Your First Triathlon - 6 Secrets for Success in the Swim

The swim leg sets the tone for the race The swim leg sets the tone for the race

How athletes perform in the swim will set the tone for the rest of the race.

Start Well to Finish Well

The swim is the first leg of all triathlon races. How athletes perform in the swim will set the tone for the rest of the race. Be well prepared to ensure a successful triathlon. Here are six secrets to help new triathletes with the swim leg.

6 Secrets

Secret #1 - Since a Time Trial start is less intimidating, athletes typically choose this type of race for his/her first triathlon.   

There are typically three types of swim starts in a triathlon.

  1. Wave Start – This is the most typical way to start. The Race Director divides participants in groups, called waves, usually according to their gender and age.  Each wave starts together with a few minutes between each wave.
  2. Mass Start – This type of start is less common and typically is how the Ironman races start their participants. All athletes start at the same time in a mass start.
  3. Time Trial – During a Time Trial start, athletes enter the water one, two or three at a time with a few seconds between the next one, two or three athletes. This is a way for participants to spread out along the swim course.

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Secret #2 – Don’t listen when other athletes tell you there is a strong current, making for a fast river swim. Conditions change from year to year and a strong current is never a guarantee.

Secret #3 – Training for the swim with a group is a great way to stay motivated and have fun. Check with local recreation centers to determine if they offer a Masters Swim program or a Triathlon Group Swim program. Then, visit a practice to see if it is a good fit for you.

Secret #4 – Hire a coach who can help with swim technique specific to the sport triathlon. A few one-on-one sessions are extremely valuable to get athletes practicing the proper technique.

Secret #5 - Practice good technique throughout the year. There are several drills to help improve technique.  Here are links to videos for three triathlon-specific drills:

One Arm Drill

Shark Fin Drill

Thumb to Thigh Drill

Secret #6 – Perform a Time Trial every 6 – 8 weeks to track your progress.

A Time Trial is a workout to be incorporated in regular swim training. The idea is to swim fast for a set number of intervals. When athletes are swimming on a regular basis, they should see their times improve at each 6 – 8 week Time Trial session. Here is a sample Time Trial workout:

Warm Up: 

  • 50 meters/yards Easy Swim, 50 meters/yards Drill, Repeat for a total of 200 meters/yards
  • Time Trial - 10 x 100 meters/yards with 10 seconds rest after each 100 - Go as fast as can be maintained for all (10) 100s. Be disciplined about only taking 10 seconds rest after each 100. Record the time for all (10) 100s, subtract 90 seconds and divide the time by 10. This will determine the Time Trial pace per 100 meters/yards.

Cool Down:

  • 50 meters/yards Easy Swim, 50 meters/yards Drill
  • Total: 1,300 meters/yards

These secrets of the swim will get you off to a great start with your swim training and racing! 

Enjoy the Journey!

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Mari Fridenmaker

Mari Fridenmaker is a USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach in Atlanta, Georgia.  She is the President and Head Coach of Blue Iron Coaching, LLC.  She has been active in the sport of triathlon since 2003 and has been coaching athletes of all levels since 2007.  Her services include Team Coaching, Personalized Coaching, Private Swim Lessons and Individual Consultation.  For more information, please visit her website,  She can be reached at or 404.667.0817.