Top 10 triathlon swimming tips
Updated: Mar 30
Swim tips for triathletes - Top 10 swimming tips for your first triathlon - pool swim
With the new triathlon season fast upon us, some of you may be feeling a little anxious knowing this will be your first event and wondering what to expect. There's also the fact that most participants would categorise the swim stage as being their weakest of the three disciplines, only adding some extra nerves into the mix! Preparation is key to your enjoyment so here are 10 top tips to help you along the way:
1. Honest or not? It has been said that you should submit a swim time that is faster than your reality, ensuring you end up in a lane with swimmers that won't hinder your progress by getting in the way. The obvious question with this being 'aren't you then going to be the one getting in everyone else's way?' Resulting with you having to regularly stop and let them pass. My advice is to be honest with your swim entry time. If everyone did followed this rule the experience of the swim would more than likely be a pleasant one.
2. Tumble turn or not? Firstly, check what the event rules say. Many pool based triathlons these days have a blanket rule of no tumble turns / flip turns. The reason being there are those who can perform tumble turns very well and unfortunately those who cannot. It is this latter group that will put themselves and everyone else in that lane at risk of collision. Having suffered a direct collision between my eye and someone else's shoulder after they had just pushed off at an angle from a dodgy tumble turn (which resulted in stitches under my eye!), I speak from experience this is something that should be avoided at all costs. If the event permits tumble turns remember that a very well executed touch turn will always outweigh a poorly executed tumble turn, so perfect the art of tumble turning before attempting in a busy lane or race scenario.
3. USE THE WALL - it's the only friend you have in that pool!! I get forever frustrated when I hear swimmers say "I didn't push off too hard from the wall because I felt it to be cheating", or "I want to save the energy in my legs for the bike and run". Crazy is all I have to say to this. If pushing off the wall at each end is going to ruin the remainder of your triathlon then you're leg fitness requires much improvement! Regularly push off like this in your training sessions in order to be well practised and fit enough and avoid additional fatigue surprise for your legs on the day of your triathlon. Olympic medals and World Records have been won and lost on the starts, turns and finishes of a race. Granted you're unlikely to be racing in the Olympics but nevertheless, speed up the turn at every end of the pool pushing off with all your might and this will shave off seconds per length - a quick and easy route to a personal best time.
4. Train smart. Be specific with your training routine and gear this toward the distance you're covering in the triathlon. There is no point training for a 400m swim if you're meant to be covering a 1500m distance (or visa versa). Have a structure to your long-term training plan and individual training sessions ensuring they complement the overall swim goal.
5. Pacing. Practise pacing your swim distance and do this in a busy pool where possible. Re-create the race scenario with other swimmers getting in your way to occasionally disrupt your rhythm. Become as familiar as you can with how fast you begin your swim and what intensity you're able to maintain for the duration of the distance. On the day of the event you are likely to go out faster at the start due to nerves, adrenaline, friends / family support watching etc. Hold your nerve, don't allow the event to get the better of you and maintain the pace you have rehearsed over and over again.
6. Move across. When swimming in a lane with others you'll be following a chain direction (swim up the length using one side of the lane and swim down the length on the opposite side). As soon as the swimmer ahead of you has turned and gone past you on the other side, you're then free to move across to this opposite side of the lane and therefore teeing yourself up for turning and pushing off immediately. The contrary to this is having to turn where you were without moving across, resulting in pushing off at an angle / diagonal line just to get to the other side of the lane before the swimmer behind you gets to their own turn position. Pushing off the wall at an angle only detracts from the strength and distance you'd be able to achieve and hence unnecessarily adding time to your swim leg.
7. Keep counting. There's nothing more frustrating than swimming a greater amount of lengths than required. It's easy for your mind to drift off with other things going on around you and not staying focused on the lengths you have covered / amount remaining. This will obviously have a negative effect on your pacing too.
8. Use Front Crawl. Swimming Breastroke (or any other stroke) is not the end of the world but you won't end up being everyone else's best friend in that lane. Front Crawl should take up less width of the lane and you're less likely to kick or clash with other swimmers which also prevents any disruption to your own stroke rhythm. Not forgetting that Front Crawl is the fastest and most efficient of all swimming strokes.
9. Bilateral breathing or not? There is always a big debate to have here so I'll point you toward a previous article I've written which highlights the pros and cons - The great bilateral breathing debate.
10. After the swim, where do you go? Feeling slightly disorientated after completing your swim is quite a common experience so take the time before the race begins to know your exit route once your swim has finished and leading into the bike leg. Avoid running (although there should be some non-slip flooring on poolside) and plan your transition strategy (removal of hat / goggles, where's your bike?......!).
Have fun and most of all it is important you go into your first Triathlon to enjoy the new experience of it all.
For more guidance on how to perfect your Front Crawl technique and more download the series of swimming books by Mark Durnford.