Open Water Swimming vs. Pool Swimming: How Do They Compare?

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published

Swimming and racing in the open water has its own sets of challenges and characteristics that you won't find in your average calm and chlorinated swimming pool. The oftentimes harsh conditions of an open water race make for a very unique environment which rewards being able to improvise and adapt on-the-go. Pool races are generally a much more predictable experience, but still comes with various challenges and difficulties that swimmers must grow accustomed to. 


In this article we’ll discuss some of the key similarities and differences between open water swimming and pool swimming. 

Where am I going?

One of the major differences between open water swimming and pool swimming is the lack of a defined path in the open water. In a pool, swimmers have clear markings indicating the lanes and direction they should follow, making it easy to stay on course and avoid collisions with other swimmers. However, in open water, there are often no such markings, and swimmers must navigate their own way through the water. Unless of course, you’re in an open water race, in which case they often have buoys or markings to indicate the direction of the course

This can be especially challenging during open water events where there may be a large number of competitors, making it difficult to find your way and stay on course. Additionally, factors such as currents, waves, and wind can impact a swimmer's trajectory, making it even more important to have good navigation skills and a sense of direction.

To overcome these challenges, many open water swimmers use landmarks such as buoys, boats, or the shoreline to stay on course. Some events also provide guides or support boats to help swimmers stay on track.

Differences in Atmosphere

Open water swimming usually involves a community of like-minded individuals and attracts large groups of swimmers as well as spectators. Swimmers who embrace the excitement and community of open water swimming often find it to be a truly memorable and enjoyable experience. Whether you're participating in a competitive event or simply enjoying a swim in the great outdoors, the atmosphere in open water swimming is a major part of what makes it such a unique and rewarding experience. It feels more unrestrained, and free, than pool swimming. Open Water Swimming is also a common part of triathlons or longer multi-disciplined race formats. In these races, it's crucial to take into account more than just having your swim gear, you'll need running and cycling gear as well, depending on the race you're doing.


In competitive pool swimming, the races are fast-paced and intense, with swimmers pushing themselves to their limits in pursuit of personal bests or victories. The sense of competition and the adrenaline rush of racing can make competitive pool swimming a very fun experience as both a swimmer and spectator. 

Currents & Waves

In open water, currents and waves can impact a swimmer's speed and direction, making it more challenging to stay on course and maintain proper technique. In a pool, these factors are not present, allowing for more consistent and predictable swimming. You pretty much know what to expect when swimming in a pool. Open water however, is much more unpredictable and swimmers might have a different experience every time they go. 

Similar Physical Demands

Physical demands are one of the key similarities between open water swimming and pool swimming. Both types of swimming require a high level of physical fitness and endurance, as well as strong swimming technique. The physical demands of both types of swimming provide a unique and challenging workout that can help swimmers of all levels to achieve their personal fitness goals.


Whether you prefer the controlled environment of a pool or the unpredictable conditions of open water, both offer opportunities for growth, competition, and a deeper connection to the water.

Leave a comment