How to improve your deep-water swim starts

Want to get better at 'standing' swim starts for open-water triathlons? These drills will have you surging ahead of the competition in no time

Swimmers at Ironman Frankfurt

Are you looking to improve your speed from a ‘standing’ start for open-water triathlons? Swimming coach (and top-10 pro Ironman finisher) Fiona Ford shares some drills that will have you surging ahead of pool swimmers right from the off.


Preparing for open-water triathlon events should incorporate tactical skills, such as a range of drafting techniques, sighting as part of your breathing cycle to minimise disruption on your stroke efficiency, sustaining optimal stroke rate and deep water or standing starts.

Ensuring your tactical and technical skills are well developed brings performance gains on race day, putting you ahead of faster pool swimmers simply by being well adapted to skills specific to open-water swimming. Here are a number of drills and training exercises that I use year-round with my SwimSmooth Squad in South West London:

After a warm-up, perform a series of 4-8 x 50m (or two length) paired efforts side by side from a deep-water start, with no wall or floor push off. Begin from a sculling position, arms outstretched in front and legs lightly kicking to maintain a horizontal body position until one of you gives the word to start.

Sprint down the pool for one length (25m) then settle into race pace, or CSS (Critical Swim Speed), on the return length. Progress this set by including some drafting practice and race-specific sprint scenarios, where the first swimmer to reach the wall after the sprint makes the turn first to swim back.

The second swimmer practises drafting behind or on the hip of the lead swimmer on the return swim down the pool. Perform this set on short recoveries of about 10secs. Take it in turns to signal the start, developing quick reaction skills!

Swim ‘front loaded’ main sets such as 16-20 x 100m at CSS pace with 10-15sec recoveries. Ensure the first 2-4 x 100m are swum very fast, before settling into CSS pace for the remainder of the set. Maintain fairly short recovery intervals to develop ability to process the high lactate load under similar conditions to racing. It will be uncomfortable at first, but you will quickly start to adapt to race simulation duress with practice.

(Main image: Ironman)


For lots more swimming advice head to our Training section