Without the structure of a 25m pool or tri coach, it’s easy for your stroke to stagnate. Follow these three drills via triradar.com, from Berkshire Tri Club Coach, Ian Lee-Emery, to keep your open-water training focused.

  • If there is a short stretch between two buoys, then kick hard to mimic the final part of a swim to get some more blood into your legs before standing up.
  • Keep the race pace effort challenging and the recovery pace easy so you can really feel the difference.
  • Create balance by giving the fastest swimmer a delayed start for the race pace interval.
  • If there are uneven stretches between buoys mix up the race and recovery order so you work hard and have time to recover.
  • Be considerate of other swimmers. Keep sighting and make sure you stay well out of their way.


This is effectively drafting and swapping your leader at every buoy. Agree your starting order and in a line draft each other to the first buoy. The leader then moves to the outside of the circuit to allow the others through and joins the end.


  • Regularly tap the feet of the person in front of you. If you stop having your feet tapped, slow until the swimmer behind is back ‘on’.
  • Having your feet tapped regularly by swimmers behind should desensitise you to the contact that happens in a race.
  • Even if you are not the leader, sight for yourself as you would in a race. You may discover other people’s sighting is not great and you can tease them about it later!
  • The leader should steer a wide berth from any other swimmer, recognising the long tail behind them may cause issues for other lake users.


Arrange yourself either three or four abreast. Allow the centre swimmers (the piggies) to set the pace and stay together. Swim from one buoy to the next with the outside swimmers aiming for the next buoy but the ‘wrong’ side.

This means the swimmer on the right of the group is aiming for the left-hand side of the next buoy and vice-versa. It will keep everyone uncomfortably close and trains you to deal with congested mass swimming. Once you get to the next buoy, rotate the group one to the left so that everyone gets a turn in all slots.


  • Stay head-to-head if possible. Occasional arm contact is expected, but this way you should avoid kicking one another.
  • If you’re the ‘piggy’, it’s okay to bail out and take a rest if needed. Close proximity swimming can lead to water going where it shouldn’t and the idea is to build resilience to it, not drown from it.
  • If you’re on the outside try to breathe turning inwards occasionally so you can stay close to the group and regularly check your pace.
  • If you encounter other lake users, those on the outside should peel away from the ‘piggies’ until they have safely passed the other swimmers.


  • When you stop to change arrangement of swimmers stay well away from the buoys and out of the direct swim path.
  • A swim group of five is probably the maximum. Opt for two small groups if necessary.
  • If you have stronger or more experienced swimmers in the group, have them lead the longer stretches between the buoys.
  • If you plan to use a 400m loop, be aware this shorter loop is likely to have more novice and slower swimmers using it, so swim accordingly.


Most lakes arrange swimming in a circular fashion around an out-and-back or circular route using buoys. Before you get in the water, look at how the buoys are arranged and what distance the loops are.

The lake owners and organisers will generally take a dim view of any unapproved coached sessions, but you should still be able to swim as a small group doing a structured session providing you don’t make a nuisance of yourselves.

You could let the lifeguard know that you plan to swim as a small group in close proximity.

Ian Lee-Emery is a BTF Level Two Triathlon Coach, a volunteer coach at Berkshire Tri Squad, has raced Sprint to Ironman and is a former Team GB Age-Grouper.