Swim 101: A Beginners Guide

Of all the disciplines in triathlon, the swim requires the most technique. A strong person swimming will lose to a technically proficient swimmer every time.


Triathlon’s biggest barrier to entry is swimming.  Speed up the learning curve by attending TCSD's popular Beginner Open Water Swim ("BOWS") workout.


Develop your skills in a pool first before venturing into open water. Proper breathing technique is paramount to your success.



 What do you do when you have to share a lane?  What is circle swimming?  Find out before your pool swim, it will make the experience much less intimidating.


Join TCSD'S Master's Swim workout.  And it's not just for "masters"---swimmers are separated into lanes by proficiency, including a technique lane for beginniers.


Pool swimming is the absolute best place to work on stroke technique.

TCSD recommends any new swimmer to take a lesson or a short series of lessons from a respected swim instructor who understands triathlon before starting out.

It will expedite your process, calm your nerves and help to ensure your safety.

Ocean swims require a bit of practice with getting “in and out” of the surf.

Surf can be scary for some, but it can be mastered with the “Dolphin” technique.

During warm-up, walk the line that you will enter into the surf. Be on the lookout for rocks, shells, holes, sand bars and other odd hazards that can exist on the edges of the shoreline.

Wade out to waist-deep water and wait for the next wave or mass of white water to come. When the surge is 6 feet in front of you, dive with your arms extended in front of your head, on an angle toward the wave (not straight down) and get all the way to the bottom.

Once there, claw your fingers into the sand. As the wave rolls over and above your back, pull yourself forward and then up to the surface, out the backside of the wave. The water is probably chest-deep now, so swim easy towards the next wave. When the next wave is 6-8 feet from you, dive again (a bit steeper this time) toward the wave and toward the bottom. Again, get your fingers into the sand and pull yourself under and out the back of the wave. If done effectively, you will probably only need to “Dolphin” under three or four waves before you are beyond them.

Coming back to shore is easy and fun: look back during breaths as you enter the area where the waves are breaking. When a steep wave is behind you, swim hard before the face of the wave. It can pick you up and give you a free ride toward the shore.


Pool swimming is the absolute best place to work on stroke technique. When you transition to open water you may realize that it's difficult to swim in a straight line.

The best way to swim straight is to “sight” often. “Sighting” is the act of lifting your head out of the water slightly to make sure you are going in the right direction. Lifting your head while swimming sinks the lower half of your body resulting in a slower swim so "sighting" is an important skill.  Only raise your head enough to bring your eyes up to the surface. An extra strong stroke will help raise you up, and a few hard kicks will help keep the hips from sinking too deep.

A few tips to remember are: look often, never trust that the swimmer you are following is going the right way. In the ocean, wait to rise up on a swell before you look. And the number one biggest trick to sighting: find a large landmark that is in line with the buoy and look for that. In your warm up, as you swim out to the first buoy, find a tree, building, mountain peak, saddle - anything enormous that you can quickly spot that is exactly beyond that buoy and in line with it. When you get to that first buoy, stop and tread water and find another large item beyond the next buoy.

If swimming in crowds unnerves you, seed yourself towards the back of the crowd and choose a path in the course that is either inside or outside of the straight line to the first mark. Swim in the margins of the madness until things settle down, and then swim the shortest, straightest line possible.

Fitness and Wellness: Top Questions

Getting hurt is one of the most frustrating things that can happen to you while training.  To reduce your chances of injury, start everyworkout with a warm up; gradually build intensity; if something hurts, just STOP; conclude your workout with a cool-down. 

The body can, and will, adapt to gradual athletic efforts  Rushing into hard efforts, long efforts, hills, sprints or any highly stressful activity will increase your risk of injury greatly. Start slowly and build slowly; maximize your aerobic fitness and minimize the risk of injury. This gradual progression will allow for joints to adapt, connective tissue to thicken and muscles to strengthen. 

Also, make sure you schedule at least one or two rest days.  "Rest" doesn't necessarily mean you sit on your couch all day.  Use rest days for walks, yoga, stretching and massage.

Being well hydrated will only help your training, your racing and your recovery, while being dehydrated will do nothing but hinder you.

Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink - keep it coming in at a steady rate.  You need both water and electrolytes.  Finding the correct amount of hydration is something you test while training.  Try to simulate your race-day hydration needs. Be aware that temperature and humidity play a role in hydration and the environment you will be training and racing in will play a part in your needs.

A 150 pound adult can lose a half gallon of water a day just living, and a triathlete in training can lose up to two gallons.  Don't stop drinking water just because your workout is over.  Continue to hydrate throughout the day.

Electrolyte replacement drinks such as Zym and UCAN products, help restore essential minerals like sodium, potassium and others. Some sports drinks contain too much sugar, and this can draw water away from the working muscles and back to the digestive system to help break down the sugar. The salt content in sports drinks is an essential part of hydration. Many also contain caffeine.

Food is fuel for an athlete’s body. Make sure you give it something it can really use, something you know and like!

The first step in approaching a nutrition program for a triathlete in training is to look at how you might eat on race day (and every day of training):

  • Rise early and eat early so that your stomach will settle before your start.
  • Keep some calories coming in during the event to keep your energy up.
  • Eat well after the race to replenish all lost nutrients, restore muscle glycogen and to help restore broken down muscle tissue.


A good physical effort starts with a good meal the night before. Dinners should have a nice mix of the macro nutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, fat. Avoid foods that can affect your sleep and irritate your GI.

When you wake up in the morning, you should always eat. Think of a night of sleep as a mini fast; you need to be topped off before the morning’s effort.

It is recommended to take in calories as you train over periods of one hour or more. At 2 hours or more, you’ll jeopardize your goal unless you take in calories.

Frequent, high quality workouts can be obtained as long as recovery is maximized. Recovery can and should include hydration, nutrition, stretching, massage, and plenty of REM sleep.

Training for a long distance endurance event requires an athlete to perform long, intense efforts and it requires them to perform them day after day. Recovery starts before the workout ends. Never let yourself run out of energy during a workout. Learn to take in some easily digestible carbohydrates early and often during long workouts (more than 60-75 minutes).  The requirement are different for every athlete, so try several options and choose the best that works for you.

Eating after a workout is possibly the most critical nutritional consideration for an athlete. For the best recovery, it’s important that you eat a high glycemic food “in the window”, which is within 30 minutes of completing a workout. After the window - say, 30 to 60 minutes after the workout - it’s nice to eat a lower glycemic food along with a complete protein.

Stretching and massage can speed recovery. If massage therapy is not available after every workout (and let’s be honest, that’s a dream), then you can help speed recovery by simply massaging muscles with skin lotion or even in the shower with soap. You can rub the tissue back and forth and with long strokes toward the heart. There is really no “wrong” way to do it.

All elements of this regimen (plus rehydration) will get the body built back up and ready for the next effort.

Ready to Swim? 

Beginner swim workouts to be posted soon!!!


More Swim Stuff...


Additional swim content coming soon!!!


New and nervous about "self-coaching"?

As you increase your race distances, you may want to talk to a professional to sharpen your training plan.  TCSD certified coaches offer training packages and plans for every budget and level of athlete.  They also offer TCSD member discounts.  Check them out here.