Adam Walker demonstrating the 'Ocean Walker' swimming technique
Training > Swim

Swimming technique: 9 common mistakes

Triathlon swimming coach Annie Oberlin-Harris explains 9 common mistakes triathletes make in the swim and advice on how to correct them

2 Not so smooth: Trying to train a high elbow arm recovery

You’ve probably heard about, seen or tried the ‘zip up’ drill, which aims to help you get a very high elbow arm recovery, keeping the hand close to the body. If you do have a very tight upper back and shoulders you’ll find this drill virtually impossible.

Ask yourself, is this suitable to the environment I want to swim in? What do elite open water swimmers and triathletes do? If you’re racing in open water, swimming that way will make clearing a swimmers’ wakes in front of you or waves in the sea very difficult. You may even catch your hand on the water on the way through, pushing it the wrong way. You might have experienced shoulder strain while wearing a wetsuit trying to get your elbow high.

If you naturally swim with a high elbow that’s fine, either way just open it out to more of the Swinger arm recovery, both in training and racing. 

3 Not seeing fins as useful tool to improve technique

Many Swim Smooth drills use fins, such as Kick on Side, 6-1-6, 6-3-6 etc. Kicking is very energy sapping; hence we use the longer style fin to enhance propulsion, whilst allowing you to focus on another element of the stroke, such as alignment or rotation. This reduces the need for you to kick really hard and exhaust yourself after one length. This particular design of fin also improves your ankle flexibility in the long term, helping you to achieve a better hip rather than knee driven kick technique. Its win win!

Swimming with fins: what's the difference between long and short fins?

Swim fin workouts: Dave Scott explains how they help your training, and key sessions


Contrary to popular belief, as a triathlete you do need a good kick technique. You need to kick sufficiently hard that your legs stay high in the water to maintain a streamlined body position with minimal drag, allowing the good work your arms are doing to propel you forwards. The same goes for wetsuit swimming, yes in your 3:5 you’ll have a lifted rear, but a poor kick technique will still cause drag and slow you down.

Continue reading our guide to 9 common swim mistakes (3/6, fault 4)


How to improve your swim kick efficiency and save more energy for the bike and run

Do leg-kick swim drills matter to triathletes?


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