Weekend Swim Workout: Open-Water Swim Race Simulation

This workout can help bring fitness, speed, and confidence to your open-water swimming.

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Races might still be a distant goal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t include some race-specific intensity in your workouts. This open-water swim workout—from Gerry Rodrigues’ new book, Triathlon Swimming—provides some great race day simulation. It provides highly valuable race practice because each loop involves a race start, race takeout effort, sighting, practice turning around buoys, drafting, pack swimming (if swimming with others, which is highly recommended), and exits. This workout can really help bring confidence, as well as fitness, to your open-water swimming.

If you’re still getting used to being in the water, then check out this three-week plan for returning to swimming—and tackle this workout below when you’re feeling some fitness returning in the pool.

Rodrigues will be joining us on our Triathlete Live show next Wednesday, July 1, at 3 p.m. Mountain Time/5 p.m. Eastern Time, so if you have questions on any aspect of your swim training, be sure to tune in. You can sign up here.


Practice this both in the pool and open water so that it becomes routine and second nature on race day.

5 min. easy swimming

5 min. as:
30 strokes easy, 30 strokes faster
30 strokes easy, 25 strokes faster
30 strokes easy, 20 strokes faster
30 strokes easy, 15 strokes faster
30 strokes easy, 10 strokes faster
30 strokes easy, 5 strokes faster

Increase the effort on each of the faster blocks and include sighting too.

After a brief rest, repeat the 5 min. block in reverse, so:
30 strokes easy, 5 strokes faster
30 strokes easy, 10 strokes faster
30 strokes easy, 15 strokes faster…and so on, until you reach 30 strokes easy, 30 strokes faster. Ensure the final 30 strokes faster are at race takeout speed (think 90% effort).

Note: If you are short on time, just do one of the 5 min. blocks, not both.

After completing the warm-up, exit the water and return to the shoreline to begin the main set.

Main Set

For this main set, you’ll want to have a loop marked out (with buoys or other markers) that you can repeat. Ideally, the loop should take 6-8 minutes to swim. If you are just returning to swimming after being out of the water for an extended period (due to the pandemic) then you can trim this main set back accordingly, but here it is in full:

1. Starting on the shore, run into the water to simulate a race start. Swim fast to the first turn and then shut it down, bringing effort to 70% for the remainder of the loop. Exit the water and jog back to the start line. Take about 2 min. rest before starting the second loop.

2. Perform another race start, running into the water and swimming hard through the first turn all the way to the second buoy before bringing effort to 70%. Exit the water, jog back to the start line. As before, take about 2 min. recovery.

3. This loop is all-out fast; 6-8 min. of high output. Execute a race start from the shore, swim at race takeout speed with a high frequency of sightings, ideally every six strokes. Practice a smooth exit, running back to your start line. Recover for 2-3 min.

4. This loop is all recovery. Swim easy and relaxed; cool down.

More advanced/elite athletes can repeat this main set, but start all swims in the water so as to gain valuable practice in-water race starts. Be warned that doing this main set twice through is an intense workout and can take up to 90 min. so only tackle this when you are fully reacclimatized to open-water swimming.

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