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Open Water Skills for Triathletes

Open Water Skills for Triathletes

Open water skills are essential for triathletes, as swimming in open water can present unique challenges compared to swimming in a pool. Here are some tips to help you improve your open-water skills for triathlons.

1. Get comfortable in open water: If possible, practice swimming in open water before race day. Spend time acclimating to the different conditions, such as waves, currents, and varying water temperatures. The more familiar you are with open water swimming, the better prepared you’ll be for the race.

2. Sight effectively: Open water courses often lack visible markers, making it crucial to sight properly. Lift your head slightly to sight ahead and ensure you’re swimming in the right direction. Practice sighting in training to improve your technique and efficiency.

3. Practice bilateral breathing: In open water, you may encounter waves, currents, or other swimmers on one side. Developing the ability to breathe on both sides will help you maintain your stroke rhythm and adapt to different conditions

4. Draft strategically: Drafting is when you swim closely behind or to the side of another swimmer to take advantage of their slipstream, which reduces drag and conserves energy. Practice drafting techniques in training to learn how to position yourself and benefit from other swimmers without impeding their progress.

5. Practice mass starts: In triathlons, the swim leg often begins with a mass start, where all participants enter the water at once. These starts can be chaotic and crowded. Practice swimming in close proximity to others to get accustomed to physical contact and maintain your composure.

6. Learn to navigate: Open water swimming requires navigation skills to swim the most efficient and direct course. Learn how to use landmarks, buoys, and other visual cues to guide your swimming and stay on course

7. Develop your endurance: Open water swims can be longer than typical pool swims. Train your endurance by gradually increasing your swimming distances during practice sessions. This will help you build the stamina needed to complete the swim leg comfortably.

8. Experiment with different strokes: In certain situations, like dealing with rough water or navigating around obstacles, it can be helpful to switch to a different stroke. Practice and become proficient in alternative strokes like the sidestroke or breaststroke to adapt to challenging conditions.

9. Learn how to start and exit the water: Practice running entries, where you start swimming from a standing or running position. Additionally, practice beach exits, where you need to navigate your way out of the water and transition to the next leg of the race smoothly.

10. Build mental resilience: Open water swimming can be mentally challenging due to the lack of pool walls and the uncertainty of the environment. Practice mental techniques, such as visualization and positive self-talk, to stay focused and calm during the swim leg.

Remember to always prioritize safety when swimming in open water. Familiarize yourself with the race course, know the safety protocols, and swim within your abilities. With consistent practice and exposure to open water swimming, you can enhance your skills and confidently tackle the swim leg of your triathlon.


Stuart has competed in triathlons from Sprint to Ironman distance. As a qualified Triathlon Australia, Australian Athletics Run Coach, and a certified Ironman coach, he is aware of the importance of balancing training with lifestyle, thus complementing other important aspects of an athlete’s life (family, work, study commitments, etc.).

Contact Stuart at



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