Triathlon Tips

Triathlon Tips and Technique Links for Swimming

EVF:  Early Vertical Forearm, watch the videos now!

We have been using a lot of the form discussed in these videos.  Please take a look at them and be familiar with what we are working on at practice.

1.   Proper Hand Placement

2.   Fingertip Orientation

3.   Wrist Awareness    

4.  Umph at the Front    

5.  Exiting the Stroke    

Overgliders:  Are YOU one of them?

In an effort to make their stroke as long as is physically possible, many swimmers have placed a heavy emphasis on gliding with scant regard for the rhythm of their stroke. Just like we teach that short scrappy strokes can be inefficient as the swimmer fights the water, so too is an overly long freestyle stroke detrimental to performance.

Some swimmers say that they like this 'mini rest' between strokes but given that water is over 800 times more dense than air, pausing and gliding only results in deceleration. Each new stroke then has to re-accelerate the body in the water and this becomes very wasteful of your energy. It's also very common to see swimmers add a strange 'kick-start' action with the legs to re-start the stalled stroke. This adds drag and further harms your efficiency.

The term 'Glide' has long been used by swim coaches and is well meant to describe a smooth, efficient, unhurried freestyle stroke. Unfortunately it has also been misinterpreted to mean pause, stop and do nothing momentarily. At Swim Smooth we avoid using the term glide as it is so easily misinterpreted to mean pause and do nothing.

Long Stroke Styles

Many swimmers aspire to have a long smooth freestyle stroke and that is fine for pool swimming as long as you create it in the right way and it doesn't become overly long. There are three ways to make your stroke longer:

1) Reduce your drag so that you slip through the water more easily
2) Increase your propulsion so each stroke pushes you further
3) Artificially elongate the stroke by deliberately pausing and gliding between strokes

Reducing your drag and increasing your propulsion (1 & 2) are clearly good things and will make you faster and more efficient. But as we have seen in the data, trying to make your stroke longer by introducing a significant glide is putting the cart before the horse and only makes you less efficient. If you've tried Overgliding yourself, you'll know that it ultimately leads to frustration for this reason.

Be careful, there are still plenty of proponents of Overgliding on the internet today. If a long smooth stroke style appeals to you then like any swimmer you should work on reducing your drag, improving your propulsive technique and create a smooth rhythmical stroke without any dead-spots or pauses - just like elite swimmers do. This will naturally result in the optimal stroke length for you without chasing an artificially low stroke count by introducing a 'pause and glide' into your stroke.

If Long Doesn't Suit You

Depending on your individual make-up, a really long stroke style may simply not suit you. That's perfectly fine because a slightly shorter stroke can be just as efficient when drag is low and propulsive technique is good. However, what will make your stroke style unique is that you need a greater emphasis on stroke rhythm, perfect for punching through waves and chop in open water swimming. This is the refined Swinger style of stroke.



Six Tips For Exiting The Open-Water Swim

Exiting open water is an often overlooked part of the transition from swim to bike. Many seconds can be gained and lost, so technique and planning are important.

Photo: Paul Phillips

Step 1: Swim toward the finish. Know the course and find tall buildings or trees to sight that are in line with the swim exit.

Step 2: Activate your legs. Kick a little extra during the last 200 meters of the swim.

Step 3: Keep swimming! Don’t stop or stand up until you have run aground in the shallow water. When your fingers scrape the bottom, take a few more strokes by pulling right under your torso.

Step 4: Stand up and lift your goggles onto your forehead. This action clears your vision for any potential hazard underfoot as you start to run out of the water.

Step 5: Unzip your wetsuit on solid ground. Running through sand and rocks is hard enough. Wait until you reach carpeting or pavement to search for that strap!

Step 6: Take off your cap and goggles when you see your bike. Abandonment of equipment can result in a penalty, so don’t risk dropping these small items


Coping With Cold-Water Swimming

Coach Kevin Koskella provides tips on how to minimize the effects of the cold water in your next open-water swim. Use these tips to gain an edge on your competition.

I’ll be the first to say, I hate the cold! Cold air, and especially cold water. Even after 14 years of competitive swimming, I never once got used to or enjoyed jumping into a cold pool.

These days, I prefer open water swimming to pool swimming, but refuse to get in our local Pacific Ocean until it gets up around 66 degrees or so. Anything below that and I’m known to turn various shades of purple!

Cold water cannot only be unpleasant and draining, but can also be dangerous. A couple of months ago here in Southern California, a swimmer had to be rescued because of the frigid conditions. The point is that it’s always best to do your open water swim training with a partner just in case.

There are many triathlons where cold water is part of the challenge- especially the early season ones, like April and May (and even mid-summer in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest). What can you do about cold water, other than be uncomfortable, get an ice cream headache, and use up lots of your body’s energy just trying to stay warm? Here is a list of tips to minimize the negative affects of cold-water swimming.

1. Wear two caps. You lose most of your heat through your head, and doubling up your “capage” helps you to keep your heat in.

2. Wear a neoprene cap. Neoprene handles the cold-water better than standard latex and can help keep your head warm.

3. You also lose lots of heat through your feet. Neoprene socks are also a good idea, but you may want to use these mostly on training swims, as they can be a hassle when it comes to transitioning to your bike!

4. Wear a wetsuit, but more specifically, a full suit. The sleeveless suits allow heat to escape through your armpits. I learned this the hard way when doing the Alcatraz swim in 52-degree water with one of these sleeveless, “farmer John” suits. By the time I finished, I was in the early stages of frostbite. Keep in mind that wetsuits are allowed in triathlons for water temperatures 75 degrees Fahrenheit or below, according to USA Triathlon rules.

5. Put in earplugs. When the water drops below 60 degrees, I believe earplugs become necessary- and they aid in keeping your core temperature up.

6. Practice swimming in cold water in the weeks before your race. It can be a shock to your system that can lead to hyperventilating or a panicked feeling. You will want to swim slowly until you get your breath. The first time you experience this it can throw you off, but with practice, you will get used to it and be able to relax into your swim.

7. Do a significant warm up (10-15 minutes minimum) the morning of your race. This will minimize the shock effect that cold water can have, and will allow you to get into a stroke rhythm much faster.

8. When the cold water hits your face, the shock causes your lungs to contract causing breathing problems. Blow bubbles before taking off on your swim. Go waist deep into the water and submerge your face to blow bubbles. This helps alleviate the shock of the cold water.

If used correctly, these tips can help you to not only tolerate cold-water swimming, but also gain an advantage on your unprepared competition.


To Draft Or Not To Draft?

Drafting another swimmer (see the two ways here) can save you up to 38% of your energy expenditure. With such large savings on offer, swimming in a good draft can feel very easy despite you moving at a decent pace.

In a race situation this creates a common dilemma, should you stay in an easy draft or swim around and go on your own? In this situation how do you know what's right to do? At the moment we're half way through our clinic series in the UK and in the section on open water skills this is the most common question we've been asked by the swimmers. Here's our answer:

Pace Awareness When Drafting

To know whether you are really moving too slowly when drafting, you need to practise this in the controlled environment of the pool to learn how it feels. Grab a buddy who is a slightly better swimmer than you and have him or her swim at your target race pace for around 200-400m while you draft them. Settle into the draft and get into the rhythm of swimming - you'll soon gain an appreciation of how this target pace feels - it may surprise you how easy it is!

Pacing skills are a very important part of being a good swimmer but as a triathlete or open water swimmer you also need pace judgement when drafting so that you can make tactical decisions like this in a race. There's only one way to develop your drafting pace judgement and that's with practise. For that reason we strongly recommend you work on your drafting skills (and also your sighting and navigation skills) all year round in the pool. It's great fun and will really help you achieve your potential come the open water season.

Drafting skills are important for any swimmer
to master, whatever their ability level

In fact, Swim Smooth's philosophy is that stroke technique, swimming fitness and open water skills are equally important and should all be given equal priority in your training.

Don't Like Drafting?

Many swimmers say that they dislike drafting and that's only natural, the concentration required is higher and the hustle and bustle of swimming close to other swimmers can feel a little disconcerting at first. However, like with anything, with practise you can become familiar and comfortable with it and the performance improvements on offer are too large to ignore. Drafting well can easily be worth two minutes per km swum!

Always remember the number one rule of drafting: PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

Swim Smooth!



Whether you are a seasoned runner or swimmer moving into triathlon for the first time, or a complete novice to sport, a well-planned training schedule (including rest periods) is crucial to success and avoidance of injury.  It is important to assess your goals and fitness level when beginning, and plan your training schedule accordingly. Your training plan should aim to improve your fitness, be realistic, and of course be enjoyable.

Triathlon can be complicated to plan because it involves three sports, and each element, when performed in triathlon, is somewhat different from doing the sport on its own. Planning your multisport training requires creativity, and assessment of the time and facilities available to you. Keep a record of what worked effectively in planning and executing your practices. Logging your training will help you to look back and make improvements season by season, and help to chart your progress.

Below are some general suggestions for frequency of practices on a weekly basis. The amount of training depends on your ability, experience, and goals. Keep in mind that sports can be combined to reduce the number of overall practices.


For maintaining ability:

Improving ability slowly:

Improving more quickly

Swim: 1-2 times per week

Swim: 2-3 times per week

Swim: 3-5 times per week

Bike: 1 time per week

Bike: 1-2 times per week

Bike: 2-3 times per week

Run: 1 time per week

Run: 2-3 times per week

Run: 2-3 times per week

LINKS that may be helpful:

Learn the Sighting technique for your open water swims:

Great article on triathlon swims:

Article on finding the right head position:

Top Down A-lign-ment

Head in “lign” with your spine. You have heard that a zillion times.

Spine in “lign” with your head – less well known or talked about. The spine is extremely powerful, the very center (core) of you. If your spine (cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacrum) is not in the correct place and/or moving about on strokes and breathing, a bunch of muscles will have to fire to help maintain your balance and “lign” in the water. The more muscles you use, the more precious oxygen you use up! I call the bones the “general” and the muscles the “private.” The general knows which private is good at which job, and cues movement via your bones. Your spine is a big, versatile, flexible and smart set of bones. Here is what to think about to cue it up.

How to get in correct alignment: Start with your skull (huge bone mass), which is kept in place by the cervical spine or your neck bones. Your neck should be kept as straight as possible, curving your neck to bring your heavy skull out of the water will sink your lumbar spine (belly area) and entire hip region, curving your neck to push your skull too low will make many parts of the stroke difficult (especially retrieving oxygen). So, keep your neck bones long and decompressed allowing your head to be flush with the water “lign.”

Moving on to your thoracic spine (rib cage area). This is a gold mine of power at best, an alignment disaster at worst. The thoracic spine has a natural curve (up toward the sky), when the rib bones (from the front) are allowed to drop/open toward the bottom of the pool they pull the spine with them removing the curve. The curve keeps your body straight and allows for the natural space between your vertebrae which in turn keeps all the organs happy and working well for you while you are putting them under a bit of stress. Oh, and it keeps you swimming downhill instead of uphill. Keep your rib bones knit in front and your thoracic spine curved upward toward the sky.