Tri Talk Tuesday – How To Improve Your Triathlon Swim

Happy Tuesday! It is in fact the first Tuesday of the month so I am all linked up with the fabulous Cynthia from You Signed Up For What and the speedy Phaedra from Blisters and Black Toenails for some chatter and triathlon banter.

Today we’re coming full circle and delving back into the basics of swim, bike, run and starting with swimming. We’ve chatted about it a few times before. You can find some general swim information here and here, as well open water swim info here and must have swim gear and gadgets here.


It seems like, for most people, swimming is the weak link in triathlon. And while that’s not true for everyone, I’d go ahead and bet you hear “I can’t swim” or “I’m a weak/terrible/slow/some variation of I suck/swimmer” more than you here similar sentiments about running and cycling.

But swimming doesn’t have to be scary or intimidating. Even if you’re slow in the water or you think it’s not your favorite, there’s always room for improvement and with improvement comes confidence which leads to a better race. So let’s go over some swimming basics.

1. Body position in the water. This is something beginners struggle with that is very easy to correct. The quickest and easiest way to get your body planed in the water is with your head position. If your head is too far up and you’re looking too forward your hips and legs will sink. If your head is too far down and your chin is too close to your chest, you will have a hard time breathing. You should have you face more or less parallel to the bottom of the pool with the water level above your hairline. Most people have their faces too far up out of the water. By lowering it some it will actually pull your legs and hips up and your body will be flat and floating like it should be. This will make it easier for you pull yourself forward through the water and minimize some drag and the weight of your lower body sinking.


2. Figure out a breathing pattern that works for you. When I was first really learning to swim for triathlon I would breathe every other stroke. It was what  worked for me. I would take a breath every time my right arm dipped into the water. As I’ve gotten stronger and more comfortable in the water I’m fine with breathing every third or every fourth stroke. But when you’re just beginning, it’s important to just do what feels natural and comfortable for you. Learning to breath bilaterally (on both sides) or go longer stretches in between breaths will come with practice and swim endurance and comfort.


3. Swim with a purpose. All your swim workouts should be just that; a workout. If you can’t swim more than 25 yards without having to stop and catch your breath, that’s okay, keep swimming and the endurance will come (and it’ll come quicker if you have good form!) But if you can swim multiple lengths or laps without stopping then it’s time to workout. Do a few hundred yards for a warm up then do some real, timed intervals. Make yourself work hard. The only way to get better in the water is to challenge yourself. And while it’s not bad to get in a just swim from time to time, the bulk of your swimming should be interval workouts of varying distances and intensities. Don’t know how to write a swim workout? No worries, this fabulous little book will not only provides you with a never ending supply of workouts, it’s also waterproof so you can plop it on the pool deck and work directly from it.


That little swim book seriously rocks!

Swimming should be fun and really, swimming is pretty awesome. Don’t let that little voice in your head, your lack of swim workout knowledge, or anything else keep you from enjoy your time in the water. Watch a few videos on form, pick a workout out of the swim book, and jump on in!

 Swim basics- What’s one piece of advice you would offer up?

What’s you favorite swim workout?

Tri Talk Tuesday will be back again on April 7, 2015. Our topic for April is all about the bike! Tell us all about your bike, bike workouts you love, bike handling skill drills, or anything else cycling related! Got a post that fits the theme? Make sure you come and link up!


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    • For OWS, it’s all about practice time! Just keep swimming =)

  1. Good post! I completely agree with the bilateral breathing. When I first started I was a right side breather every other stroke. My coach immediately had me work bilateral breathing and it was so important to be comfortable on both sides in open water – you never know when sun glare, waves/wind, splashy swimmers are going to prompt you to breathe on the other side. All else being equal, I try to swim race pace and tempo efforts with a 3-2-2-3-2-2 breathing pattern. Lets me switch sides but then get in enough oxygen to sustain the effort.
    Kelli recently posted…Flip turns! Why you should practice them…My Profile

    • Oh, I like that pattern! I might try it since I generally still breath every other stroke but it’s almost too much sometimes.

    • Just plug away at it! Once you get that nailed down you’ll be gliding!

  2. Ooh, I will have to check out the little swim book! This is a great post for a newbie triathlete like me. I am still getting more comfortable with bilateral breathing. It’s nice hear that its ok to just progress at your own speed. Sometimes it can be hard being new and I want to be just as good as the seasoned athletes right away but I know it takes time and a lot of practice.
    Sandra Laflamme recently posted…Tri Talk Tuesday–Triathlon. The Swim and 3 Essential Swimming Drills.My Profile

    • Be your own athlete! Keep practicing, it will come eventually. I honestly only breath bilaterally when I have to, haha.

  3. Pingback: Top Tips to Improve Your Swim | The Bolting Butterfly

    • Body position makes such a huge difference! Swim clinics are so awesome. Thanks for joining the conversation =)

    • Good luck! Your first tri will be a total game changer. Such a thrill and so amazing. I wish I could relive that finish line feeling. Happy training!

  4. I love your tips here! Honestly, head position is KEY!!! This was a game changer for me! I have learned not to lift my head up and therefore this improves my speed. Also, focusing on the proper catch and head (and body) rotation has been huge for me.

    You also want to make sure your palm is going into the water pointed down… I was making a ‘stop sign’ with my hand and this was causing a ton of drag. Once I focused on a sharp entry into the water with my hand, it really improved my swim times! With swimming it can be easy to get discouraged… just stick with it and getting your stroke analyzed by a professional can help too!

    Also… I love this website for tips:
    Kristin @SweatCourage recently posted…Countdown to Ironman Mont-Tremblant: 24 Weeks {trust the process}My Profile

    • Isn’t it amazing how little tweaks like hand and head position can make such a big difference? Great tip about hand position! Thanks for the link too. I always love getting new resources =)

  5. I’m definitely one of those triathletes who says that the swim is their slowest sport!
    I agree with your point about swimming with a purpose. I’ve always got some sort of workout in my mind when I hit the pool and then during smaller sets I’ve got some sort of technique goal/improvement I focus on (hand position, breathing out smoothly, strong off the turn, etc.). My coach always says that swimming is 80% mental…

    My pool has a ton of laminated workout cards available on the deck but that book looks like a great resource to change things up!

    • That’s so awesome your pool has premade workouts you can use! Just keep swimming, you’ll keep getting faster =)

  6. I love swimming…1200 wu, 300 fins, 300 kick, 300 pull, 300 intervals (50 or 100s) Repeat about three xs a week. Got me first in AG at Sharkfest swim in San Fran (swim from Alcatraz) last June!

    • The book is awesome! It has full training plans in it as well. Thanks for linking up today =)

    • I’ll be getting my form taped next weekend. Hopefully it shows me some good insight.

  7. Pingback: Swim Lane Etiquette: 5 Rules To Swim By - Eat 2 Save Your Life

  8. These are great! I can’t tell you how many times I have seen the “plow” technique but it is definitely the most common thing I see in new swimmers, and why they get worn out so fast! Btw love that look! It has been in my swim bag for years, I usually write up a specific workout but for the days I don’t get around to it that book is awesome!
    Amber@Eat2SaveYourLife recently posted…20 Reasons To Tri In 2015My Profile

    • The book is great for needing a workout on the fly. I get most of my swim workouts from either my swim coach or now my new tri coach, but I love it for when I feel like doing my own thing or just need a change of pace.