maintaining good form and breathing.
  • Take a few moments to float on your back, take in the sights, smells and sounds and enjoy the serenity of the open water.

Open Water Workout Tips

  • Stay relaxed and focus on your breathing throughout the session.
  • Practice sighting regularly to maintain your course and avoid veering off track.
  • If you feel uncomfortable at any point, don’t hesitate to take a break and tread water until you feel ready to continue.
  • Be mindful of your surroundings and any potential hazards in the water.
  • After the session, take some time to reflect on your experience and identify areas for improvement in future sessions.

Feel free to adjust the duration and intensity of the intervals based on your fitness level and comfort in open water. And always prioritize safety by swimming in designated swimming areas and wearing appropriate gear such as a wetsuit, using a tow float/buoy and brightly colored swim cap.

Tips for Open Water Swimming

Freestyle or front crawl is the most efficient stroke for most people to use in open water.


In the open water there are no lane lines. You need to practice looking ahead during your swim to find a marker in the distance to follow. Looking up is a simple thing to practice in the pool. Try perfecting it so you don’t disrupt your rhythm.

Practice swimming in a straight line. Close your eyes while swimming and see whether you veer left or right (most people do). Try tweaking your stroke to straighten your natural line.

Treading water

There is no wall to hold or kick off from in open water. Use pool time to get used to treading water in the deep end. You could spend a lot of time treading water in open water.


Most events will involve turning around a marker buoy, often four or five times a race. If you have space in the pool and a willing practice-mate, swim up to and round your friend without touching the walls or bottom of the pool.

Breathing both ways (Bilateral breathing)

Breathing on alternative sides in open water events is a necessity. It may not feel natural at first but focus on your technique in the pool and it will become more comfortable. Let your head and spine join the rotation of your shoulders, inhale sharply then turn your face smoothly back in time with your shoulder rotation.

Group swimming

Lots of people swimming together can come as a bit of a shock the first time you swim in an open water event. Practice group swimming with four or five of your friends in one lane of the pool to help get used to the feeling.

Once you get used to swimming in a pack you can try Drafting which can save you energy during the swim. The easiest drafting method to master is to swim on the toes of another swimmer – as close as you can without touching their feet.

If you would prefer a more advanced training plan that you can follow on your smart sports watch e.g. Garmin, then check out my plans on Final Surge.

Lots of people swimming together can come as a bit of a shock the first time you swim in an open water event. Practice group swimming with four or five of your friends in one lane of the pool to help get used to the feeling. Practice using other swimmers to “draft” them so you can get a tow and save up to 20% of energy when swimming. This is a very useful skill to learn to save energy and, in a triathlon, save your strength for the bike leg.


As you wrap up this open water swimming session, remember that consistent training and preparation are key to conquering the vast expanse of the open water. Whether you’re aiming to shave seconds off your triathlon time or simply seeking the thrill of mastering the open water environment, the dedication you invest in honing your skills will undoubtedly pay dividends on race day.

So, dive in, embrace the challenge, and let the waves carry you towards your goals. With each stroke, you’ll inch closer to becoming a confident and proficient open water swimmer, ready to tackle any aquatic adventure that comes your way.

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Karen Parnell
Karen Parnell
Karen Parnell is a Level 3 British Triathlon and IRONMAN Certified Coach, WOWSA Level 3 open water swimming coach,  80/20 Endurance certified coach and NASM Personal Trainer and Sports Technology Writer. Need a training plan? I have plans on TrainingPeaks, FinalSurge and TrainingTilt: TrainingPeaks FinalSurge TrainingTilt I also coach a very small number of athletes one to one for all triathlon distances, open water swimming events and running races, email me for details and availability.


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