Simple wins to boost your open water triathlon swimming speed without extra effort, getting you to transition and on the bike in record time.
Once you’ve successfully made the transition from pool swimming to the open water, it’s time to focus on how to swim faster in your triathlon races.
Here are six simple tips to save time during your swim leg without having to put in a load of extra effort – helping you to start your triathlon fast and strong.
If you’re totally new to swimming in open water – or coming back after a spell away – check out our guides to preparing for open water swimming in the pool and acclimatising to open water to keep the chill at bay before taking the plunge.
Put your wetsuit on properly
This sounds like a given, but we see so many athletes at events who are held back in the swim because they’ve not quite finished putting their wetsuit on. From baggy neoprene between the legs to collars stretched low where they’ve not been pulled up, your suit can cause added restriction and drag in the water not because it’s the wrong size, but because it’s not on properly.
Key areas to be aware of are pulling the waist up so that the suit is snug against the crotch, working the front of the suit up so that the collar sits where it’s designed to be and getting plenty of material up around the shoulders so that the suit fits closely under the armpits.
For more in-depth wetsuit fitting tips, check out our How To Fit Your Wetsuit Properly guide.
Widen your recovery
No matter how fancy a wetsuit you’ve got, even a little restriction created by the added few millimetres of neoprene around the shoulders and underarms can affect your stroke and slow you down.
The traditional pool-swimming technique for the recovery tends to focus on a bent elbow, your hand ‘zipping’ up the side of your body before stretching out in front to spear the water for the next stroke. If you watch elite triathletes swimming in open water, however, you’ll see a much wider recovery, the elbow hardly bent, the arm swinging out to the side.
Not only does this mean less ‘punching’ against the restriction of your wetsuit, but it makes managing choppy conditions easier and helps with our next tip…
Increase your stroke rate
With waves, currents, surface choppiness from wind and hundreds of athletes swimming in close proximity, the movement of the water when swimming outside is markedly different from that experienced in a pool.
All this movement makes it harder to achieve an efficient catch in the way you might have honed when following the black line indoors. As you’re likely to be grabbing less water with each catch, increasing stroke rate can help maximise the propulsion you can produce over a given distance.
The trick is to find a higher stroke rate without resorting to a flat-out sprint. This can be achieved by either reducing the dead spots and any over-gliding in your stroke or by beginning the recovery earlier in your stroke as the final portion offers limited propulsion in open water. Either way, don’t lose focus on a strong, efficient catch.
Improve sighting efficiency
Sighting is essential to avoid swimming extra distance in your race. There are typically two ways to sight: breathe then sight or sight then breathe. You might find one method easier than the other or even find that you mix methods, employing one on each side.
However you sight, there is always some disruption to your natural stroke, so practise sighting in the pool and even time yourself, repeatedly swimming the same distance at a steady pace while sighting, to get an idea of which sighting style might be most efficient for you.
Seeing a video of yourself sighting or getting a fellow athlete to take a look can quickly help establish the smoothest sighting for your swimming style and which methods most hamper your technique.
Get Your Head Down
With all the sighting that’s necessary while swimming in open water, there’s a tendency to keep the head lifted while swimming. This not only lowers the legs – causing speed-sapping drag – but can create enough imbalance to make you veer off to one side, meaning you’ll swim further than you need to.
By dropping your chin back to neutral between sighting strokes, you’ll get back to that pool-honed technique with better rotation for straighter, faster swimming.
Embrace the draft
Finding a good pair of feet to draft can shave minutes off your swim time so getting used to swimming with others around you is an essential skill for every triathlete.
Your ideal drafting target will be someone who’s swimming a little faster than you. Stay close, but remain conscious of sighting and your effort levels to avoid following someone off course or going too hard just to keep with them.
If you can find a whole group of swimmers to draft behind, your exertion will drop significantly, so sighting not just the buoys but groups of nearby swimmers can put you in a great position to ease yourself through a fast swim and save your efforts for the bike.