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By: Alex Bianchi

How To Dominate The Triathlon Swim Start

Open water swimming can be the most stressful part of a triathlon if approached incorrectly. However, the following tips and tricks will have you dominating the swim start of any triathlon your choose to enter.


Positioning yourself depends greatly on your swim fitness level. If you consider yourself an elite swimmer, being towards the front of a swim start is probably best. However, many elite swimmers find success in starting towards the front only on the outside of the pack. Once the gun goes off they swim at an angle to catch the lead pack, this option can often avoid getting pushed around by other swimmers, which is nice.

There is no right or wrong place for intermediate swimmers to start. Some triathletes don’t mind getting pushed around by others until everyone gets spread out, while others may panic or stop swimming. For this reason I recommend intermediate athletes position themselves in a place where they are comfortable but can get to triathletes swimming the same (or slightly faster) speed for drafting.

If you’re a beginner with swimming or just feel uncomfortable in open water (very common) consider starting towards the back and away from the middle to avoid excessive contact with other swimmers. Remember the swim is less than 15% of most triathlons, so missing a few seconds or even a few minutes in the swim affects your total time very little. I’ve seen many triathletes put way too much effort into a swim just to be a few minutes faster. The problem they face is being exhausted for the first several miles of the bike which costs them all the time they saved by swimming faster, plus more.


If you’ve ever done an open water swim triathlon, you understand how stressful it can be. Not only are you swimming in a huge body of water where you can’t see the bottom (at least in most races) but, you have to deal with people pumping, kicking, and/or elbowing you in the process. To find calmness out of all this chaos I’ve found several tips that work very well for most triathletes.

  • Talk to others. Although triathlon is a solo sport, simply talking to the guy or gal next you about the day ahead can really calm any anxiety. Additionally all of the triathletes around you are probably feeling just as nervous about the swim ahead so don’t think you’re alone in this.
  • Think worst case scenario. What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe you get your goggles knocked off, get kicked in the stomach, and get pushed underwater for awhile. If this worst case scenario were to happen could you still finish? I don’t see any reason you couldn’t, simply swim of to a kayaker rest for a few minutes then finish the swim without your goggles. You see, chances are this won’t happen but thinking it could suddenly makes the simple task of getting started in the swim a lot easier.
  • Acknowledge mind chatter, then let it go. Worries, stress, and other negative thoughts will creep into your head at a swim start. Let them in, but instead of holding on to this mind chatter, simply acknowledge it then let it go. For example you may fear your goggles will get knocked off, acknowledge this as a possibility then put it out of your mind and return to the moment.

About Brad Haag

Brad is a certified USAT triathlon coach, a certified USAC cycling coach, and a certified NCSF personal trainer. Brad specializes in coaching endurance and warrior class athletes to peak performance. He can be found at HaagsAthletics.com.

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