How can I get ready for the swim in a triathlon?

Getting ready for a triathlon? Here are a few tips for the swim.

A pool swim

If you are uneasy in the water, think about choosing a triathlon with a pool swim. Being able to see the bottom, the lane lines, and a wall to touch between each lap may be what you need to get you through the swim.  

Open water

If the event is a lake or river swim (open water), schedule a few of your swim workouts in open water. Being used to the cooler tempertures, limited visibility, and exposure will be an advatage to you on race day. Always swim with a partner in designated areas. Swim along the shoreline rather than 'out-and-back'. Never swim alone.


A wetsuit offers bouyancy, warmth and a sense of security. Ask your local triathlon club about rentals. Don't wear a wetsuit for the first time on race day. If you have the opportunity to swim in one before race day, I recommend it.

A wetsuit must fit properly!  Swimming wetsuits are designed to give your shoulders full range of motion, where another type might quickly cause fatigue. A wetsuit that is too large will create a lot of drag while one that is too small will constrict. If purchasing a wetsuit, find a company with triathlon experience and allow yourself to be measured for a good fit. Remember, wetsuits aren't required, and some events won't allow them, so find out before you make an investment.  

The Workout

Swimming is all about efficiency. Practice long, smooth strokes. Get comfortable with breathing on either side of the body; every third or fifth stroke. Stretch your body out. Keep your kick smooth, not rapid (save your legs and energy for the bike and run).  

Work your way from short distances to longer distances; up to 750 meters (or yards) for a sprint triathlon. Plan on at least 12 weeks, two to three swim workouts per week to prepare.  A typical workout might consist of a warm-up, mid-distance set, sprints, distance set, and a warm down. Always remember to stretch.  

What to wear

Buy good, racing-specific goggles and a swim cap. Wear a fitted racing suit that you are comfortable biking and running in. You won't be changing clothes after the swim. The transitions are still part of the race. 

Have fun! There is something really amazing about doing a triathlon and hopefully, it will become a tradition for you.    

Practice your real race day warm up. Race Simulation: Grab 2-3 of your closest friends (well at least your swimming/triathlete buddies who swim). Warm-up: Swim on your buddies feet. Practice drafting in a pace line switching the leader every 50 meters. Do this for 800-1000 meters.Turn Buoy: Set a turn buoy 6-8 feet from the wall. Start at the opposite wall all together and fight to be the first one at the buoy and around it and back to the wall. Performing 6x50 of these should be ample time to elbow each other, work on your acceleration in the water and practice buoy turns while you’re at it. While it is race simulation, try not to give your buddies black eyes, they will be less likely to practice with you in the future. Finish up with a 2x600 swim fartlek alternating 50 meters at endurance pace and 50 meters fast. Start the season off right with a swim PR by incorporating these race simulation swim sets into your preparation for optimal performance on race day. Not only will you be physically prepared, you will be mentally focused, practiced and sharp come that first cold dip into the open water.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.