by Andy Potts

Ed. Note—Swim month continues, with some advice on tuning up your open water swimming from none other than über-swimmer Andy Potts. Andy has been coming out of the water first for the better part of two decades, now, and any wisdom he has on improving your technique you should heed. Read on for some tips and a workout to make you better at this elusive skill today.

I’m just going to say it, you do not need to swim in the open water to be a good open water swimmer. While understanding tides, waves, and all of those elements are important, they are fairly unnecessary skills for most triathlon open water swim races. With that, I am a firm believer that if you have any anxiety or apprehension towards open water swimming than exposure therapy is the best way to overcome any mental gaps that exist. For me, when I get into an uncomfortable situation, I go to a previous race where I felt similarly as a way to comfort myself, but most people don’t have that mental library to go to. So, if doing OW swims helps build that library to gain comfort than I think it is well worth it. Equally important, if you love open water swimming and the excitement of being in the open water gets you swimming, than I am huge fan of anything that gets people in the water more.
A lot of folks ask me how my training has changed since going from swimming to triathlon. It really hasn’t except I am training less in the water. My training now is actually fairly close to how I trained in high school but with less volume. We do a lot of longer intervals, 600’s to 800’s, as a lot of people lose the grip on pace during those longer sets and we work on holding pace/form at sustained efforts. So, how do you become a better open water swimmer while swimming in the pool? There are a few things I would recommend:

  1. Cadence is important for open water swimming and a higher cadence is critical, especially as the water gets choppier. I would recommend putting a metronome in your swim cap for some of your swim sets as a way to start to feel and train your body to swim at a faster cadence. Anything above 2.0, that is right hand entry to right hand entry is going to be a great starting point.
  2. Water Polo style swimming into Alligator Swimming drills. Here, you might be swim something like 20 x 25 with 5-10 seconds rest where you push off the wall(proper push) and then swim halfway, water polo style, with your head out of the water, keeping your chin as close to the waterline as possible and your head straight, and limiting side to side movement. At the halfway point, you lower your mouth into the water, right up to or slightly above your nose line and finish the 25.
  3. Single Arm-Breathe Opposite side drill is my absolute favorite drill no matter what kind of swimming we are talking about as promotes good body position, hip rotation/propulsion and hand-hip connection. If you struggle with this drill, using fins, similar to my favorite, the TYR cross blade fins, will help significantly.
  4. Form is still critical and having ‘finger tips down’ is great to remember. It helps propel and move forward throughout the stroke, even when sighting, and minimizes side to side movement.
  5. Get a pair of neoprene shorts. They are great because they promote good body position and also simulate the body position you will have when swimming in a wetsuit with slightly elevated hips. Added bonus, it makes swimming more fun and I’m a fan of that because people just don’t get in the water enough. On a personal note, I actually swim in these shorts or a wetsuit later in the week as my body is tired from all of the training and these help me get through tough sets.

Here's a session we do very often with our athletes at—if you have any questions, want more tips, 1:1 coaching or a training plan, find me there!

Warm Up
400 swim, easy build to just above warm up pace
300 as 25 kick on side, 25 kick on side, 50 swim
200 as 25 build to fast, 25 easy

8 x 75 with :10 rest
—Edds: kick, alligator swim, build to z4, by 25
—Evens: Build to z4, backstroke, build to z4, by 25

Main Set
1 x 400 @ BASE INTERVAL, z3 effort
4 x 100 @ BASE INTERVAL +5, z4+ effort
1 x 300 @ BASE INTERVAL, z3 effort
3 x 100 @ BASE INTERVAL, z4+ effort 
1 x 200 @ BASE INTERVAL, z3 effort
2 x 100 @ BASE INTERVAL -5, z4+ effort

One minute rest, then:

1 x 800 with fins @ BASE INTERVAL - 10, z3+ effort

400 fins, snorkel, + paddles
300 fins + paddles
200 paddles + pull buoy


  • Your base interval is your work + rest interval. So, the faster you go, the more rest you get.
  • Your zones indicate your effort level or pace.
  • For more information on swim intervals, swim paces, and swim terminology, you can check out one of our recent articles on Swimming, The AP Racing Way, on our website

For help with your swim stroke or triathlon training, join me and the AP Racing team

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