Swim leg: How to start and finish strongly

Get your tri challenge off to a flyer by developing fast swim starts and exits into T1

Credit: James Mitchell

Developing the specific skills/fitness that enable you to start races quickly will really build your confidence, making you a stronger competitor going forward.


In this session, you’ll practise both your technique and your speed. Your speed training should focus on overcoming inertia – getting your body moving and your limb speed up to race pace. Your first 8-12 strokes will need to be short and fast, then you can start to lengthen them out.

You’ll learn the technique required for each type of start. For deep-water starts, the key is starting in a horizontal position, with forward momentum coming from a strong leg kick and looking forward. For a shallow-beach entry/exit, learning to ‘porpoise’ with a fly kick will enable you to travel forward faster. Dive out and down, then push off the bottom hard into the next dive. Thigh-deep is the depth you should start swimming or running out at the exit. Finish strongly – accelerate with your leg kick and aim to emerge cleanly.



30secs-1min rest after each set

2 x 75m as: 25m crocodile eyes;
25m sighting every stroke;
25m sighting every 6th stroke

200m aerobic swim

2 x 75m as: 25m fast drafting;
25m super-easy; 25m fast drafting

200m aerobic swim 

Main Set 1

30secs rest after each set

4-6 x 50m as: 25m fast shallow-water run; 25m easy 

4-6 x 50m as: 15m dolphin start;
20m easy; 15m dolphin exit

4-6 x 50m as: 25m fast deep-water start; 25m easy

Main Set 2 

Slow walk-back recovery/reset after each set

5 x 200m as: dive or fast deep-water start for 25m; 150m at target race pace or threshold; 25m increase leg kick and fast pool exit into T1


200-400m easy 

Adapt for beginners

Reduce swim distances in main set 1 to 15m start; 10m easy swim. Reduce swim distance to 150m in main set 2, as: 25m fast start; 100m race pace; 25m hard finish.

Adapt for Ironman 

Increase warm-up to 4 x 75m on both drill sets. Increase the number of repeats in both main set 1 and 2, but maintain quality and effort levels.

Richard’s top tips

Deep-water start 

Line up relative to your swimming ability. Lie horizontally and kick hard while sculling, arms extended and looking forward. Start with short, fast strokes, then lengthen them out.

Beach / ramp start 

Run into the water lifting your knees high. Once thigh-deep, shallow dive with good streamlining. Accelerate with short, fast strokes before lengthening out. If it’s shallow, use dolphin dives.

Exit into Transition 1 


Accelerate into the swim exit. Once you’re standing, lift your goggles and undo your wetsuit. Pull it down to your waist while you’re on the run, then stamp out of it at T1.