How to Train for a Triathlon Swim

So, you’ve decided to participate in a triathlon. This is not a decision to be taken lightly. If you decide to follow through with it, the most physically challenging weeks of your life await you. For us, the bigger the challenge, the sweeter the reward.

“But wait!” you protest. Turns out, in the excitement of competition, you forgot that you don’t know how to swim. Well, that’s certainly an obstacle. We firmly believe that the obstacle is the way. Meaning that this is merely something that we will have to overcome, together!

We’re here for you every step of the way. To that end, we’ll show you how to train for a triathlon swim.

What You’ll Need

The swimming section of a triathlon requires very little equipment as compared to the biking section. Of course, it’s slightly more than the running section but nothing major per se. Similarly, you will need a few things when training for it, such as:

  • Swimwear: Wetsuits are popular for many triathletes. The reason we’ve titled this as swimwear and not wetsuits is that, wearing one disqualifies you from any award you may be likely to win.

If you choose to wear one, you will have to follow the guidelines laid down by USAT here. So, swimwear generally includes swim trunks, t-shirts, shorts etc.

  • Swim cap: A swim cap protects your hair, makes them easy to manage and makes swimming easier.
  • Swim goggles: They protect your eyes from the chlorine in the water, and help you improve your technique.
  • Towel: Once you’re done with your swim, you’ll need a towel to dry off.
  • Membership to local pool: Can’t practice swimming without a pool!

How to Train for Triathlon Swim in 3 Steps

Now that you have all the equipment needed, you’ll need to approach the task ahead step-by-step.

Swimming Fundamentals

As with anything in life, a solid foundation is the key to success. This is why you must begin by mastering the basics.

1. Body Positioning

When in the pool, your body should be stretched. You should attempt to keep your hips, ankles, and the back of your head on the surface. To do so, you will need to brace your core, and focus your attention to the bottom of the pool.

This means that your eyes, and consequently your head, should be pointed downwards. This is the ideal body position. Keep trying until you’re able to keep your body in this state.

If your legs are not stiff, they will sink below your body. This will reduce the efficiency of your strokes. Once again, if your head is too high, it will misalign your body. This will compromise your technique.

2. Alignment

Next up is alignment. Each arm has a channel.  Your head separates the two channels, which is in the middle channel. When you extend an arm, ensure that it stays in its own vertical channel. It should not move diagonally into the other hand’s channel or towards the center.

3. Propulsion

You should work on the previous steps to acclimate to an aquatic environment. Your body is not used to being in water; as such you will need some time to gain stability in water. Repeated movement in the pool, practicing your breathing are all important before you can start propelling yourself in the pool.

Your aim should be to extend the arm to its maximum reach. This will result in a powerful stroke. Your kicks should be narrow, with ankles relaxed and pointed outwards. Your hand should be firm when performing the stroke. If it’s loose, you will fail to generate the required force for propulsion.

Triathlon Swimming

Once you’ve nailed the fundamentals, you will feel the need to develop a more efficient stroke. This is because swimming is not the only aspect of a triathlon. If your strokes are inefficient, it means you are wasting more energy than the competition. It’s possible that by the end of the swimming section, you’re already too exhausted to continue. So, experiment with various techniques and see which one works the best for you.

Swimming in a pool is great, but you want to learn how to train for a triathlon swim. Training for the triathlon means learning to swim in open water. The pool is a safe, controlled environment with lots of features that help you swim better. Open water is a completely different animal. It’s unpredictable. It doesn’t have lighting to facilitate the swimmer. It also doesn’t have a clear track to help you navigate.

This is why it is important that once you feel you’ve mastered the basics, you start practicing in open water. This will help you get familiar with the kind of challenges you’ll have to face on the day of the event. For instance, not having the dependable black line means you have to develop your spatial awareness. Open water has choppy waves, learn how to utilize them to your advantage.

Additional Steps

Join a group

Many experienced swimmers, practice with each other. They offer help and guidance to those who are just getting started. Being part of a group can take away a lot of fear from inside you. Having a person around who has been there and done that can be a huge load off. It also allows you to pick up the best tips, straight from the horse’s mouth.

Recruit a Professional

If you don’t like large groups, consider hiring a trainer. It’s like delegating your progress to somebody else. You just need to show up and do as they tell you. The trainer will set goals, give feedback and monitor your progress. This will reduce the risk of showing up to the end, half-prepared.

Our Final Thoughts

Many people don’t know how to swim, let alone how to train for a triathlon swim. So, don’t be discouraged by your inexperience. With the tips in this guide, you’ll be ready for the event in no time!

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