Mastering the Triathlon Swim Start

by Greg C. Moriates

The swim can be the most intimidating leg of a triathlon.  You no longer have a line on the bottom to follow; you have hundreds, maybe thousands of athletes swimming next to you, kicking you, hitting you, punching you, grabbing you.  Water conditions are usually less than ideal.

If you look at some of the fears that are mentioned above, you can clearly see that the swim leg of a triathlon or even an open water event maybe intimidating, but is the time to gain time on your competitors.

Here are some tips and tricks to master the swim start at your next triathlon by developing FREE SPEED:


Assuming that you already own a wetsuit that fits properly.

Before the start of the race or event, go in waist high.  Grab the neck of the wetsuit and let a ton of water in.  Walk back to shore, take your hands and rub the surface of your wetsuit from your body to your extremities.  If done properly, this will achieve the following:

  • Helps the wetsuit to shift to the proper position on your body;
  • Develop a fine layer of water within the wetsuit that will slightly increase your buoyancy.

A properly fitting wetsuit that has a fine layer of water between your wetsuit and skin, will allow you to take a more natural, unrestricted stroke while floating higher horizontally in the water. Therefore, you will be faster.


The swim start is intimidating. Athletes are slowly walking in the water, jockeying for position. Then you wait for the start.

There are usually three types of swimmers, those that go out too fast too soon and die off (Type A), those that stay the same pace throughout the entire swim leg (Cruisers), and those that sit back and wait for everyone to start before they start their race (Drifters).

You probably already know that you can draft during the swim leg of a triathlon.  At the start line, position yourself one to two rows faster than you would normally position yourself but never right at the front. When the gun goes off, go strong with the “Type A” crowd

Do not go out fast and hard!  This is a triathlon! You still need to conserve energy.

Leave it up to the “Type-A” swimmers to go out fast and hard and use them to draft and pull you along.  Most of the time, not all, the “Type-A’s” will start to slow down due to redlining to soon around the first or second buoy and the “Cruisers” will start to take the lead.

The first “Cruiser” that comes your way, grab on for the ride.  Stay on their side just below their hips, not behind their legs.  You want to use them to draft, not to kick you in the head.


Water Exit

This is an easy one but often overlooked.  The water exit! When you are coming to the end of the swim leg, many athletes will be happy to see the bottom of the water and will immediately stand up in waste high water to just slosh along expending energy and moving slowly to get out.

Here is the deal. While they are struggling to get out of the water, you keep swimming!  Keep swimming till you can grab on the bottom with you hand.  Then when you stand up you will be around calf deep.  This allows you to run out of the water keeping your knees high.  You will pass loads of people.