Triathlon Swim Training


Here are some insights into triathlon swim training that may improve your swim stroke and help utilize pool time.

If you are Ironstruck and determined to become a triathlete or perhaps take on the Ironman but a bit nervous about the swim this may make you feel better.

Historically, more first time starters are experienced runners and/or bikers as opposed to swimmers. You are not alone!

Swimming is usually a big stumbling block for many a novice Ironman who would like to do this race. Just the thought of being out in the open water or swim training in general often scares some people off.

If I survived my first Ironman swim so will you. When I watched those crazy people back in 1982 and they were swimming 2.4 miles in the ocean, my first thought was—“well I guess that rules me out”.

Considering I couldn’t swim a stroke at the time and had a healthy fear of the water, my chances looked pretty slim. At that particular moment, the thought of triathlon swim training for me seemed pretty distant.

Two years later I was in Kona at the Ironman Hawaii swim start when the starting cannon went off and I was on my way. This was my first open water swim! And what a swim it was because I had a really crappy stoke.
triathlon swim training
I know that now but I didn’t care at the time. I was swimming in Kona–I had really made it to Hawaii! Maybe my preparation and my triathlon swim training was not the best but it saw me through the day.

I will never forget that transition tent. It was electric! It was like everyone was talking at once. You could “feel” the sense of accomplishment—the relief in the air.

Today I realize it was because the swim had a lot of people worried.

As it turned out in later years I would see this same scenario played out over and over again.

I’m pretty certain that the Ironman swim was a big accomplishment for many of my fellow novice Ironman competitors that day, and they struggled through their triathlon swim training as much as I did.

When it comes to swimming there are many issues that people new to triathlon and swimming in general have to deal with. There are so many questions that need answering and hopefully I can answer some of those questions from my years of struggling with the Ironman swim.

It was such a monumental break-through for me after finally figuring out the best way to approach it from a technique stand-point as well as developing an Ironman competition race swim strategy that worked well for me.


Many new triathletes are not really comfortable in weight rooms and have little or no experience when it comes to weight lifting.

However, it’s not really that difficult to get started in the weight room and benefit your swimming from gaining in strength, flexibility, and endurance.

If you can fit it into your triathlon training, weight training might give you a swimming edge.

The key is to do about 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions of a weight you can handle into the third set before it becomes challenging as opposed to lifting a very heavy weight and only doing 4-6 repetitions.

Doing fewer reps of a heavy amount of weight will build big muscles, as opposed to more reps of a lighter weight that will improve strength and endurance.

Concentrate of exercises that work the back, arms, and shoulders. Most fitness facilities will have knowledgeable staff who will help you choose the right exercises if you let them know if it’s for swimming.


Swim fins, kick boards, and hand paddles. What works and what doesn’t? Sometimes swim aids can hinder your progress in learning proper body positioning.

triathlon swim training

Over-use of hand paddles can cause injury

I can tell you what worked for me and what you might be farther ahead to avoid when it comes to swim equipment.

To truly become a better swimmer you would be doing yourself a great service by not relying on swim aid like hand paddles, kick boards, and pull-buoys when you are first learning to swim.

They will become your crutch and will not encourage you to learn a proper stroke and proper body-alignment which pretty well do away with the need for any pool tools.

On occasion swim fins may help when you are doing specified swim stroke drills that require you to maintain forward speed.


There are many, many triathletes who have to learn how to swim in order to become a triathlete.

By that I mean, they might be 45 years old and not be able to swim a stroke, but are determined to learn just so they can take part in a triathlon.

Unlike some who learned how to swim when they were kids.

This makes the thought of swimming in the open water pretty scary for many, but it need not be.The open water triathlon swim can actually be pretty enjoyable with the proper approach and mindset.

Once you gain confidence in your swim stroke and learn the importance of relaxing and using as little energy as possible you will lose your fear of swimming in the open water.


In most swim groups the coach will most likely put you through drills that include the basic strokes like the butterfly, breast stroke, backstroke, and the front crawl.

However if you are planning to take up the sport of triathlon, some old school triathletes(like myself)will have there own opinion on this.

Your valuable swimming time should be spent working on the front crawl as opposed to the other standard strokes as it is the front crawl that is best for triathlons.


You start to shiver just at the thought of facing a cold water swim as the opening discipline of your triathlon.

Well you are certainly not alone. I think the cold water swim was one of my biggest obstacles when I first took on the Ironman challenge. Over the years I discovered a trick to battle the cold water.

Research on cold water swimming let me to d’pantothenic acid which is available in most health food store as it is a vitamin. It has been used by many distance swimmers who expected to be in cold water for an extended time(like the English Channel for instance).

Do your research on it. It is certainly worth a try as it seems to warm the body from the inside.


You’ve worked hard to reach the Ironman swim start and there will be many emotions to deal with especially if it’s your very first Ironman.

Although it’s a time of fear, doubt, and anxiety for many, it need not be.It should be a time of reflection about how far you have come to reach this point in your life.


You will find a link to Total Immersion Swimming on every swim page on the Ironstruck site and for very good reason.

Total Immersion, the swim technique devised by Terry Laughlin has helped many triathletes around the world(including myself)change the way they look at swimming in general.

Especially swimming in a triathlon event as long as the Ironman where conserving energy cannot be over-stated. If you are new to triathlon or are having trouble with your triathlon swim, then this is a page you just have to visit.

There is so much to learn about swimming when one first takes up the sport of triathlon. Hopefully you find some of the information on the Ironstruck website helpful to you.

Another important decision to consider is whether or not a swim club or group of some type is the best choice for you when it comes to your triathlon training.

Swim clubs are great for learning to swim in close quarters with others. However, I found there were several drawbacks to this method of triathlon swim training.

First of all you’re normally assigned lanes according to ability. More often than not you end up trying to swim faster than the person beside you and stroke technique soon becomes non-existent.

The coach will have you do sets of backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly. You get the picture. Hey! You’re going to swim in the Ironman! Learn the front crawl!

And look! Coach is passing out kick-boards! RUN! RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN! Oh Boy, I really, really, don’t like those things but most of the early triathlon swim coaches I had seemed to think it was a necessary evil.

triathlon swim training

Ruuuunnnnn! if you see one of these

Anyway, I was determined one year that I would swim faster then ever before and spent one Fall, Winter and Spring in a club working on swim-training.

I had to park 5 blocks away from the pool and in the winter its like 30 below here and I froze 4 nights a week. But I stuck it out! For 8 months! Ironman day came. I was 2 minutes SLOWER than the year before! Oh man. From then on I swam alone.

I read books. I swam thousands of lengths, Reinforcing all my bad habits. I swam miles and miles with pull buoys, because my feet sank.

I blasted my way through the water. It took me 10 years of swim-training to take 15 minutes off my original Hawaii swim. The gun would go off and I would move my arms as fast I could for 2.4 miles.

Then I discovered the TOTAL IMMERSION method and realized I had to SLOW DOWN in order to swim faster. I learned that swimming relaxed and using the natural buoyancy that we all have was the answer.

It wasn’t really how FAST I got to the other end of the pool, it was HOW! I finally learned that 16 relaxed strokes is a ton better then 25 “move your arms as fast as you can strokes.”

If you are just beginning your triathlon career, TOTAL IMMERSION is the perfect system to incorporate into your swim training as your career develops. If you are completely new to swimming, then you have the advantage of developing a great stroke from the very beginning without having to break bad swimming habits.

TOTAL IMMERSION….Simply one of the best swimming techniques in the world today for triathletes of any level.



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!

I worked on developing my new swim stroke using the TOTAL IMMERSION simple to follow drills and tips all through the next training swim training season and found myself back at the Ironman swim start. What I learned through total immersion was a whole new concept in triathlon swim training for me.

I had discovered how to swim efficiently and also how to stay calm and relaxed. I used my new loooooong, smoooooth, stroke. I kept a nice even balance on top of the water and my sinking feet no longer held me back. It was an amazing feeling after all the the triathlon swim training I’d been doing wrong.

There was no need to move my arms as fast as I could to avoid sinking because my body-positioning was so much better. I had never felt so relaxed and fresh after finishing an Ironman swim.

I thought, “well, I don’t feel like I worked very hard or swam very fast, but if my time’s slower that’s ok, at least I feel great!” Little did I know just how effective my new-found method of triathlon swim training actually was.

MY TIME WAS A PERSONAL BEST SWIM BY JUST OVER FIVE MINUTES! In one training season, by learning to relax, and swim with proper technique and use loooong, smooooth strokes and proper body balance I made a huge improvement in my swimming.

I found the total immersion method worked best for me. It kept my heart rate down and meant I was expending far less energy and could save it for later on in the day. It’s the ultimate in Triathlon swim training.


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