Master your first open-water triathlon – expert swim tips

Nervous about your first race in open-water? Don't be. Here are Olympic and Commonwealth swimmer James Parrack's top tips...

Practise makes perfect: triathletes at Best Centre in Mallorca get used to open-water

For many newbies (and even those who are more experienced triathletes!) it’s the open-water swim that holds the most fear come race day. Luckily though, we have Commonwealth silver medal-winner, and co-founder of the Best Swim Centre in Mallorca, James Parrack here to help….


Like many things in life, preparation is everything, so the work starts a long time before you get to event day. Here are the 10 things to do to make sure that come race day, you have the best open-water swim possible!

1.       Before the big day, get outside a few times and experience all the new sensations that open-water brings compared with the pool. Feel comfortable in the wetsuit, the cold, the emptiness, the sky, mother nature… The more times you do this, the less strange it will feel on race day.

2.        Swimming straight will save you time. Practise this before the event, first by swimming with your eyes out of the water, then, using a shorter stroke and a fast kick, with your head out and looking forward. Complete 10 strokes of each, then 10 strokes with your head down. Also practise swimming with your eyes closed and see if you can keep a straight line. This is great if you have access to a pool with no lane lines (and not too many other people).

3.       Get used to swimming in groups with people around you. Do this often in your swim sessions with three people next to each other in a lane all swimming together.

4.       Drafting off other swimmers is fun and relaxing! The best position to benefit from a draft is with your head or shoulders about at the person’s hips. Also try drafting by following a person’s feet and feel the difference between the two positions.

5.       Arrive at the start of your swim in plenty of time to register, go to the loo, warm up, know the course, listen to the safety briefing and get changed. You want to be comfortable and calm at the start.

6.       Wear a swimming specific wetsuit of the right size. Take your time to make sure you have put it on properly (allow at least 15 minutes) with minimal restriction around the shoulders. Be generous with the wetsuit lube, especially around your neck and under your arms.

7.       Enter the water gently, breathe calmly and if you can, and spend 5 to 10 minutes getting used to the water.

8.       Start slowly and swim at your own pace. Swim in space and stay calm. Focus on the joy of swimming!

9.       Check your direction frequently (every four to 10 strokes or so). You have been practising your sighting so use it!

10.       The last and most important tip is to practice, practice, practice your open-water swimming! The joy of the open water is how varied the conditions will be: warm or cold water, waves or flat, lakes or the sea and the ever changing scenery. As often as you can before your first race, swim outside and you’ll soon learn to love it!


James Parrack has represented GB at the Olympics and won a silver medal at the 1990 Commonwealth Games. He is also co-founder of the Best Swim Centre in Mallorca.