Swim 101: A Beginners Guide

Of all the disciplines in triathlon, the swim requires the most technique. A strong person swimming will lose to a technically proficient swimmer every time.

BREAK THE BARRIER

Triathlon’s biggest barrier to entry - swimming! Speed up the learning curve by hiring a coach
or attending a LATC clinic / workout session.

HONE YOUR SKILLS

Develop your skills in a pool first before venturing into open water. Proper breathing technique is paramount to your success.

 

LEARN POOL ETIQUETTE

Intimidated to jump in the water? Understanding pool etiquette will ensure that you have a productive swim session.

BE SAFE - OCEAN 101

Join LATC’s weekly introduction to the ocean - review of ocean rhythms, currents, surf, tides, entering and exiting, etc. Learn more.

FROM POOL TO OPEN WATER SWIMMING: TOP QUESTIONS

Pool swimming is the absolute best place to work on stroke technique.

LATC urges any new swimmer to take a lesson or a short series of lessons from a respected swim instructor who understands triathlon before starting out.

It will expedite your process and help to ensure your safety.

Ocean swims require a bit of practice with getting “in and out” of the surf.

Surf can be scary for some, but it can be mastered with the “Dolphin” technique.

During warm-up, walk the line that you will enter into the surf. Be on the lookout for rocks, shells, holes, sand bars and other odd hazards that can exist on the edges of the shoreline.

Wade out to waist-deep water and wait for the next wave or mass of white water to come. When the surge is 6 feet in front of you, dive with your arms extended in front of your head, on an angle toward the wave (not straight down) and get all the way to the bottom.

Once there, claw your fingers into the sand. As the wave rolls over and above your back, pull yourself forward and then up to the surface, out the backside of the wave. The water is probably chest-deep now, so swim easy towards the next wave. When the next wave is 6-8 feet from you, dive again (a bit steeper this time) toward the wave and toward the bottom. Again, get your fingers into the sand and pull yourself under and out the back of the wave. If done effectively, you will probably only need to “Dolphin” under three or four waves before you are beyond them.

Coming back to shore is easy and fun: look back during breaths as you enter the area where the waves are breaking. When a steep wave is behind you, swim hard before the face of the wave. It can pick you up and give you a free ride toward the shore.

Get safe instruction and practice at LATC's Ocean 101 lessons - free!

Pool swimming is the absolute best place to work on stroke technique. Moving from pool to open water can result in some surprises. The primary issue is swimming in a straight line.

The best way to swim straight is to “sight” often. “Sighting” is the act of lifting your head out of the water slightly and seeing the buoy, or mark, to which you are headed. Lifting your head to sight destroys the body position of an efficient swimmer, so it must be done quickly and precisely. Only raise your head enough to bring your eyes up to the surface. An extra strong stroke will help raise you up, and a few hard kicks will help keep the hips from sinking too deep.

A few tips to remember are: look often, never trust that the swimmer you are following is going the right way. In the ocean, wait to rise up on a swell before you look. And the number one biggest trick to sighting: find a large landmark that is in line with the buoy and look for that. In your warm up, as you swim out to the first buoy, find a tree, building, mountain peak, saddle - anything enormous that you can quickly spot that is exactly beyond that buoy and in line with it. When you get to that first buoy, stop and tread water and find another large item beyond the next buoy.

If swimming in crowds unnerves you, choose a line on race day either inside or outside of the straight line to the first mark. Swim in the margins of the madness until things settle down, and then swim the shortest, straightest line possible.

Fitness and Wellness: Top Questions

Basic Logic: Getting hurt is the worst thing that can happen to you and your training.

  • Every workout must begin with a low-intensity warm-up.
  • During the workout, if something hurts, STOP.
  • Every workout must conclude with a cool-down segment.

 

Build fitness slowly and invest a few minutes at the beginning of every workout with a complete warm up and end of every workout with a cool down and stretch to reduce the risk of injury.

The body can, and will, adapt to athletic efforts if they begin at an appropriate level and progress upward slowly. Rushing into hard efforts, long efforts, hills, sprints or any highly stressful activity will increase the risk of injury greatly. Start slowly and build slowly; maximize your aerobic fitness and minimize the risk of injury. This gradual progression will allow for joints to adapt, connective tissue to thicken and muscles to strengthen.

Basic Logic: Being well hydrated will only help your training, your racing and your recovery, while being dehydrated will do nothing but hinder you.

Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink - keep it coming in at a steady rate. Find separate categories in your mind; one for water and one for sports drinks. These are two different, but important, things. In training, and on race day, you will need to consume both to satisfy your body’s needs for hydration.

Clean, cool water is the very best thing that a triathlete can drink. And you’ll need plenty before, during, and after workouts and races. A 150 pound adult can lose a half gallon of water a day just living, and a triathlete in training can lose up to two gallons.

Drink some water up to 20 minutes prior to swimming, and plenty after. Keep at least two water bottles on your bike, and drink 4-8oz every 15 minutes. During runs exceeding an hour, carry a bottle or know the water sources on your route.

Electrolyte replacement drinks such as Revenge, Gatorade, etc. help restore essential minerals like sodium, potassium and others. Some sports drinks contain too much sugar, and this can draw water away from the working muscles and back to the digestive system to help break down the sugar. The salt content in sports drinks is an essential part of hydration.

Basic Logic: Food is fuel for an athlete’s body. Make sure you give it something it can really use, something you know and like!

The first step in approaching a nutrition program for a triathlete in training is to look at how you might eat on race day (and every day of training):

  • Rise early and eat early so that your stomach will settle before your start.
  • Keep some calories coming in during the event to keep your energy up.
  • Eat well after the race to replenish all lost nutrients, restore muscle glycogen and to help restore broken down muscle tissue.

 

A good physical effort starts with a good meal the night before. Dinners should have a nice mix of the macro nutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, fat. Avoid foods that can affect your sleep and irritate your GI.

When you wake up in the morning, you should always eat. Think of a night of sleep as a mini fast; you need to be topped off before the morning’s effort.

It is recommended to take in calories as you train over periods of one hour or more. At 2 hours or more, you’ll jeopardize your goal unless you take in calories.

Basic Logic: Frequent, high quality workouts can be obtained as long as recovery is maximized. Recovery can and should include hydration, nutrition, stretching, massage (even self massage), REM sleep, icing and an oxygen-rich environment.

Training for a long distance endurance event requires an athlete to perform long, intense efforts and it requires them to perform them day after day. Recovery starts before the workout ends. Never let yourself run out of energy during a workout. Learn to take in some easily digestible carbohydrates early and often during long workouts (more than 60-75 minutes).

Eating after a workout is possibly the most critical nutritional consideration for an athlete. For the best recovery, it’s important that you eat a high glycemic food “in the window”, which is within 30 minutes of completing a workout. After the window - say, 30 to 60 minutes after the workout - it’s nice to eat a lower glycemic food along with a complete protein.

Stretching and massage can speed recovery. If massage therapy is not available after every workout (and let’s be honest, that’s a dream), then you can help speed recovery by simply massaging muscles with skin lotion or even in the shower with soap. You can rub the tissue back and forth and with long strokes toward the heart. There is really no “wrong” way to do it.

All elements of this regimen (plus rehydration) will get the body built back up and ready for the next effort.

Ready to Swim? Beginner Swim Workouts

BALANCE FOCUSED SWIM

Lesson: Obtain a level body position that puts heels, hips and shoulder blades at the surface of the water. Sustain that level body using balance.

Workout - Review | Print

FIRM & RELAXED SWIM

Lesson: Remove all unnecessary tension from your body and switch between two states: total relaxation and firmness (leaving “tense” behind).

Workout - Review | Print

 

TIMING FOCUSED SWIM

Lesson: Discover that the hips are the primary driver of the swim and how to time them with the entry arm and the pulling arm to find the greatest power.

Workout - Review | Print

FREE DOWNLOAD FOR LATC MEMBERS ONLY:
7-WEEK SHORT COURSE TRIATHLON TRAINING PROGRAM!

Training for a triathlon can be daunting, especially if you are new to the sport and are looking to do your very first race.

This program is ideal for those athletes looking for guidance and a general but inclusive training program.

 

  • Detailed weekly Swim, Bike & Run training, that you can scale to your ability and schedule.

  • Essential information on training, equipment choices, logistics and all other things “tri”.

  • Exclusive to LATC from InfiniteNRG

    Download Today

 

 

Coaching Recommendations

The SWIM MECHANIC

The Swim Mechanic

Using his physical therapy background and science-based approach to swimming, Bryan Mineo is a true stroke mechanic.

Mind Body & Swim

Mind Body & Swim

Freestyle workshops and open water clinics led by Coach Stuart McDougal, a USMS Level 3 Coach.

 

Tower 26

Tower 26

Coach Gerry Rodrigues promotes an ambitious training environment to help swimmers achieve their personal best.

LOOKING FOR THE PERFECT TRAINING COMPANION?

TTS's DVD series has it all: Triathlon 101, Swim, Bike, Run and Strength Training! Use your exclusive LATC discount: LATC10 to get 10% off!