Triathlon Swim Basics

Most new triathletes will say that the swim is probably the toughest leg of the triathlon. It can be an anxious time, and most people do not naturally swim as often as they bike and run.  Following the suggestions below will give you the basics on training and swim gear as well as tips on how to be successful on race day.

It is All About the Freestyle:: The good old front crawl is the preferred stroke of 99% of triathletes.  Work on that stroke in order to improve your speed and endurance.  The USA triathlon rulebook actually says you can use whatever stroke you want, but most people find that the freestyle gives you the motion and sighting you need to compete in a good open water swim.

Practice Distance:: Most triathletes have the toughest time with swimming and they get in a bit over their head. Be sure you can swim at least 100 yards further than the distance of your race before you participate in your first triathlon. Group swimming is very different than lane swimming and open water has currents, waves and no lines on the ground to follow; so you end up swimming further than you think.

Stroke Efficiency:: It is a proven fact that the swimmer with the lesser amount of arm strokes is more efficient, swims faster and has more left over energy for the rest of the triathlon. If you make a lot of splash and find yourself taking an extraordinary amount of strokes from one end of the pool to the other while practicing, consider working with a coach to learn techniques on elongating your stroke and making it more efficient. There is a fantastic book and video that can also help: Total Immersion Swimming: Perpetual Motion Freestyle in Ten Lessons. It will be the best move you’ve ever made, and it will make the swim much more enjoyable!

Get Set with Basic Swim Gear:  The great thing about swimming is you don’t need a ton of gear, but you do need some.  Get the basics on beginner swim gear.  With a few carefully-selected pieces, you can definitely look like a regular at the pool and, more importantly, start getting quality swim workouts in regardless of your starting point.

Drafting:: It is proven that you can cover a greater distance with less effort by drafting off of another swimmer. Drafting is when there is a swimmer directly in front of you or ahead of you slightly to the left or right. You get as close as you can get to them. They swim hard, breaking the way, whiln the day of the race, if you are not 100% confident in your swimming skills, ask the registration people for a “Novice Swim Cap”. This swim cap is a different color than the rest and will distinguish you while you are swimming. Specifically, the lifeguards will keep a special eye on you. See Race Day: The Morning of Your Arrival for more info on this.

Best Beginner Training Advice from TriathaNewbie.com:: Do not start with a workout that is too hard or you will be disappointed at the end of every practice — you should feel a sense of accomplishment, not discouragement. See Triathlon Training Resource Guides for training guides.

Safety:: Never swim alone while training. It is dangerous and no one will be able to help you if you become disabled. If you are training in the ocean or lake, train with a buddy. If you are in a pool, be sure there is a lifeguard or buddy on the deck keeping an eye out for you. O

Brick Training:: Brick training is incorporating two disciplines in one workout. For instance, you complete a swim workout and immediately start a bike workout. Learn why this will prepare you both mentally and physically for your race.

Practicing in a pool is essential, but you will want to mix it in with some open water swim sessions too.

Avoid Bad Posture:: Be sure that your body is aligned properly. Think of yourself as a see-saw. Your back should be relaxed, but straight from head to toe. The front end should be slightly lower than the back end, giving you the feeling of swimming slightly downhill. In addition, your shoulders should not be concave or arched in any way; they should be comfortably lined up with eachother.

Terrain:: You can focus your training in whatever body of water is available to you (pool, lake, pond, etc…) BUT plan on partially training in the body of water in which the the event is being held or you will have a big surprise on race day. Again, pool training is very different than ocean training!

Stretching, Cramps and Fatigue:: Stretch out a bit before you get into the pool, do a short warm up and then do a second round of stretching. Loose, warm muscles respond much better to exercise than those that have been sitting stiffly behind a computer all day. The main reason for cramps, headaches and general fatigue while you’re training is normally dehydration, so drink lots of water. If you’re still feeling bad after you’ve redydrated and got some rest, check with your doctor.

Music:: Believe it or not, there an waterproof mp3 player that you can listen to while you’re training. Just remember, you Can’t listen to it while you are competing.

Sunscreen:: is a must! Apply this to your face and body before your training or event to prevent a sunburn. The sunblock we recommend won’t make your face break out!

H2O:: Did you know about 80% of your body is made of water? When you work out, you sweat out some of that much-needed water, which is why it is so important to keep a water bottle or a sports drink available either during or after your swim. The difference between water and sports drinks is that sports drinks have sugar, salt, carbs and electrolytes. Nothing will ever replace water, but sometimes an added sports drink is the key after a huge workout.

Be Intentional In Your Workouts:: Vary your workouts, making sure that you mix in some short, hard distance with some longer, easier workouts. This will give you the ability to master many different swim conditions. Don’t sweat it for the first few workouts, though. If you are new to swimming, the goal is simply to build up your distance without stopping. It is OK if you can’t go more than 50 yards without a break at first!

Don’t Forget About Your Wetsuit:: If you are going to be racing with a wetsuit on, be sure to practice with it a few times before your race day. A wetsuit makes everything feel a little different, and you don’t want the morning of the race to be the first time you have ever tried it. Go to a local beach, but the wetsuit on, and do a few laps around the swim area boundaries. It will make race day much more familiar for you. If you need a good, all-around triathlon wetsuit, use our code ‘EBOOK’ at Xterra for big discounts.


Spotting: You will need to learn how to spot in order to swim on course. Check out the “How To” so that you get from point A to point B using the straightest line.

By the way, Aquasphere Goggles are our FAVORITE goggles by far. they come in different colors and also have tinting on the plastic for outdoor swimming.

Pool Etiquette: Believe it or not, there are unwritten rules for training in a pool setting. Check them out before you jump in!

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