How To Improve Your Swimming Technique

Looking to improve your swimming technique? For many triathletes, the swim is the most feared aspect of the sport of triathlon. There are many factors to consider like open water, lots of people, seaweed, not to mention fresh water sharks! OK just kidding on that one. But, like developing any skill it’s important to understand what exactly is involved and what aspects of Open Water Swimming (OWS) should be prioritized. Developing the proper swimming technique and skills for the demands of the event requires more than just swimming in a pool.

When we teach swimming techniques, we develop the skills in this order;


– Proper breathing creates rhythm and flow. You don’t hold your breath under water but instead breath out.  Breathing too early or late in the stroke breaks that rhythm. Proper breathing technique allows you to build fitness and speed on a solid foundation of smooth swimming.


– Always be looking straight down. Good swimming posture means long neck, straight spine and hips high in the water. If your head is up, your hips are most likely down. Your body needs to be “stable” (core engaged) when you perform a task ie: breathing and initiating “the catch”, which we’ll explain a little further on. Remember to kick from the hips, keeping your legs behind you. Always remember that kicking is for stabilizing; not to add propulsion.


– Rotation starts with your hips. Link  your hips and your lats; this keeps your body swimming on it’s side and keeps your body rotating around your head. Your head should remain stable and should not move with every arm swing. You begin rotation at the beginning of “the catch” (link hand and hips).


– Your shoulder should rotate internally to allow for your to keep your elbow high as your hand enters the water in front of shoulder. Arm positioning includes:

1) finger tips point the way

2) wrist follows

3) elbow is high and enters next

4) shoulder is stable.

Think of pulling your body over your elbow as opposed to moving your hand through the water.

Triathlon swimming requires a “pull dominant” approach. Most events will be a minimum of 500m previous to biking and running. Kicking yourself through the water not only requires more energy and tires out the “tools” you need to complete the next 2/3rds of the event but it’s also much less efficient and limits your capacity to swim at higher velocities. As a triathlete, if your not training to pull yourself through the water you are limiting your performance ability. That’s why it is so important to develop these skills to improve on your swimming technique.

Swim Like A Pro For Your Next Triathlon

If swimming is your weak link or your progress isn’t what your want here are some ideas to help kick start your swimming technique and performance.

  • Stroke Rate (SR) over Stroke length (SL)

    – For any triathlete, training at higher SR’s has many benefits. Higher SR swimming develops swim fitness and better overall conditioning (which helps on the bike and the run). Start with short pieces of work at higher stroke rates (25’s and 50’s). Use a Tempo Trainer like the one from Tempo Trainers allow your to hone in on your swim technique.

  • Fewer Drills more Swimming

    – learn breathing, balance, rotation and catch then swim. You don’t learn how to swim long distances by demonstrations and drills. Swim longer and swim more.

  • Swim Longer Sets

    – Make the main set 2000m plus. These can be broken into harder faster repeats (50’s to 200’s) or longer “tempo” repeats 300- 400’s+. But add distance and intensity (in a responsible progression) to your sets. Main sets should be twice the race distance.

  • Learn how to use your kick

    – As mentioned above, kicking is to stabilize not push you through the water. Learn how to kick efficiently and effectively, you’ve done the job. Kick sets for speed are a waste of your swim time.

  • Swim Specific Strength

    – Pull buoys, paddles and bands, to add resistance. Use them alone, in pairs or as a group (pull or band or pull/band or paddle/pull/band). Every triathlete should have these as part of their gear. Learn to pull yourself through the water. Bands also help develop good balance in the water (overtime). Nothing works better to develop a sense of high hips when your legs are tied and they are dragging through the water. Head down and chest down = hips up!

  • Learn to Love the UNCOMFORTABLE –

    20-50×50 at your race pace works wonders. With good rest it allows you to maintain form under fatigue, you get used to being “uncomfortable”. It also allows you to feel what swimming fast is like. Just remember you need to be aware of the feeling.

  • Don’t Be a Drone –

    Improvement is first and foremost a product of awareness. Awareness of what your body is doing (spatial awareness) as well as mental awareness ( what are you thinking). Practice thinking about each stroke not thinking about what’s next or just finishing this set. Be engaged with the process.

So these are some open water swim tips you can employ to help improve your next triathlon. Learn to love swimming, enjoy the early mornings or late evening swims and embrace the smell of well earned chlorine sweat.

Related Post