How to Swim for a Triathlon

Use an efficient, well-balanced stroke in a triathlon.
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Triathlon swimming isn’t like a leisurely journey through a pool. Triathlon swims typically occur in open water, such as lakes, which tend to lack those friendly pool walls that offer built-in rest breaks every 25 meters. You’ll swim about 1/2 mile in a sprint triathlon, close to a mile in the Olympic version or, if you’re a real pro, 2.4 miles in an Ironman triathlon. While you want to swim as fast as possible, you’ve got to swim efficiently in a triathlon to help conserve energy for the biking and running segments that follow the swim.

    Step 1

    Begin the race with a dolphin dive if the water is shallow. Run forward a few steps, then dive straight ahead with your arms extended in front of you. Bring your feet down toward your hands as you enter the water, then push off of the bottom with your feet and hands. Keep diving and pushing off until the water is deep enough for normal swimming.

    Step 2

    Breathe on every other stroke during a triathlon to maintain your oxygen supply.

    Step 3

    Look down when you’re not turning your head to breathe.

    Step 4

    Reduce the intensity of your kicking relative to a normal pool swim, but never stop kicking during your swim.

    Step 5

    Move your arms straight forward and back. Avoid crossing either arm in front of your body.

    Step 6

    Keep your hips high in the water with your torso angled slightly downward toward the front.

    Step 7

    Carry your hands close to the water’s surface during the recovery portion of your stroke, when your hands are above the water.

    Step 8

    Flatten your palm and point your fingers downward when your hand enters the water. Make your entry point about 4 inches short of full arm extension.


    • Begin your swim training at least several months before your triathlon. The longer you train, the more endurance you’ll build.


    • Consult a physician before you attempt a triathlon.

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