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Secrets for Triathlon Success: 3 Open Water Swim Tips to Master
by Tzatzil LeMair on June 15th, 2017

Last Monday we we hosted the first event of our Free Women-Only Triathlon Clinic Series in celebration of our 15th Anniversary. Our opening event, an Open Water Swim Clinic at Pure Austin Quarry Lake, exceeded our expectations in every way but also reminded us of how terrifying swimming in open water can be for many first timers. The event, which is part of USA Triathlon's Women's Initiative (WIN), featured a "brief lecture" prior to the swim session. My challenge was condensing 20 years of triathlon experience and "Lessons Learned" into a  20 minute talk. The result was this list of Top 3 Tips which, if you master it, can make all the difference in your open water swim experience.

The Goal

Your main goal during the swim should be to have the most efficient stroke technique so you can swim effortlessly, master sighting techniques so you can swim the shortest distance, and keep your heart rate down by staying relaxed and calm throughout the swim. If you can master these three skills, you should be able to come out of the water ready to rock the bike and run!

The Strategies

1) Maximize your efficiency

If you are new to triathlon and have never learned proper freestyle stroke, you need to invest in lessons or join a masters swim team. There is no point in spending hours training in the pool if all you are doing is reinforcing bad swimming form. Swimming is all about technique. Without proper body alignment and stroke technique you will be working twice as hard and you will come out of the water exhausted and not ready to bike and run.
  • Make yourself long and sleek through the water - think "fish-like”
  • Balance your body "on top" on the water perfectly parallel to the bottom of the lake - push your chest into the water if your hips and legs are sinking
  • Kick from the hips – Flutter kick generating small bubbles (like boiling water) and not a big splash - just enough to keep your lower body from sinking
  • Rotate your body to fully extend your leading arm as it begins to pull then roll back to the other side as your hand passes your hips
  • Utilize your “paddle” from your elbow bend to the tip of your fingers to pull through the water - Keep your hand relaxed and fingers in a natural position (do not cup your hands)
  • Complete the stroke - make sure you are not starting the next stroke too soon - you want to maximize the distance per stroke by taking long powerful strokes. Make every stroke count!

2) Swim the shortest distance possible

If this sounds like an obvious tip that's because it is. However, I am always surprised by how little time most triathletes spend practicing and mastering sighting techniques and by how few actually incorporate sighting into their technique. Mastering sighting technique - incorporating sighting into your freestyle stroke and sighting often - will enable you to swim the shortest distance between buoys and prevent having to correct your course and adding extra yardage to your swim.
  • Use "Hippo Eyes" when sighting. No need to lift your head out of the water, just peek with your "hippo eyes" between breaths to make sure there's a straight line between you and the next buoy at all times.
  • Sight often! Every 8-10 strokes, the more you do it the better you'll get at it.
  • Draft off of slightly faster swimmers. Don’t swim right behind them but to the side of them somewhere between their waist and feet.

3) Keep calm and swim on

Staying relaxed and calm during the swim is essential in having a successful swim. You can minimize physical contact with other swimmers by positioning yourself in the right place at the start of the swim. Swimming around a pack instead of through it might be worth the extra couple of strokes to avoid the “excitement” of physical contact and heart rate spike that goes along with it.
  • Position yourself to avoid getting stuck in a bad group, preferably on the outside of the wave. Swim wide around the buoys to avoid crowding then cut straight to the next buoy.
  • Protect your face – always have one arm in front at all times and replace it with your next stroke arm
  • Count strokes to keep your mind busy and stroke rate tempo constant
  • Focus on technique and not speed to stay calm and focused 
The more you practice these skills the better you'll get at it and the more comfortable you'll feel during the swim. Don't let the swim-start mayhem get the best of you! Keep your mind calm and your body relaxed by focusing on your technique instead. Before you know it, you'll be coming out of the water fully energized and ready to conquer the bike and run!

Posted in Triathlon Training    Tagged with open, water, swim, swimming, Triathlon, women, training, sighting, tips, anxiety, panic, tough cookies, pure austin, quarry lake


Dona Block - June 16th, 2017 at 1:45 PM
So sorry I was unable to come as I tended to a sick kiddo. Today she is getting gall bladder removed. As I have already mentioned to many people, you have a fantastic group of people. I have never heard a bad remark from anyone. Always positive and friendly. Way to go ladies. You are an asset to the sport.
Tzatzil LeMair - June 19th, 2017 at 1:41 PM
Thank you Dona! I hope you can make it to our other events this summer! Hope you little one gets well soon so she can enjoy the summer!
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