6 Tips for a Smart Triathlon Swim

Smart strategies are things that are important but don't have any real place in the first three categories to improve your 1.5K swim (smooth, strong and sustainable). These smart strategies, however, will help you think about swimming and how to better plan your race. A good swimmer is constantly evaluating, tweaking, and planning.

Tip #1: The Warm-Up

Thou shalt warm up before the race. Try to time your trip to the port-a-potty early enough to allow yourself ten minutes of splashing around in the water before the race starts. Yes, a 1.5K swim is long enough for a warm-up to happen while you're going, but you don't want to do that. Your muscles will thank you for getting blood flowing through them before the mad dash of a mass triathlon start.

You can shake out the tightness, get a feel for the water temperature, fiddle with your cap and goggles, and pee (everyone else is doing it). A good, short warm-up can make a huge difference in that initial push, and will help you settle in once you get rolling. Warm-ups help prevent cramps as well, and you don't want a cramp 300 yards in to a 1600-yard swim.

More: Effective Warm-Up Exercises for Your Swim

Tip #2: Your Kick

There has been only one mention of kicking in this entire overview. The reason for that is simple—you don't need to kick that much, most of the time. What are you going to do as soon as you hit the shore? You are going to start cranking on your legs. The water is the only time you get to use your arms, so use them.

That's not to say you shouldn't kick at all, but it should be steady and light. Three kicks per pull is a good beat for the number-minded among you. Freestyle is about 75 percent pull, 25 percent kick, and I would say triathletes are more like 80/20. A regular kick can fix your body position, but that is not what its purpose is.

Looking back at the piece on smooth swimming, the trick to a good body position is pressing down on your t-spot to bring up your hips. Kicking to bring your hips up means you are kicking down, and kicking down means you are expending energy in the wrong direction. You want the force going back so that you will move forward. Don't use your kick as a smooth crutch.

Flutter kick does not generate from the knee, but from the thigh and glute. The degree of deflection is very small. Too big of a kick ruins your hydrodynamic property and slows you down. You want to remain torpedo-shaped. Your feet shouldn't be jumping out of that and causing drag.

Keeping these things in mind, you should kick hard at the beginning of the swim (if you are trying to get out ahead of the main pack), then settle in with a regular, propulsive-but-not-hard kick. With about 200m left in the swim start revving your kick back up. This will force blood back into those big muscles, preparing them for the run to T1.

More: Dave Scott's Triathlon Kicking Drills

Tip #3: Self-Seeding

Most triathlons do some type of seeding, even if it's just separating the men and the women. Big races might divide you up by age groups. Within your own starting group, it's important to find a good place to start. Be it a beach or water start, should you be near the front, mid-pack or in the back? That depends on your skills and your goals.

If you aren't a comfortable swimmer, start in the back. If it's a beach start, that might mean you let the crazy people go, then wade in with the cautious ones. You won't be the only one.

Start too far forward and you'll be an obstacle. You can't hear other racers cursing at you like you're a big rig in the fast lane, but they are. Some might go so far as to climb right over you. Start too far to the back and you'll be the one climbing and cursing. Best to be honest and err on the side of caution. It's better to try to find open water and swim around people than it is to be in the way.

Be aware: Any race that isn't a straight out-and-back will probably have a buoy turn after a few hundred yards. Swim wide: The crush of people trying to cut that corner as closely as possible aren't going any faster. You might swim a few extra yards, but you'll stay away from the whitewater mess right against the floating orange sphere. If there is a turn buoy right after the start there will be a mass sprint for it. Not a confident swimmer? Let them go; hang back. It isn't worth it and the time saved is negligible.

More: 6 Ways to Train for a Triathlon Swim Start

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