There are a multitude of swimming venues, ranging from council run pools to the open sea, which environment is right for triathletes to train in? Let’s look at the options.
Local Authority Pool
These are found all around the western world, normally run by the local council, they provide accessible swimming for all. Their primary function is for teaching children to swim and for recreational activities. Many will ban fins and/or hand paddles as they can be deemed a risk to other pool users, and may not use ropes during fitness swim sessions.
For most of the day large areas of the pool will be roped off for swimming lessons which are the main source of income for the pool, and whenever you share water with children you run a higher risk of the pool being closed due to unwanted bodily fluids. Sadly all of this is not conclusive to a reliable and predictable training environment in a sport where constituency is key.
Pros: affordable swim only memberships available, easy to find, often the only option available
Cons: mostly non/weak swimmers with no appreciation or awareness of fitness swimmers, large areas often closed for lessons, training aids often banned
Health club pool
Found in more expensive gyms, these are normally well maintained and quiet pools with very light use, in the day you can normally have the fast lane to yourself if you time it right. However they are often shorter than 25M which causes issues when calculating pace and for swim sets which are often designed for 25M pools.
Pros: quiet, clean, often include facilities like saunas and steam rooms, can use training aids
Cons: expensive, can be short and shallow
50M in length and normally with eight lanes, these provide a very spacious and fitness focused environment to train in. They are at least 1.8M deep which can be intimidating for weaker swimmers who may feel uncomfortable swimming out of their depth for the entirety of the length. There is a considerable benefit to swimming in a 50M pool for triathletes as there is less time spent pushing and gliding from the wall, better replicating the demands of open water swimming. The calibre of swimmer you encounter in these pools is much greater than most, so lane etiquette is better observed and you’re less likely to find a breaststroker in the fast lane.
Pros: less time spent turning, mostly accommodating swimmers in lanes, full length lanes always available
Cons: less suitable for nervous swimmers, can be hard to find, you’re likely to get overtaken by a 12 year old
Once the pride and joy of the British seaside, lidos started falling into disrepair when cheap holidays to the continent started appearing and numbers fell dramatically. They are in the middle of something or a rebirth in recent years as sites are refurbished and new pools being opened. As they are outside they act as a gentle transition between indoor pool swimming and the open water, learning to share the water with wildfowl and leaves will better prepare you for your first visit to a lake.
They are normally 50M or more, with heated and unheated versions available. Unheated can actually be preferable as they allow you to swim in your wetsuit to get acclimatised to swimming in cold water. Some use lanes where as some are more of a free for all, it’s worth asking local club members what their experiences of the lido is before signing up for a membership.
Pros: gentle transition to open water swimming, quiet for most of the year, chance to swim in your wetsuit
Cons: extremely busy in summer, can be seasonal
Organised open water venue
From lakes to docklands and everything in between, these venues comprise of a marked course with water safety cover provided by organisers. Expect to pay £5-£10 a swim to cover venue and staffing costs.
These are the ideal training venue in many respects, as they replicate the environment you’ll be swimming in, even if your race is a sea swim a lake will prepare you much better than the pool, the more time you spend in open water the more comfortable you’ll become. However it is much harder to work on your stroke and receive feedback from a coach in open water,
Pros: safe environment to train in, marked courses, replicates race conditions, more enjoyable than pool swimming, builds open water confidence, coaching options available
Cons: can be pricey, difficult to work on stroke technique
Whether exploring a secluded quarry or splashing around in waterfall pools, wild swimming has become increasingly popular recently as people aim to escape the boundaries of conventional swimming and just enjoy being in the water. There are however very few venues in the UK where you can legally go wild swimming, with most bodies of water being on private property, and owners keen to keep trespassers off their land, as it is a huge liability should an accident occur on their land, the exception to this is bodies of water in national parks. There will be no safety cover provided and with the sharp drop in water temperatures experienced in many bodies of water, we cannot recommend swimming in unknown bodies of water.
Pros: free, life affirming
Cons: little scope for meaningful training, no water safety cover, extremely cold
Sea swimming comes in two flavours, lifeguarded beach swimming (read splashing around) and swimming for fitness/adventure. The first will often involve swimming in a roped area where you can barely get out of your depth, but even if you swim outside of the marked area. If you choose to venture outside of this marked area you do so at your own risk.
Sea swimming is the ultimate swimming adventure, but should be handled with immense respect. Always ensure a friend or family member is watching from the shore with a pair of binoculars, and enough mobile signal to alert the RNLI if you get into trouble. Before swimming in the sea, chat to local swimmers about the conditions and the best time to swim, some stretches of water are simply too treacherous to swim in.
Pros: The best way to prepare for a sea swim, life affirming, free
Cons: Limited lifeguard cover, no marked courses, potentially dangerous
In an ideal world I would recommend an athlete alternates between a competition pool, a managed open water venue and responsible sea swimming. If there are no competition pools nearby then a health club pool is the next best bet for uninterrupted swimming.