Essential triathlon swim skills

Updated: Mar 17

Have you thought that most triathlons (not all) have swims in the open water? It might be the sea, a lake or a river. Its a really good idea to find out about your upcoming event and then get out and practice swimming in a similar piece of water. Here is some additional take-away information to read and practice in your own time.

Pool drills

You can incorporate some of these into your regular pool swims:

  • Wetsuit practice: there is no reason why you can’t try your wetsuit on in the pool for size and fit. Just be aware of overheating. Choose a cooler pool and keep the time short.

  • Head up crawl: Swim repeats of 50m or 100m lifting your head every 6-8 strokes to get used to sighting and causing minimal disruption to your stroke.

  • Practice deep water starts from treating water. Put one arm forward, one at your side with your legs kicking behind you. We will practice some mass starts to get the feel for the real thing.

  • Pack swimming & drafting: Get used to swimming in small packs and at the feet of the swimmer in front of you. This will give you the draft effect and also the washing machine effect of swimming in a group. Practice overtaking and swimming at the side of others if you can. We will also do this in our sessions.


Key Skills to practice in Open Water
  • Starts. Think about the type of start, i.e. beach, pontoon, deep water. Consider your ability as a swimmer and your position at the start. Are you confident enough to mix it in the middle or should you stay at the back or sides? Consider the pace at the start – concentrate on stroke length and good technique – sometimes difficult in the mass starts.

  • Turns. Look at the Design and shape of the course. Clockwise or anticlockwise? Practice swimming in both directions. Get the line of approach to a turning buoy as near as possible to the buoy. Practice rolling around the buoy. Kick out of the turn, get your bearings for the next marker and straighten up again.

  • Drafting. Swimming in the slipstream of another swimming can save 30% of energy. It reduces drag, reduces blood lactate, cuts stroke rate, increases stroke length and increases speed. Just be careful of getting stuck behind a slower swimmer, a poor navigator or a vigorous kicker!

  • Sighting. Why swim 900m when the course is only 800m??? Practice sighting to ensure you follow a good course and don’t swim more than you need to. Use short distances to start with – buoys 100m-200m apart, and lifting your head every 6-8 strokes. Get used to sighting after turns and also in the final swim to shore. Get used to breathing both sides.

  • Exiting the water. Increase your leg kick over the last 50m to encourage good circulation in the lower body prior to getting upright. Swim in as far as you can before standing (swimming is faster than walking in water). As soon as your HANDS feel the bottom, regain standing position by putting one hand on the bottom and bringing your legs in from behind you.

As soon as you exit the water, put your goggles on top of your head and unzip your wetsuit. Get one arm out then the other, pulling the wetsuit down to your waist. You can then proceed as fast as you can to transition, removing your hat & goggles as you go, once in transition you can peel off your wetsuit. Practice stamping on one leg while you get the other leg out. You may feel unsteady to start with so use racking for support or sit on the ground.

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