Three Technique Cues to Improve Your Triathlon Swimming

150 150 Rich Strauss


I like to think of swimming technique as being comprised of three broad categories:

  1. Horizontal Body Position: think of your body as a horizontal tube moving through the water. You want this tube to be long and with the smallest diameter possible, ie, punching a very small hole through the water with nothing sticking out of this tube.
  2. Body Rotation: this long body line is then rotating along the long axis of the body. This body rotation reduces the frontal area of your tube, allows you to extend the forward reach of your pull, and positions you to use the large muscles of your back and shoulders during the pull phase.
  3. The Pull: the application of fitness and power to this long, rotating body line we’ve created above.

Below are our top tips to help you with each category of swimming technique:

Horizontal Body Position Tip:  “One Goggle Out”

For many swimmers, the breath creates a significant break in their stroke that leads to an even bigger compromise of their horizontal body position — the swimmer over rotates their head to expose more of their face to the air, but simultaneously extending the length of time it takes them to get the breath done. They may even lift their head a bit at the same time and the combination of these two drops their hips in the water, significantly compromising their horizontal body position. By thinking of breathing with just one goggle out of the water you minimize head rotation and the length of time of the breath to only what is necessary to get it done, therefore minimizing the breath’s potential compromise of your horizontal body position.

Body Rotation Tip: “Point the Belly to the Wall”

By swimming with flat shoulders, with no body rotation, you are forced to punch a bigger hole in the water as you move forward, and are limited to engaging the small stabilizer muscles of your shoulder vs the stronger muscles of your back into the pulling phase of your stroke. However, if you think of rotating your hips as you swim, the rest of your body will follow this rotation. By simply thinking “point the belly to the wall”, you rotate your hips, which rotates your upper body, allowing you to punch a smaller hole, extend the forward reach of your leading arm, and engage the big muscle groups of your back in your pull phase.

The Pull: “Finger Tips Down”

We’ve breathed with one goggle out, to get it done quickly, and to minimize the breath’s potential break in our stroke. We’ve pointed our belly to the wall, extending our reach at the front of the stroke, and gotten ourselves into position to engage the large muscles of our back in the pulling phase of the stroke. We now need to grab, or anchor our hand, or catch the water with our leading hand before pulling it backwards and our body forwards. Our tip for helping you catch the water here is to think “finger tips down” — think of pointing your fingers down towards at the bottom of the pool. We’ve found the catch then naturally follows. It may also be help full to imagine there’s a ladder on the bottom of the pull and you’re climbing it, with your fingers pointed downward at the bottom of the pool.

Finally, it’s important to implement a strategy to turn these mental reminders into the muscle of memory of good swimming technique. Here is a swim workout to help you with that:

Warm Up: swim 200-400 yard, easy, to just warm up your shoulders

Main Set #1: 4 x 50’s of “Swim Golf:” swim 50 yards counting your strokes for each length of the pool. Add these two numbers together and add to this your time, in seconds, for the 50. For example, you take 23 strokes down, 25 strokes back, and do this 50 yards in 52 seconds. Your Swim Golf score is then 23 + 25 + 52 = 100, which is a measurement of your efficiency (stroke count) and speed (time in seconds). We do this exercise at the start of the workout to establish a baseline that we’ll revisit after the next sets of “focused swimming.”

Main Set #2:

  • 3 x 50 thinking “one goggle out.”
  • 3 x 50 thinking “point the belly to the wall.”
  • 3 x 50 thinking “finger tips down”
  • 100 easy
  • 4 x 50 thinking “one goggle out, point the belly to the wall.”
  • 4 x 50 thinking “point the belly to the wall, finger tips down.”
  • 4 x 50 using whatever mental cues are working for you, or that you need to work on.
  • 100 easy

Throughout all of this, swim at a pace, and take as much rest as you need, to ensure each 50 has your fullest attention and best form. This is a technique vs fitness exercise.

Main Set #3: 200-300yds doing your best to string together continuously and consistently the mental cues of:

  1. One goggle out
  2. Belly to the wall
  3. Fingertips down

Main Set #4: repeat the Swim Golf exercise in Main Set #1. How did you do? What observations do you have?

Thanks for reading! We’ve love to hear your personal swimming techniques cues in the comments below!

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