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4 Shortcuts to Faster Open Water Swims

It’s frustrating when you do the work in the pool to improve your swim splits and then — during a race — discover that your open water splits are much slower than you expected!

The key to improving in the open water is to replicate open water race scenarios in you're training.

Try these sessions and drills in the open water or in a pool and you’ll be on track for a better swim split in your next race.

1. Try Hard Intervals to Simulate the Race Start. Add several blocks of very hard efforts — or what I call VO2 sets — of 3 to 7 minutes into your swim sessions. This will simulate the start of a race and establishes a breakout speed to ramp up the first 200 to 400 meters of the open water swim.

In a race, the better swimmers go out very hard. If you can prepare yourself to go after them, and adapt to clear the muscle acidity that accumulates during this first high intensity effort, then you’ll put yourself in a good position for the remainder of the race. Here’s a sample set:

Swim 4 min hard and immediately after each 4 min hold 2 min at sub-threshold pace (i.e., slightly easier than race pace). This will enhance the clearing mechanism of your muscles. It will also psychologically prepare you for a slight slowing of pace after the all-out start.

Take another 2 min easy and repeat the entire 8 min block 4 times.

Here’s the summary: Swim 4 min near your top end + 2 min at sub-threshold/race pace + 2 min easy. Total interval time = 8 min.

Repeat the entire 8 min block 4 times.

You can do this session 1 to 2 times week, if you want. Make sure there are two days in between these sessions if you choose to do them twice during the week.

2. Swim Side-by-Side in Your Lane on Hard Repeats. If there are 3 to 5 people in your lane, then mix up the order and try to draft. There is nothing like a little bumping and pushing to simulate the race!

3. Practice Floating 50s. In my sessions, we practice floating 50s at the end of some workouts to simulate a floating start of a race. Tread water at the flags of the pool, and then take off. This forces you to generate power in the first 10 meters of your swim and helps you practice the feel of a fast start from a stationary position.

4. Change Your Pace During Your Sets. Changing your pace within a set will simulate the pace changes of an open water race. Here’s a sample set for you to try:

4 x 100 with a Rest Interval (RI) of 5 sec.

Each 100 should be at the following efforts:

  1. Aerobic

  2. Threshold/Race Pace

  3. Slightly Slower (about 3 sec less) than Race Pace

  4. Slightly Faster (about 3 sec quicker) than Race Pace

An example of pacing is as follows:

  1. Aerobic: 1 min 37 sec per 100

  2. Threshold/Race Pace: 1 min 33 sec per 100

  3. Sub-Threshold: 1 min 32 sec per 100

  4. Faster than Race Pace: 1 min 30 sec per 100

Repeat the set 4 times.

Start doing these workouts and drills immediately. Adding in sessions like this 9 to 12 weeks prior to your race will reap big rewards!

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