One of the most common misconceptions in open water swimming is that in order to properly train for the open water, you MUST BE in open water. However, there is substantial evidence to the contrary, in that it can be more effective to train for the open water indoors, or at least in a competitive pool.
Competitive pools are much more controlled-in a controlled environment, it is much easier to track progress based on a variety of metrics. Those metrics are supported by the fact that the environment does not change significantly from practice to practice. In a 25 yard pool, goal pace times from one day to the next are very easy to track, as well as stroke count, volume, and intensity levels. When creating a training plan, being able to track these metrics can be invaluable in seeing improvements and making adjustments. Additionally, it is well known that on any given day, the same open water course can change dramatically based on the weather, wind, currents, or a combination of other elements. Indoors, you will have the same size pool with very similar conditions from one day to the next.
Now are there benefits to training in the open water? Absolutely! Increasing one’s comfort level, learning to site/draft/react to different conditions and situations make training in open water very important. However, once those skills are mastered, and a swimmer is comfortable with most all scenarios of open water racing, the majority of training can easily be done in a competitive pool, and can be more effective.
Ous Mellouli, the first Olympic swimmer to win gold in both the Men’s 1500m and 10k at the London Olympics in 2012 only swam open water a handful of times prior to his London 10k race….all of his training was done at Trojan Swim Club, and he only had two 10k races prior to the Olympics.
So the next time you are looking to train for a triathlon or open water swim race and your lake day gets rained out, remember that you can (and should!) be swimming in a competitive pool as well to get the most out of your training.