Article image

by Gerry Rodrigues

March 11, 2010

Power through an open water race with these pool sets

Since many swimmers who like to swim open water don’t always get the chance to train there, we asked world-class open water swimmer and coach Gerry Rodrigues for some pool drills to help with open water preparation. He sent us a few that are sure to help even the most landlocked coach prepare his or her swimmers and triathletes for the rigors of open water. The first few drills he shared appeared in the March-April issue of SWIMMER.


These are sprint sets that start and end on the pool deck. Using a dive start, each sprint ends in a race finish and, upon hitting the wall, the swimmers pull themselves out on deck. Deck-ups are critical practice for finishing on the beach at the end of an open water race or for transitions during a triathlon. There is no hesitation when upon hitting the wall—swimmers pull themselves out immediately and stand straight up to their full heights.

Swim Specific Simulation Sets

These are critical for simulating open water racing conditions.

8 x 400

One of my favorite sets is a series of 8 x 400s, within which the speed varies. For example: 75 fast, 100 moderate, 50 fast, 100 moderate, 75 fast, and end with a deck-up. This simulates the various stages of an open water race: The heart rate spike at the beginning, settling into your pace, having to sprint briefly to pass or maintain your position or make up for a goggle adjustment or other problem, and the speed burst at the finish.

Open Water/Pool Mile Training Set

11 x 150, numbers 1, 2, 6, 10 and 11 are fast; 3 and 7 and at 70%; all others are 80-85%. Demanding set, done with short rest interval. This set mimics the rigors of a one-mile open water race much in the same manner as described above.

Pace-line sets

Critical to training for open water races and triathlons. Swimmers swim 3-5 in a lane, 2 per lane minimum in proximity (on the toes of the person in front), moving to the front of the line after a predetermined distance, with the leader then falling to the back of the line after their lead.

Example: 4 in a lane doing 4 x 800, a perfect training set for an Ironman swim.

  • 1st 800 each swimmer switches off by 200s
  • 2nd 800 they switch by 100s
  • 3rd they switch by 50s
  • 4th they switch by 100s, but after the sixth 100, when there is a 200 to go, it's open season ... any person can take the lead, change the pace, change position. This last 200 is about preparing and positioning to win the finish. Something not so important in an Ironman swim, but important for any open water race finish. It helps your swimmers find out how they are positioning themselves with two to three minutes left to race.
  • 3-Abreast training: Have swimmers swim three abreast in the lane, which will help them become familiar with close contact swimming.
  • Remove the lanelines and place open-water buoys in the pool. Pack swim in sets devised for drafting, buoy turns, and crowded turns to simulate the open water experience.
  • Dolphining in the shallow end; incorporated into deck-ups.

Additional POW Drills


Gerry Rodrigues, world open water Masters champion and overall winner of over 100 open water races, was USMS Coach of the Year in 1992. He currently serves as swim coach to many professional and elite age-group triathletes and international elite open water swimmers. He is on the board of the World Open Water Swimming Association.


  • Open Water