Triathlon Swim: The Overview

Triathlon swimming is about efficiency.

It’s how easily you finish the swimming event, and not how fast you finish it. Saving energy might be the most essential thing that you can do in the water in order to help your overall finishing time, because you’ve got a lot of work ahead once you’re back on land.

Standing behind the starting line on race day, think about what you’re about to do in the water after the gun goes off as merely a way of getting to the real race start, the bike. Triathlon swimming and triathlon swim training must be more about race management than about racing.

Getting Your Swim Technique Race Ready

Swim Less, Drill More

The only way to break those bad swimming habits, and build new fish-like ones, is to spend more time doing drills than conventional swimming.

For the first month or two, try doing a minimum of sixty percent of your distance in stroke drills and see how your stroke reacts. Drills must constitute no less than 25 % of your total workout time even when you reduce your stroke count to twenty strokes for every twenty-five yards.

Regularly Count Your Strokes

Your best measure of efficiency is how many strokes you take getting from one end of the pool to the other. As fatigue increases and efficiency falls, your stroke count may go up by thirty percent, or higher, as you diligently tell your nervous system to lapse into inefficiency.

Practice Stroke Elimination

Make efficiency, not distance or speed, your objective. Set a stroke-count target of 10 percent less compared to your norm.

Instead of how fast you can finish, or how tight an interval you can manage, see how far into the swim or set you can hold that count.


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Streamline Your Stroke with Skill Training

Work on getting your nervous system used to efficiency-promoting skills that make you swim like a fish when you’re not counting strokes. These three skill drills will make an immediate difference:

Hang your head

Head-spine alignment is really important to efficient swimming. During training, release your head’s weight in order to find its most natural position and don’t hold it up.  Look directly down, not forward. Let your opponents do all the looking during the competition; just follow the swimmers ahead of you, limiting your peeks forward to once every twenty strokes.

Lengthen your body

A longer body line allows you to swim faster and easier since it lessens drag.  Concentrate on using your arms to lengthen your body line instead of pushing water back. Like sliding into a mail slot, slip your hand and forearm into the water.

Move like water

Water rewards fluent motion and penalizes rough or rushed movement. Pierce the water; slip through the smallest possible hole. Swim as silently as possible. During the race, make it your ultimate goal to be the quiet center of any pack you’re in, stroking slower and with much less splash compared to all the flailing arms around you.

Train in Open Water

Do some swimming in a lake or the ocean before the actual event. It will enable you to get accustomed to the absence of convenient guides like lane lines. You’ll figure out how to navigate using on-shore landmarks.

For your safety, swim together with an experienced partner or with a group, or you can have a canoe or kayak escort, or train in water you know well. Keep close to shore in cold water. Hypothermia (lowered body temperature) could compromise your coordination and judgment.

Practice the same technical points you have been practicing in the pool; don’t just swim. The plan is to smoothly transition from your pool training to an open water race, so make it an open-water practice. Swim downhill, reach forward with a weightless arm, roll your hips from side to side, and so on.

You can’t count laps out there? No problem. Count the number of strokes instead. Do this approach for a hundred strokes or even more. Not having walls can, in fact, make it easier because your rhythm is not interrupted. And you’ll find it’s easier to groove your stroke.

All Things Wetsuit

The Benefits of a Triathlon Wetsuit

a/k/a “will a triathlon wetsuit help me?

A triathlon wetsuit is different from other types of wetsuits and is specifically designed for better performance in the water. These wetsuits are made with a special neoprene coating to help you slide through the water easily and also contain buoyancy panels to help you float.

Your suit should have excellent flexibility around the arms and shoulders; otherwise you’re wasting serious amounts of energy in propelling yourself through the water.

The benefits of triathlon wetsuits include:


Cold water can drain your body heat quickly. Generally, you’re adding 3-5mm of neoprene insulation to your body. Coping with the cold will make the swim not only more physically challenging, but also mentally draining.


The closed cells reduce weight and help you swim on the surface. A thicker wetsuit may be warmer and buoyant, but it can hinder your movement for swimming.

Drag Reduction

Wearing a triathlon wetsuit contributes to more efficient movement through the water. Since the outer layer of a tri suit is designed to reduce drag, you may find increased speed without an increase in effort.

Prevent Stings and Scratches

Triathlon wetsuits can also help minimize jelly fish stings and guard against coral scratches and rocks.

Should I Rent or Buy?

The websites of the manufacturers of triathlon wetsuits each claim to use some unique technology or other, which will help you glide in the water and slash minutes off your swim time.

There are 5 main factors in choosing which triathlon wetsuit to buy:


Most manufacturers have different models in 3 price ranges—under $150, $150-300 and $300+.


There are a couple different styles of suits, as well as different options for features. You can get either a full wetsuit with sleeves or a long john style wetsuit that is sleeveless. The full wetsuit is best for colder waters, while the long john style suit is easier to get on and off during the transitions.


You also need to figure out how much stretch you want in your wetsuit. You can get suits with linings that have two, four or six way stretch. More stretch means more flexibility and movement in the water, but you will pay more for your wetsuit.


More expensive wetsuits usually also come with larger buoyancy panels. You can get suits with buoyancy panels that cover just the chest, the chest to the thighs, or the chest to the ankles.


Some manufacturers opt for the 2mm thickness, going towards producing a suit that weighs less and subsequently feels lighter to the user, and is more flexible.

Other manufacturers go with the thicker rubber, up to 5mm thick, following the rule of thumb that shows that the thicker the rubber used, the more buoyant the suit will be and, ultimately, even though it weighs more, will save the user more energy.

In addition to these 5 factors, the fit of the wetsuit is the most important consideration. If the suit doesn’t fit well, you will be uncomfortable, create extra drag on each stroke, or suffer a combination of the two. The zippers and seams should not rub or chafe. If they are uncomfortable now, the pain will certainly intensify as you race.

How to Take Care of Your Triathlon Wetsuit

After each race and especially during the off season, your triathlon wetsuit needs a bit of care and attention. After all, triathlon wetsuits are not cheap and you can easily use one for a few seasons if you look after it.

When it comes to tri wetsuit care there are 3 simple things you need to remember:


After each race you need to rinse your triathlon wetsuit with clean water. Chlorine or oily waters that you may have been swimming in will not do your wetsuit any good. Some use special wetsuit shampoos, but a good rinse with clean water is more than sufficient. When you dry your tri wetsuit, avoid direct sunlight or putting it next to heat.


Make sure your wetsuit has not been damaged during a race or the frantic moments of the transition. Long nails are neoprene’s worst enemy. If necessary, use neoprene cement to repair your wetsuit and prevent further damage. If you have a big tear you should contact the manufacturer for assistance.


Don’t just put your triathlon wetsuit on a hanger, if the hanger is not big enough the shoulders will become misshapen and ruined. It’s far better to store your tri wetsuit flat. Storing it in a dark place at room temperature will do just fine, but a cold, damp garage is not a good idea.

Never use petroleum lubricant, Vaseline or similar products on your triathlon wetsuit.

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5 Tips to Survive the Open Water Swim

The first few minutes of the swim are the most frantic.

Everyone’s there for the same reason, and they’re all just trying to move ahead. Kicking and hitting is not intentional. It’s part of swimming in a tight pack.

The main thing to remember about the swim is to “seed” yourself appropriately. In other words, if you’re a slow swimmer, start near the end of your wave.

If you’re fast, start near the front. If you’re slow and start near the front you’re going to get mowed over!

Put on your Goggles Before Your Swim Cap

Since there is so much jostling during the swim I suggest you put your goggles on BEFORE your swim cap.
Your swim cap will help keep your goggles on your head in the event they’re bumped.

Go Wide Around the Buoys

Going around the buoys is tough for everyone, except the swim leader. If you’re not completely comfortable with the swim go extra wide around them.

Yes, it will add a little distance and take a little more time but, trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

Don’t Go Out Too Fast

A lot of triathletes make the mistake of going out too fast on the swim start. If you’re a really good swimmer, no problem; if you’re not, just go out at a comfortable pace, otherwise people will swim over you.

Count Your Strokes Between Sightings

I like to count my strokes while racing.

I “sight” most frequently at the beginning of the race and as I approach milestones. Between the milestones I take eight to 10 RPMs (right hand strokes) before sighting.

Sighting slows you down so you want to do as little as possible while staying on course.

Try to Stay Out of the Way

If you get tired on the swim and need to slow down, do breaststroke or back stroke.

It’s not a problem, just be sure to get out of everyone’s way. Just like the slow lane on the freeway, stay out of the way of the faster swimmers.


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