How to Train for a Triathlon Swim

Completing a triathlon is tough, not only do you need to run and bike, but you also need to swim. Frequently this swimming is completed in the wild rather than in the pool, giving it a much different feeling than lap swimming.

If you want to train for a triathlon swim, this is going to take some dedication on your end. Keep reading to learn more about triathlon swimming and learn some tips to improve your training routine.

Supplies Needed for a Triathlon Swimming

Believe it or not, you will actually need some supplies to complete a triathlon swim. This isn’t something you can just show up in a swimsuit and complete, you will need to gather the following items in advance. You will likely want to train with some of them as well so it isn’t the first time you are doing so on the day of the triathlon.

  • The sea temperature of the water where you will compete–this information will give you guidance for other items on this list.
  • A wetsuit–thickness will depend on the aforementioned water temperature. You will also need to purchase one that follows the USAT guidelines.
  • Swim cap
  • Swim goggles
  • Somewhere to practice
  • A towel
  • A training buddy (or someone to time you and hand you the towel when you finish!)

Obviously, some of these items are optional, for example, you don’t need a towel but it might be nice to have one if you want to dry off after your swim! If you are practicing in a pool, then you won’t need a buddy to hand it to you, but if you are practicing in a lake, then for safety purposes you definitely want someone to keep an eye on you as you train.

How to Train for a Triathlon Swim (Step-by-Step Guide)

Got everything you need to get started? Below are the steps to follow for training for your triathlon.

Step 1: Check Your Stroke

In a triathlon swim, you will be swimming a long way. The triathlon swimming distance is 1.2 miles or about 2000 yards–which is no walk in the park even for experienced swimmers.

In order to be able to make it to the end successfully without tiring yourself out or injuring yourself, you want to have proper form as you swim. You can check this with a swim instructor, or you can ask your buddy to film you as you swim.

The best position for swimming a triathlon is a front or breaststroke where you keep your hips, ankles, and the back of your head on the surface. Your body should be as long as possible and your face should be looking downwards towards the bottom of the water unless you are turning it to breathe. Keep your core tight to make your stroke as efficient as possible.

Step 2: Improve Propulsion

You aren’t going to go anywhere in the event if your legs aren’t also working efficiently. You should schedule days in the gym to work them separately, as well as spend time ensuring your kicks are the right depth and aren’t too quick for maximum efficiency.

In general, keep your kicks narrow with your ankles relaxed. Point your feet outwards, this will help them pass through the water with ease.

Step 3: Learn to Swim in a Straight Line

Just because you know how to swim doesn’t mean you are ready for competition just yet. You also need to take the time to practice swimming in a straight line so you don’t bother other swimmers during the competition.

While this may be easy in a lap pool with lanes, you should challenge yourself by heading to a local lake to practice. Not only will this help you break in your wetsuit, but this will also help you see if you need to practice your straight swimming a bit better.

The trick to swimming in a straight line is to keep your arms going through the exact same area by your ears with each stroke. Do not move your arms diagonally in any way shape or form as this will cause you to turn.

Step 4: Practice, Practice, Practice

Once you’ve got your stroke down and can swim in a straight line, it’s time for the hardest part, practicing! With a triathlon, you will have a lot to practice between the swim and the bike and therefore it is realistic that you won’t be able to swim every day.

Instead, devise a practice plan where you will swim at least once a week, preferably twice. This will give you practice in the water while allowing you time to practice your other events.

You should start the practice phase as soon as you know you will be competing and know that your stroke is in proper form. If you start this step before the previous three, you risk letting your body memorize improper form. Retraining yourself in the right form will be difficult if this happens.

Step 5: Dry Run

Now it is easy when your practice plan is just swimming for two hours, but remember during the event you will be running, biking, and swimming, all in a row. This means that you should practice this way as well as the event gets closer.

It is likely impossible for you to practice the full event, but what you can do is head to a gym that has equipment, machines, and a pool. Start by running on the treadmill, then follow with biking, then jump in the pool.

While you will want to save this until closer to the event, you will want to have a couple of dry runs. And your last dry run should be no later than 1 month prior to your event. Later than this and you will interfere with your taper period.

Step 6: Taper

One month before your event is when you start your taper period. During this time you will still practice, but much less than before. You will lower your practice sessions to being much shorter, and you will not practice the full event as you were before.

Your practice sessions will continue to get shorter and shorter until about 5 days before the event when they will stop completely. You need to eat healthily and stop drinking alcohol during this time.

The purpose of this is to allow your body time to recover fully before the event, as well as to prevent you from getting an injury that will not heal by event time. The last thing you want to do is go through all of this to back out at the last minute.

Step 7: Final Week

The last 5 days before your event are the most critical. Ensure you are getting enough sleep and that you are eating healthy. If you feel anxious, a light 1-2 mile jog is okay, but you should push yourself no further and you should have no practice during this time.

And just like that, you are now ready for your first triathlon! When the day arrives, ensure you stretch, and best of luck to you!

Note: Although diet isn’t listed until step 6, you should be aware of what you are eating and drinking through your entire training period. You need to eat a healthy balanced diet in order to avoid injury. It is strongly suggested you do not drink alcohol at all during your triathlon swim training, as it can damage some of the progress you are making.

Swim Workouts for Triathletes

By now you know a little about what the training process for a triathlon will look like. But what should you do for practice while you are building up to your one-mile swim? Below are some suggested swim workouts for triathletes you can use to get some ideas.

Workout One: Endurance

  • 100 meters of pulling a buoy + 100 meters of using a kickboard
  • Reverse and Repeat
  • 200 meters of pulling a buoy + 100 meters of using a kickboard
  • 100 meters of kicking
  • 400 meters of using a kickboard + 100 meters of pulling a buoy
  • 100 meters of kicking
  • 50 meters of breast stroke
  • 50 meters of freestyle
  • 50 meters of backstroke
  • 50 meters of freestyle

Between each bullet point give yourself 10 seconds of rest.

Workout Two: Breathing Practice

  • 300 meters freestyle with your hands in fist formation
  • 400 meters regular freestyle with breaths every third stroke
  • 100 meters of regular freestyle breathe every five strokes
  • 50 meters of regular freestyle breathe every third stroke
  • 200 meters of freestyle breath every five strokes
  • 200 meters of kickboard using only your right arm (left arm at your side)
  • 500 meters of swimming with fins
  • 300 meters of freestyle

Between each bullet point give yourself 10 seconds rest.

Workout Three: Pacing Yourself

  • 300 meters freestyle
  • 200 meters kicking
  • 500 meters freestyle
  • 250 meters kicking
  • 550 meters freestyle, building speed as you go
  • 300 meters your choice for cool down

No rest between bullet points on this workout unless you need it!

As you can see, these workouts are not for the faint of heart. When you are just starting out consider conquering half of a workout then building up to a full one over time. By the time you get to the dry runs you should be able to do these workouts to their full extent!

Overall, becoming a triathlon swimmer is not easy, and you will need to put lots of time and effort into preparing. You will also need to purchase the right equipment, and likely get a friend on board to help you train. But if you do everything in this article, you should feel well prepared when it comes time to compete. Good luck!

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