Swimming Technique Tips for Triathlon Swims

author : Team BT
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Being a good pool swimmer doesn't necessarily mean you'll be fine on race day. Make sure you've trained for race conditions.

For years, triathletes and coaches thought that in order to become the best triathlete on the planet, one had to swim like a pro swimmer, pedal as a professional cyclist and run like a marathon athlete. As more beginners enter the sport of triathlon, we realize that training tips meant for elite athletes don't apply well to adults who are taking up endurance sports for the first time.

The pros in each of these sports tend toward certain body types, and the body type of a swimming great is not the same as the body type of a champion distance runner.

Not only don't most beginners have the body type of an Olympian, many won't benefit from the training techniques of great swimmers. Luckily triathletes have benefitted from the forward thinking of some great coaches who have recognized innate habits of good swimmers, and deconstructed them to find simple techniques beginners can adopt for success.

One of these was Terry Laughlin, who developed a popular method of swimming instruction that emphasized form over speed to help thrashing swimmers learn to glide through the water. Laughlin died in 2017 at age 66 after a battle with cancer, but his advice lives on. Laughlin, the mastermind behind Total Immersion and the renowned Olympic Coach David Marsh  compiled a fairly easy guide to help triathletes step-by-step into bettering their swimming technique. The training style for this sport is essential for people who wish to take this discipline to the next level, especially since unlike pro-swimmers, they will come in all shapes and sizes, and with different abilities. 


Seven-step Advice for Triathlon Swimming Techniques


Good beginner advice is to swim tall, even if you are short. Since water has a 1000 times larger density than air, Laughlin underlined the importance of slipping the body through the tiniest holes in the water. Imagining a central axis that extends from the top of the swimmer’s head down to the opposite ending of the pool will help to rotate the body along this axis at each stroke. The muscles in the lower back and abs should be kept taut, and the leading arm should be stretched up to its limit. This way, the propulsion will constantly come from both arms and legs.



  1. Drop an Anchor: The entire forearm and the hand should be used to grip the water, while the hands should be kept flat, broad and firm, thus making each arm act as an anchor, over which the body is being pulled.

  2. Heavy Rotation: As the arm that comes out of the water is entering the water and extending forward, the opposite hip should rotate up to the surface of the water. For example, if your right hand is extended out at the top of the stroke, your left hip should be pointing at the ceiling.

  3. Keeping the Head Down: Beginning swimmers often swim with their heads up, gasping for breath, or they keep their heads down through part of the stroke, then break their form and lift their head high to breathe. This causes the legs to sink and drastically increases resistance, making it much harder to pull the body through the water. For triathlon training, keep holding your head down, aimed at the bottom, and imagine leaning down on your torso as if it were an inflatable raft. (It is, since it contains the air in your lungs.) At each breath, keep one ear and one eye in the water to avoid lifting the head and causing the legs to sink.

  4. Finding the Glide Path: When practicing in the pool, the main goal should always be that of reaching a higher distance per stroke. While pro swimmers like Michael Phelps can easily achieve 25m in just seven strokes, triathlete trainees should try keeping their bar below 20. Laughlin also recommends keeping the legs streamlined near the swimmer’s axis.

  5. Making Use of the Legs: Good kickers are also good swimmers. When the legs are kept taut, they will scissor the swimmer through the water. Flexible feet and ankles are important for maximum propulsion. Most triathletes train with a minimal kick to save their legs for the bike and run.

  6. Not Wasting any Breath: Each breath of air is extremely important, and swimmers should make them all count. Before the breath, exhale all of the air in the lungs out by blowing bubbles hard into the water. This will empty the lungs for a good full breath, quickly, with a brief turn of the head. In the beginning of their training, swimmers will need to take a breath after each stroke cycle. In time their endurance will grow, and they should reach an ideal level of breathing every three strokes, alternating sides.


The Best Swimming Training for Triathlon


Because pools offer a relatively short distance between the walls, it's easy to become caught up in the types of workouts swimmers use, focused on speed, lots of power from the shoulders, and a high stroke rate. This type of swimming technique is very difficult to sustain in a triathlon, where the distance is long and there are no walls to provide a bit of rest and the free propulsion of a push-off. 

Try using your pool swimming time to develop a swim stroke that feels effortless and uses as little energy per stroke as possible. Work on achieving a lot of distance for each stroke. Focus on using your core muscles and the snap of your hips when you switch from one arm to the other to fuel your forward movement. One way to work on the hip snap is to make sure you are swimming on one side and then the other side as you stroke your arms, rather than swimming flat on your belly and chest. 

Using this technique, you won't win any sprints in the pool, but you'll be better prepared for swimming 20 minutes straight without a break in a triathlon race.




About the author: William Benetton is a blogger, traveler and writer. He loves writing on many kinds of sport and tourism. You can visit his project oddsdigger.com and have some fun. He can't imagine life without sport, travel and morning coffee.

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date: April 1, 2018

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