The First Leg

Girl Swimming in Pool

For many beginner triathletes, the swim is the most difficult leg. Even exceptionally fit marathoners may have trouble the first time they jump in the pool. Swimming has full-body benefits, building core strength, upper body and cardio endurance.

Swimming is also the first leg of most triathlons. The start can be scary for a beginning swimmer, says Margarita Torres, certified personal trainer and swim instructor. Triathlon starts are hectic and you can get bumped and kicked by the stampede of swimmers. Stay toward the back of the pack to avoid being intimated by more experienced swimmers and keep to the sides of pack to avoid getting caught in the middle. But don't worry; you will build up endurance in no time with these tips from Torres.


Before you jump in the pool, make a stop to your local sports store and purchase three things:

swim gear

Stroke Basics

A good stroke is essential for a successful swim. It makes swimming easier and more efficient. The video below is an example of how your stroke should look. Torres recommends the following tips to glide effortlessly through the water.

1. Don't worry about speed
For a beginning swimmer, speed isn't important. It's all about efficiency. Once you figure out how to swim efficiently, then you can add speed. "There's only so much you can do with bad form," Torres says.
2. Let the water support you
Don't fight the water. Let the water help propel you forward.
3. Twist your hips
As you move through the water, twist your hips from side to side with your stroke, similar to the way a torpedo moves through the water.
4. Reach and glide
Swim long, straightening your arms before starting another stroke. This will help you glide through the water more efficiently.
5. Keep your chin down
Breathe from side to side, keeping your chin down as you swim. Alternate breathing on both sides because waves in the ocean may prevent you from using your favored side. When your head is in the water, exhale through your nose. When you tilt your head out of the water, inhale through your mouth.
6. Practice sighting
Even experienced swimmers may have difficulty swimming straight. It is especially important to swim straight during your triathlon. The water in the ocean can be murky, making it difficult to see where you are going. Practice looking forward every few strokes, even in the pool.

A Beginner's Workout

The majority of your swim training can be done in a pool. However, Torres recommends doing at least a couple open water swims to get used to sighting and swimming in the ocean.

Your swim workout should be done at the pace you expect to race. After you have mastered your stroke, try mixing it up with this workout: