Triathlon swimming tips
Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images for IRONMAN
Training > Swim

14 triathlon swimming tips for race-day

Some of the best swimmers in triathlon pass on their top tips for a successful race-day swim, including Lucy Charles, Flora Duffy and Richard Varga

5 DEALING WITH CURRENTS

Open-water swimming in different conditions is a technical and tactical skill. For me, it doesn’t mean the shortest way is logically the fastest way. So it’s very important to know the course before the race.

Try to get as much as possible information from the internet and locals swimmers and, if possible, try to visit the course at the same time of day as your race will start before race day. It’s important to analyse how and where to swim.

Always look which way the current goes and how strong it is. If the current goes from left to right, my choice on the start line is from the left even if, optically, it’s longer. The current can then push you to the first buoy and you 
can swim with it. If you choose the right side, you’ll end up swimming against the current, which is slower and therefore the energy costs will be greater.

My suggestion for currents in rivers is not to swim where the tide has the biggest power. Fighting against it is a losing battle. Avoid this by going to the side where the current has the lowest speed.

RICHARD VARGA, 3 X ITU WORLD AQUATHLON CHAMP

6 HOW TO DRAFT 

The best place to draft in the swim is on somebody’s hips, as you get a bigger draft benefit and you don’t have to worry about hitting feet. It also means that you’re not reliant on the lead person’s sighting. Remember that the faster the lead swimmer is going then the quicker you’ll be, so try and avoid contact. That said, it’s technically easier to sit on someone’s feet. But, if this is the option that you feel more comfortable with, just remember that you’re trusting their sighting and that you want to sit just off their feet. The closer the better but hitting their feet will slow you both down.

DAVID MCNAMEE, IRONMAN UK WINNER 2015

>>>How to practise swim drafting

7 BILATERAL BREATHING

The most essential aspect of swimming is to relax in the water. As soon as you tense up, your entire stroke starts to fall apart. So I recommend to do what comes the most natural – either to the left or right breathing, or bilateral (both side). And also to be flexible.

When I race, the majority of my breathing is every two to the left with the occasional every four when possible mainly because most of my swim is in the red zone, and the occasional bilateral to have a good look around to navigate and see who’s swimming around me. But in training I recommend varying your breathing patterns for specific sets, like this hypoxic one with bilateral breathing:

12x100m at steady pace:

1 - breathing every 3 strokes, breathing every 2 strokes

2 - breathing every 5, every 2

3 - breathing every 7, every 2

4 - breathing every 9, every 2

Repeat x 3 with 30sec recoveries.

PAUL HAWKINS, OUTLAW WINNER 2010

>>> How important is bilateral breathing for beginner swimmers?

>>> Improve your swim breathing in triathlon training

8 BEING DUNKED OR KICKED

Open-water races nearly always have mass starts. With so many people around you in a small space, swimming in every direction and at different paces, you’re bound to come in contact with some people during your swim.

It’s a scary thing to be dunked or kicked in the swim. The best thing you can do is to not panic and remain calm. If you feel you need attention and help, swing your arms in the air and this’ll signal for the lifeguards to assist you.

If you feel a little claustrophobic, try starting on the sides or let the mad rush of the front athletes go ahead so you’re not caught-up in the middle of it. Don’t swim too close to the feet of someone else because they might decide to have a strong kick, and one that can be in your face.

HENRI SCHOEMAN, ITU RACING’S NEW SWIM SUPERSTAR

FACING CHOPPY WATER

Dealing with choppy water can be daunting. The biggest issue is usually nerves, as soon as you tense up and the adrenalin starts pumping you stop focusing on what you’re doing. Panic attacks are surprisingly common, even among pro athletes.

The best way to deal with a new challenge is to get as much practice beforehand as possible. Look out for open-water training days and lifeguard-patrolled beaches leading up to a race. There’s really no substitute for spending time getting used to the conditions and there are plenty of groups that are regularly getting in the open water. If you can relax and enjoy what you’re doing, then you’re most of the way there.

When in the water, think about the rhythm of your stroke. You need to adapt your stroke rate to the waves so that you aren’t recovering or breathing just as a wave is falling on you or pulling on thin air as you come off a wave. 

Generally a faster arm turn over is better in choppy conditions; it’s no use stretching and reaching for a long and relaxed pool stroke if the water is disappearing from underneath you. Having said that, you still need to make the most of the water you do catch.

HARRY WILTSHIRE, OUTLAW WINNER 2012

Continue reading our 14 triathlon swimming tips for race-day (3/3, tips 9-14)


 
 

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