Open water swimming tips for triathletes


These open water swimming tips will help make your Ironman swim a successful experience.

Learning how to swim in the open water is not as difficult as it might seem.

Perhaps you are at the point where you want to take on a triathlon that features an open water swim. Perhaps you began with shorter triathlons first where a pool swim was involved and now you feel ready to take the next step.

Or perhaps it is your first triathlon and you have some swimming experience and your very first triathlon will be in the open water.

Or you can be like me and your first open water swim ever can be in an Ironman Triathlon. Of course that was back in the early 1980’s and there were not to many choices when it came to triathlons.

There were no other WTC Ironman Triathlons anywhere in the world at that time so in many cases it was go to Hawaii or stay home in the early days of the sport.

Besides, where I live the water in the surrounding lakes is simply too cold and wetsuits had not yet hit the market. I opted to do all my training in a pool and let the cards fall where they may on race morning in Kona.


Really the very first thing you should do is become comfortable with your swim stroke. The smoother, more efficient and relaxed your swim stroke, the easier you will find the transition to the open water. This is perhaps the key point in these open water swimming tips for triathletes.

Open water swimming tips for triathletes

Be sure that you can handle the swim distance of your upcoming triathlon open water swim comfortably. You don’t want to be in the position of going into the swim unsure that you can even swim the distance. When you enter a triathlon it is assumed that you have that capability.

For example, say you are getting ready for your first Ironman Triathlon open water swim. You don’t necessarily have to swim 2.4 miles 2 or 3 times a week in training. Actually that would probably be a waste of your training time.

If you can swim 2 miles quite comfortably then chances are that you will be just fine on race day. A few times in the training season I would do an over-distance swim. In other words I would swim 3 miles in the pool non-stop.

This was just to re-affirm my confidence that I had the endurance and fitness level to handle the swim distance. It’s more of a psychological thing.

Probably one of the best open water swimming tips for triathletes is to be confident that you can handle the distance.

Once you can do that distance quite comfortably it’s not a good use of your training time to swim day after day. You could be working on other aspects of triathlon that you need to improve on.

In most cases you could probably get by just fine with 2 or 3 swim work-outs a week. as opposed to 4 or 5 like some people tend to do.

It really is counter-productive to swim too much because in the big picture of any triathlon you have to work way too hard to shave a few minutes off your swim time.

Instead of taking a few minutes off your swim time, why not work on your biking skills and take off 30 or 40 minutes or even more in the case of an Ironman Triathlon.


Working on this suggestion can be very helpful when it comes to triathlon open water swimming.

This is a technique often employed by life-guards. Especially life-guards who are protecting swimmers in the ocean or lake.

It’s called the head-up front crawl Basically when you swim normally you turn your head to the left of right in order to breathe after every stroke.

With the head-up front crawl you maintain your regular stroke pattern, but instead of having your head in the water, you hold it above water and sight ahead. The angle of your feet will be a bit different and as you are doing this maneuver. You will not have the same flat body position as your legs will sink more as you raise your head.

By using this stroke you don’t have to stop dead in the water in order to figure out exactly where you are on the swim course. You look up and straight ahead for five or six strokes and get your bearings.

This is really helpful out on the open water. When you are trying to make sure you are staying on course and also to help you find the turn markers and finishing chute once your reach the end of the swim. It’s very easy to wander off course in the open water so if you learned the “head-up” front crawl it could really be helpful on race-day.


After you regular training routine is done for the day, spend 10 or 15 minutes on learning this technique. It will not take you very long to catch on.
Open water swimming tips for triathletes

What I used to do was pick a point in the furthest corner of the swim complex. I would try and focus on it for 5 or 6 swim strokes at a time without letting my head fall back into the water. It takes a little practice to swim in this position as it is a bit unnatural but, but once you get it, you have it for good.


It’s not really necessary, but it can’t hurt to try it once or twice just to get used to how it is going to feel to wear a wetsuit in the open water.

Let’s face it. No matter how much the change the fabric and design of wetsuits they are always going to feel uncomfortable wearing one and that’s just the way it is.

If you are confident the wetsuit fits you well than I would not worry too much about swim training in it over an over again. There is really nothing wrong with waiting until race day to experience swimming in a wetsuit.

It is important to put it on a few times to get used to how tight and constricting they feel, especially around the neck area. Keep in mind however that it does not feel as constricting once you are in the water.

Regardless how uncomfortable a wetsuit might feel it will give you a boost of confidence in a way because they provide more buoyancy in the water and will keep you more stream-lined.

There are also many people who cannot afford the cost of a wetsuit and only have the option of renting one. That will work out just fine as long as you rent a suit from a shop that knows how to fit you properly for it. That’s the key.

Hopefully these open water swimming tips for triathletes will be of some help to you.

Total Immersion is perhaps one of the best swim techniques available for triathletes trying to get the most out of their swimming.



TOTAL IMMERSION is offering all IronStruck visitors a 10% discount on Books, DVD’s, and all other Total Immersion teaching tools.

Simply click on TOTAL IMMERSION go to their store page. Use the Coupon Code “ironstruck” (all small case letters) into the shopping cart coupon box and you will automatically receive your 10% discount!

For more information on being a more successful triathlete or Ironman be sure to have a look at the books I have written. They have helped many triathletes around the world realize their Ironman and triathlon dreams and goals.

You can visit my ironstruck book store and find the perfect book for the new or experienced triathlete doing their very first try a tri triathlon or the Ironman.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *