Swim Technique for Triathlon

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Swim Technique for Triathlon


Important laws of physics governing swimming performance:

  • The movement of a triathlete through the water is affected by the following forces: gravity (the Earth's attraction), Archimedes' force (force opposing gravity), water resistance (friction, turbulence) and thrust (forces exerted by the triathlete: lift to float, propulsion to move forwards and various efforts unrelated to that forward motion).
  • All these forces tend to cancel each other out. Archimedes force and lift cancel out the effects of gravity, and water resistance opposes propulsion.
  • The force of gravity is constant.
  • The Archimedes force decreases when the triathlete raises part of his or her body out of the water but increases if a neoprene suit is worn.
  • The water resistance depends on the triathlete's hydrodynamics and increases exponentially with his or her speed.
  • Thrust is governed by the triathlete's physical condition.
  • The triathlete's hydrodynamics depends partly on his or her morphological characteristics and, above all, on swimming technique.

Importance of technique:

  • By improving your technique, you can gain time without any extra effort.
  • It generally takes much longer to improve your physical fitness than to improve your technique.
  • The longer you train with an imperfect technique, the longer it will then take to put it right.
  • It is very difficult to take stock of your own technique, as you cannot see yourself swimming. It is therefore advisable for all triathletes who have any doubts about their technique to seek the help of another person and/or to use video equipment.
  • No matter how good your technique is, it will tend to deteriorate during long, hard spells of effort. You must therefore always remain focused on your swimming technique, even when you are very tired.
  • Technique tends to get lost as time passes, so it must be worked on regularly. Indeed, the best swimmers spend a lot of their training time on technique.
  • To be effective, technique training sessions must be short (a few hundred metres) and performed with maximum application, i.e. trying to be conscious of all your movements and their effects on the water.

Basic swimming technique:(The style used in the triathlon is the crawl.)


  • Your body must be positioned parallel to the surface of the water, with your back straight.
  • Your body rotates slightly to the right when your right arm enters the water and to the left when your left arm enters the water.
  • Your legs and head should be in line with your body.


  • Kicking with your legs contributes to stabilising your body and optimising buoyancy but, above all, to propulsion.
  • Your legs should stay almost straight and your ankles should remain as supple as possible.
  • Your feet must not come out of the water.
  • The amplitude of this movement must not be too great.
  • For most triathletes, the rhythm is a 2 or 6 kicks per arm cycle. (Personally, I've adopted a 6-beat kick per arm cycle).
  • Even though kicking is important, don't forget to save your legs for the cycling and running stages.


  • Arm movements are partly in the water and partly above the water. .
  • During the above-water phase, your arm should be as relaxed as possible as it is not contributing to propulsion. The elbow should be bent and pointing upwards.
  • After entering the water, your arm is stretched forwards in line with your backbone which causes your body to rotate slightly.
  • Your arm then gradually bends as you try to get an optimal purchase on the water.
  • Then, your arm is extended again just before it leaves the water.


  • Your hand should be relaxed when it is out of the water. It should be positioned in line with your arm just before it enters the waters.
  • Your fingertips enter the water first at a given location, then your fingers, your hand and your arm should enter the water at the same location in order to reduce the water resistance.
  • Your fingers and thumb should be in line with your hand, in the same direction as your arm. They should be neither clamped together nor too far apart, and they should not be too straight or too bent. Try to think of the shape of an oar, as opposed to a plank or a spoon.
  • The surface of your palm should not be exactly perpendicular to the direction in which the hand moves through the water. The aim is to achieve an effect similar to that of the wind in the triangular sail on a boat: maximum efficiency is obtained with a cross wind.


  • To breathe in, your head should turn slightly around an axis passing through your backbone. In other words, you must not lift or lower your head when you breathe. You should make maximum use of the rotation of your body and of the hollow that forms by your mouth at the surface of the water.
  • You should breathe out gradually under water. It is important to exhale as much air as possible in order to empty your lungs as much as you can. You breathe out through both your nose and your mouth. The mouth should be relaxed.
  • Your breathing rhythm depends on your physical fitness as well as on the intensity of the effort, but I recommend a breathing rhythm based on an odd number (such as 1 breath every three arm strokes) in order to avoid the appearance of technical defects connected with an asymmetrical swimming style.


  • Do not neglect swimming technique, whether you are a beginner or an advanced swimmer.

Le site Mission Triathlon est la disposition de tous les triathlètes souhaitant optimiser leur préparation au triathlon. Vous y trouverez des conseils comme la technique de natation pour le triathlon, la technique de vélo pour le triathlon, technique de course à pied pour le triathlon, l'alimentation pour le triathlon ou la musculation pour le triathlon. Vous pouvez aussi utiliser gratuitement le carnet d'entraînement online ou demander un devis pour un programme d'entraînement de triathlon personnalisé.