Triathlon Swimming: How to make the rough like the smooth

Posted in swimming on July 26, 2013

Triathlon and strength and conditioning expert Roland Kemp talks us through what for many is the most intimidating part of triathlon –  the swim. And, even more intimidating than that, swimming in rough open water!



We all hope for calm water, but you never know what conditions will be like. Open water swimming is challenging but racing in rough waters is even more so. Although I may not have the best swimming technique, I am able to keep my cool and so can you! Here are some tips that will help you out in the open water and make your experience a little nicer…

  1. Dive under the waves going out, not over them. Unless they are small waves, below your waist, pushing off the bottom and diving through the wave will prevent you from getting pushed backwards.
  2. Take the out side. The small amount of time you will save trying to swim inside with the pack before getting to the first buoy is not worth it. Taking the outside path will save you from getting punched, swallowing water, having your feet grabbed, etc. Some of this will happen at the crowded start anyway, but you can cut down on it by not going with the pack.
  3. Take wide turns around the buoys. While everyone else is trying to come as close to the buoy as possible around a turn, take the road less travelled and go wide. Again, cutting inside is not going to save you much time and you will have more clear water in the outside.
  4. Breathe only to one side to avoid swallowing water. If you can see the waves coming towards you on one side, breathe to the other side until you can get around the next buoy. I learned this the hard way and ended up with a few pints of salt water in my belly!
  5. Avoid too much sighting. It is tempting to lift your head up in rough conditions. However, you are still better off keeping your stroke long and your head down. Ideally, you will find someone to follow, and you will not have to lift your head up as much (unless they steer you in the wrong direction!).
  6. Before the race starts, pick out an obvious marker on the shore that you can swim towards to the finish (a flag, building,  a tall tree on land) this will stop the embarrassment of having to run up the beach/lake to the swim exit point!


Of course, we would probably all like to have calm water that does not give us these challenges. However, if you come prepared, you can use rough water conditions to your advantage!

Practicing swimming in a group and doing some race simulations will also help – much better to take a hit from a friend than on race day!

I hope that’s helpful – good luck!

You can find out more about Roland’s triathlon coaching here.