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by Scott Bay

May 17, 2013

Creatively improving open water preparation without the open water

You can spot them in your parking lot: those cars with the bike racks on top, sometimes with the bikes still in them. Along with the racks come the M-dot or oval stickers announcing the completion of something big. So big, it requires a decimal to fully explain it: 70.3, 26.2, or even 140.6. These are your multisport athletes. And they want something from you.

As a Masters coach, I want everyone who attends my workouts to get the training and support needed to achieve whatever goals they have. For multisport athletes, their needs are somewhat different from those of competitive pool swimmers. Just because you might be more accustomed to training pool swimmers doesn’t mean you can’t help the multisport athletes who arrive on deck looking for help. You can offer them support beyond the standard stroke technique and aerobic workouts; you can help them embrace swimming more fully and, in return, they can add depth and dynamism to your club. In addition, sets that cater to multisport athletes provide variety for your fitness and competitive swimmers, keeping them engaged, too.

Most triathlons include an open water swim, so multisport athletes will need skills-building drills suited for this different medium. How can swimmers practice open water skills in a controlled environment like the pool? Simple. Take the lane lines out. Yep, just pull ‘em out, and you’re left with a body of water with no set traffic pattern.

Have swimmers race around the perimeter of the pool or criss-cross it in an “X” pattern. This is a great way to practice pack swimming while normalizing the sensation of contact in a safe environment. Make these pool open water drills fun or competitive to ratchet up your swimmers’ engagement and enjoyment during the session.

There’s more to it than just an empty pool, though. Without markers, someone is bound to cut a corner or, dare I say, cheat a bit on the turns. You can find a solution at any discount store that carries toys. Punch balloons—those 18 to 24-inch inflatable balls attached to a rubber band—make great buoys. Brightly colored, they can easily be attached to a weight with a length of string and they provide an excellent, inexpensive way to practice turns and the melee that often ensues during a race. The total investment for four of these makeshift buoys is about $10.

Unleashing swimmers into an unlined pool to swim around these ad hoc buoys is not only great fun, but is also a chance for fitness and competitive pool swimmers to appreciate the challenges their multisport lanemates face in their events. So get creative and dive in. All your athletes will thank you.


  • Technique and Training
  • Open Water
  • Triathlon
  • Coaches Only


  • Coaches
  • Workouts
  • Triathlon
  • Open Water
  • Drills