Triathlon Swim Technique Tips for All Levels

A triathlon start is perhaps the most iconic moment of the race. Did you know that there are three different ways the race starts? In a time trial start, racers enter the water by their race number every three seconds. In a wave start, you enter the water with other swimmers of your gender and you are usually given a number indicating your wave. In both types, a timer keeps time and it takes about 20-25 minutes to complete the start.

However, the most famous is the mass start where everyone starts when the gun goes off.

While being exciting, it can also be a very different experience for beginners.

What Makes Triathlon Swim Different Than a Swim in The Pool?

The Washing Machine Effect: You will feel this effect as soon as you enter the water, with hundreds of other triathletes trying to take their positions.

Accidental Kicks: Prepare yourself for them; they’re quite common.

Lift your Head: Train to lift your head above the water between strokes to see markers and buoys.

Wetsuit: Get comfortable with your wetsuit-it can offer extra buoyancy and warmth, but you it needs to become your second skin.

Drafting: Taking advantage of the ‘pulling’ effect when you swim behind a lead swimmer is legal in triathlons and an art that can be of much help.

Open water swimming does have its challenges, but help is at hand. We’ve covered some life saving tips for your swim technique this season:

1. Practice Bilateral Breathing

Mastering breathing is one of the most important techniques triathletes should adopt. It’s important to know how to breathe on both sides because weather and water conditions are unpredictable, other swimmers may be close by, the direction of the sun can interfere with vision and buoys may not be placed on one side.

2. Learn What Head Position Works for You

A leading triathlete coach, Swim Smooth’s Paul Newsome, argues that there is no ideal head position for everyone. While many trainers feel that looking down straight down is ideal, this position isn’t that great for open water swimming where a forward-looking head position helps you navigate and draft.

You also need to get used to water-clogged goggles. It’s important to have a good pair of swimming goggles and learn how to position your head for the best view with them on.

3. Work on Your Catch and Pull Early On

While head position, stroke and kicking get ample attention during traditional swim training, coach Paul Newsome advises that catch and pull are techniques that need to be mastered early on for success in open water swimming. He says it will take your swimming to the next level. Do the doggy paddle and head up polo stroke drills to improve catch.

4. Increase Endurance Work

Do some dry land work to increase endurance, especially if you go to the gym. If you’re a beginner, the fitness of your arms may not be enough to endure a triathlon swim just yet, so pull ups, cable weight pulling exercises, lateral pull downs and bench presses will help build arm endurance.

5. Video Tape Your Stroke

Most of us have experienced situations where the coach repeats something over and over, but we aren’t able to see what they mean. An analysis of our stroke on video will help you see exactly what it looks like and where you need to improve. You can follow it up with some resistance band work on dry land to perfect technique.

6. Perfect Your Posture

The best swimming posture is a good posture. A good posture in general helps you keep your body straight in the water and will prevent things like arm cross-overs, reduced rotation and scissor kicks. A good posture means a cleaner, stronger stroke and less energy spent.

7. Learn All the Strokes

You might think, “But I am never going to do butterfly in open water!” Of course you won’t but that’s not why you need to practice other strokes. When you challenge your body with different strokes, your body develops more strength because of the extra stimulus you offered it. You can gain a stronger core, mental fitness and aerobic strength with every new stroke that you add to your skills.

8. Do Your Drills

Drills will help you slow down your movement and focus on form and technique. You’ll perfect your muscle synchronization and, with it, your swimming. It’s all about well-timed movements and drills will help you achieve just that. Buoys are a good training tool to help you increase power during drills.

If you’re a beginner, open water swimming might seem daunting at first. However, keeping a rigorous training routine with lots of practice will help you go a long way.

On race day, you also need to make sure you’ve got the right equipment and triathlon wetsuit to help you succeed.