10 Open Water drills to practice in the pool.

10 Drafting exercises to improve open water swimming


In recent years, open water swimming has developed amazingly, in Israel, which owns some incredible and inviting beaches, Egypt, USA and worldwide. Additional jump in the number of swimmers occurred once open swimming became an Olympic heat.


Water World Israel in association with “Shvoong” and “Via Maris” (the biggest, most professional yacht club in Israel), have produced a number of amazing open water heats, starting with the Poseidon heat that kicked off with a 3km deep sea swim from yacht to yacht and came to an end with a swimmers party held on the yachts. The first heat included about 100 swimmers and in the third year the participant’s number already rose to about 800 swimmers (!). During the heat, swimmers swim out to sea, circle the yachts and finish at the beach (distances of 3.8 and 1.9 km).


Another heat is the “port to port” where swimmers swim from the Jaffa port to Tel Aviv port in a straight line from south to north. And finally, the “Bikkurey-Yam” heat, takes place on Shavuot eve, or as we call it, “the cheese and wine holyday” or “the water festival”. In this heat swimmers from all over the world come to swim 3500 meters or 10 km along the coast of Netanya and finish in one of the largest most professional swim centers in Israel, the “Water World, Poleg”. Swimmers celebrate with a pasta dinner the night before, and lots of wine, cheese and good food at the end of the heat.

Aside from the heats being an exciting event in itself, there is something very powerful about the sea – energetic, an infinite force which the open water swimmer gets from the sea. On the other hand, the sea is very dangerous and must be respected, listen to and flow with, or it might “hit us” real hard.


For me, open water swimming is calm, powerful and a “cleansing” experience which gives me strength and great energies.

I grew up on the beach and our only family vacations growing up were in Nueba, Egypt. Two weeks in tents, fishing, diving and of course swimming, lots of swimming… I grew up to respect the sea, to understand its power and how to use it to clear my thoughts.

Today, as a longtime swimming, open water swimming, triathlon and “Ironman” trainer, I understand it even more and happy to pass on some of this knowledge.

Before we move on to the exercises here are some important tips:

Always smile, before, during and after the heat, even if someone hit your face, grabbed your legs, or “drowned” you… getting angry is generally unhealthy and at sea, it breaks your swimming momentum.

Try not to look ahead, slowly move to breaststroke, unless you swim on the side, in which case a swimmer behind you might get kicked in the ribs, which can really hurt him and cause breathlessness and no less important – flaw the experience and enjoyment of the heat.

The following 10 exercises will teach you how to practice drafting in the pool and at sea, what to think about during workout, the dos and don’ts and how to use your friends to swim together, to advance slower, to overtake someone without collapsing your body and how to swim faster and longer distances.

Always make sure you swim correctly in your own customized style and learn your WEST swimming technique.

Open Water swimming drills in the pool – Drill 1

We swim about 20-50 cm behind the swimmer in front of us, right on his feet. We try to keep up with his pace throughout the swim, not overtake him and swim at a constant pace. Occasionally the swimmers can swap places to adjust to a different pace, different push off the wall and even add intensifying exercises with changing pace.

this exercise’s advantage over Exercise 2, is that we are not depended on the swimmer changing direction, it’s very easy for us to turn and change direction, where as swimming alongside a swimmer, a turn in one direction can cause the leading swimmer to swim “over” us and disrupt both our swim and his.

Another advantage this exercise has over Exercise 2, is that we can achieve a higher capacity of up to 15%, meaning the body can swim faster, or swim at the same pace with much less effort.

The disadvantage of this exercise compared to Exercise 2, is if the swimmer kicks hard with his legs, we can’t see anything and might swallow water due to his splashing.

Exercise objective:

To learn to swim at a variable pace, very close to the swimmer in front without actually touching him. Each swimmer has a different style of pushing off the wall – some have a weak push and others may push harder. We will try not to touch the feet of the swimmer in front, even when the swim is faster than our own pace and especially at a slow pace.

But one of the most important things is that touching a swimmers leg can lead to a kick on your hand or worst a kick on the head.


Open Water swimming drills in the pool – Drill 2

In this exercise we swim freestyle alongside the swimmer and try to “hide” under the leading swimmer’s armpit, but we stretch our arm to his waistline and not his armpit. If we feel the leading swimmer has the correct stroke pace, we should swim the same way and pull exactly when he does, this way we can both neutralize the thought and avoid touching his body during the pull.

The advantage of Exercise 2 over Exercise 1 is that by swimming alongside the swimmer, we don’t get the water splash from the leading swimmer’s legs. The downside however, is that sometimes we may bug the swimmer and touch him more than in Exercise 1.

It is very important to try to always breathe in the direction of the leading swimmer, to make sure we are still with him. This is yet another reason why we should master breathing every three strokes.

Exercise objective:

This exercise is one of the open water classics, which allows many parts of the body to be “hidden”. This means not only can we swim at a higher pace, but the swimmer in front of us also allows us a more easy and current free stretch, so the body and shoulders get less oxidized.

In this exercise too, we can use a correct drafting to save up to 15% of our energy.

Open Water swimming drills in the pool – Drill 3

Triangular drafting and inverted triangle

This exercise consists of three swimmers. In a regular triangle one swimmer leads and the other two swim at his sides, stretching their arms relatively close to him, up to his waistline. The closer we are the less resistance we produce in the water and the less effort we invest. On the other hand, we should pay attention, especially at sea, to the leader deviations and there will be some…. if the leader deviates to the left or right, we need to quickly correct ourselves. But if we notice the swim is not straight and it’s not right for us to overtake, we will keep swimming the same way, but keep our distance to avoid touching his feet too often.

In inverted triangle, two swimmers swim at a constant pace faster than the third. This is a classic state and we don’t even need to stretch to the waistlines, but just as far as the knee, because if the swimmers are close and swim at a steady pace, they create a great flow for the swimmer between them.

Exercise objective:

To learn how to swim in a group, to keep the leader close, as opposed to swimming behind his legs, where his intensifying legwork might cause us to lose him. And of course, to maintain long strokes with less effort. In some cases you may want to swim at the leading swimmer’s pull pace to reduce the possibility of touching him.


Open Water swimming drills in the pool – Drill 4

Mirror drafting

In some cases, when no swimmer wants to take the lead, or when two swimmers try to break ahead and the swimmer next to us swims long and correct, we will use the saying “If you can’t beat them, join them”. This means we should swim at a steady pace that matches the stroke pace of the swimmer across from us. This is yet another reason why we should master swimming at both sides, so we can see the swimmer throughout the swim.

Exercise objective:

To keep up with the steady pace of the swimmer in front of us and thus free ourselves from thoughts. True, it’s not like swimming next to the swimmer or behind him, but it certainly can make us swim faster. We don’t need to think about the strokes or the pace, and when we don’t need to think, we reduce shoulders stress and the shoulder blades oxidized slower.


Open Water swimming drills in the pool – Drill 5

Kite drafting (diamond)  

We have already learned how to swim in triangle and invert triangle and now we try to swim in a kite or diamond shape. In this exercise there is a leading swimmer, two swimmers at his sides stretching their arm to the leader’s waistline each time. The fourth swimmer is behind the leading swimmer and between swimmers number 2 and 3. All other swimmers will swim behind the fourth swimmer, forming the kite’s tail. It’s Hard to perform this exercise in the pool beyond 25 m, but at sea we can swap the leading foursome clockwise, every 100 meters or after a previously decided distance.

Exercise objective:

To learn to swim in a larger group, to understand the power of the group, and how to use it to swim faster. But the main goal is to control different paces with different people in different positions. It’s like training a “Point Guard” basketball player to play “Center”… This ability teaches us to be better open water swimmers.

Open Water swimming drills in the pool – Drill 6

Drafting, leader swapping in mid pool 

We swim as usual – one swimmer leads and the other swims behind him, right on his feet. Around the middle of the pool, the trailing swimmer increases his speed a bit and takes the lead to the end of the pool.

The swapping can take place each leg, or each 100 m, 200 m, etc… We can also make an elegant swap, meaning the leading swimmer slows down a bit to allow the trailing swimmer to pass him without hardly increasing speed and maintaining the style. Sometimes swimmers overtake so fast, as if there is a swimmer in the opposite track forcing them to overtake quickly and return to their track. In Water World, we prefer a quick swap but without going wild, that means increasing speed while maintaining the style.


Exercise objective:

To learn how to execute clean swaps over a long distance. That means to learn how to overtake others and allow others to overtake us, without using our full force doing so. In long-distance swimming, we need to swap in order to rest and keep the correct pace.

Open Water swimming drills in the pool – Drill 7

Drafting, leader swapping at the wall

We swim drafting one behind the other’s legs. After 50-100 meters or after a previously decided distance, the leader stops at the pool’s wall and waits for the last swimmer to pass him by, so that the first swimmer now becomes the last and the runner up swimmer now takes the lead and increases the speed a bit. In this exercise we want the leader to increase the speed each time but not too much so as not to break the group behind. At sea, the exercise is done by swimming to the right and back to the last swimmer.

Exercise objectives

To Learn to swim as a group at a higher pace. Each stop, the leading swimmer gets a chance to rest, after a fast and accelerated swim. Before we know it, the group suddenly enters a very fast pace, far beyond any individual swimmer ability. Swimmers who are faster than the group, teach the group to swim faster but also return to the group by becoming last, thus maintaining the structure for longer distances.

Open Water swimming drills in the pool – Drill 8

Drafting, catching the leg and pull

We swim in pairs, one behind the other’s legs. Somewhere in the middle of the pool, the trailing swimmer grabs the leader’s legs, aggressively pulls him to take the lead. In a 25 meters pool we can usually do this once or twice. In this exercise it’s ok to pull hard, even downwards in a sort of “drowning”.

* Important to note: we would never do that when swimming with other people at sea, even if someone grabs our legs or “drowns” us.

Exercise objective:

To smile when someone grabs our leg. We need to learn how to cope with situations where someone inadvertently grabs us and disrupts our swim at sea. If we kick or try to get away, we will only ruin our swim and get angry. The second goal is to work on being aggressive, and keep laughing at the same time. This exercise is excellent for hot-blooded swimmers that get angry when someone touches them. Try it! It’s a lot of fun, adds interest and makes everyone laugh at the end. Isn’t it better to laugh than to get angry?

Open Water swimming drills in the pool – Drill 9

Drafting, the third breaks and takes the lead

This exercise includes three swimmers or more, where after the turn or a previously decided distance, the third swimmer sprints forward trying to pass two swimmers before the end of the pool. All other swimmers other than the first three are in fact trailers and need to reduce the gap created by the swimmer who left the column.

Exercise objective:

The exercise works on speed and maintaining the lead after a very strong sprint. The pulse rises very high and we learn to revive it while swimming as fast as possible. This is just like the beginning of open water swim, when everyone swims fairly fast to position themselves. The practice teaches us not to burn ourselves after a fast swim or when overtaking a swimmer.

Open Water swimming drills in the pool – Drill 10

Zigzag drafting  

We swim following the leader, wherever he takes us – if he crosses the track, we cross the track and if he swims the track we follow. We can swim like a snake the entire pool and suddenly cut to the next track, or swim relatively balanced and cross over to the other track at the end of the pool.

Exercise objective:

Sometimes we swim behind someone’s feet and don’t think. This exercise teaches us to control a changing pace and always be ready for a change, a radical turn, change of pace, or crossing tracks. This exercise is also a great loosening exercise – the leader swims at his own pace and everyone follows.

You must try it, it’s really fun!



west slogan_ screen 2





Contact Us

Wait! Before you press the X button.
Receive FREE tips directly from Ori Sela

It will change your swimming technique forever!