12 Open Water Swimming Tips From Experienced Triathletes

Before doing my first triathlon, I wanted to be as prepared as possible. I reached out to amateur triathletes, professionals, and even Ironman winners from around the world and asked them one simple question: “What’s the one thing you wish you’d have known before doing your first triathlon?”

I received 53 inspiring tips. In this post, you will find the 12 swimming tips they gave me. Enjoy reading those and explore the 41 other tips as well.

I guess for me it was all about the swim preparation. I entered a local race, a super sprint, and I was really underprepared. I wish I had done more swimming. I thought, “it’s only 400m, I will be fine.”

I should have done more preparation for the swim. As someone from a non-swimming background, I’ve come to place more and more emphasis on swim training. It’s not important for me to swim faster (but that’s a nice byproduct), but rather exit the water feeling fresh rather than fatigued.

The races that I’ve exited the water into T1 feeling fresh have always been my best races. That cumulative fatigue really gets you in the end!

Benjamin – Instagram / Website
Credit: Marcel Hilger

I wish I would have known how to swim 🙂 I started just 5 years ago and I never swam in my youth. I only survived the swim part of my first Triathlon because it took place in a river with some flow.

Another thing that I should have practiced before is opening the bike shoes on the bike and the whole transition part in general. That will save you so much time.

Laura – Instagram / Website

I wish I would have known that having a good triathlon swim is less about learning how to swim, and more about learning how to enter the swim with a sense of calm and confidence.

Just like so many other beginners, my nerves got the better of me in the swim. My heart rate would sky-rocket, and I could barely breathe. That meant instead of being able to use what little swim stroke I had, I was forced to hang on paddleboards, side-stroke, and rescue stroke my way through the swim. After a particularly ugly experience, I reached out for help to figure out what was going on. Although I resisted the “diagnosis” at first, there was ultimately no denying that if I can swim back and forth across a lake for practice but not on race day, the problem was largely in my head. So I decided to treat race day like “just another practice”, and no paddle boards have been involved since! (P.S. Learning to warm up helped, too. 🙂

Catherine – Instagram / Linkedin

You are never going to be ready for your first triathlon. You might think you are, but you aren’t. Me, I had a lot of difficulties: the water was freezing and I couldn’t breathe. The first triathlon experience is always shocking, as you might have experienced in other sports as well.

Tommy – Instagram

My first Tri was the Half Ironman in Zell am See. I got quite a lot of advice from friends before the race, many have done full Ironman distance events, so I felt well prepared. For me the key advice for a beginner: leverage your fear.

Fear can be a powerful motivator. For me, I was most worried about swimming, having not swum since age 10. To then be faced with a 1.9km open water swim, this was very daunting. Using that fear helped to focus my swim training. I cut it into small chunks, 1600m per visit to the pool. One visit a week to allow my body to adapt and for me to be comfortable in the water. It worked for me, did a 35min swim, and loved every moment in the Austrian lake 🙂


The one thing I wish I’d have known before my first triathlon was how important it was to do ocean swimming training before actually jumping into the race! I didn’t grow up with the ocean around me, and never was a swimmer growing up. I was self-taught and learned in a pool also not around a mass of people! So when the race began, I didn’t know how to get past the wake, I wore goggles that had dark lenses, and I was renting a last-minute wet suit that was one size too small so I couldn’t breathe well, and had people crawling all over me!

Rachel – Instagram

I would have wished that someone told me that I will lose my orientation a little bit when I get out of the water after the Open Water Swimming.

Mike – Instagram / Website

There are several things I wish I knew before doing my first triathlon but I don’t regret not knowing since it adds to the experience.

That being said, I wish I knew more about swimming. Nothing can prepare you for mass starts. Had I been a stronger swimmer maybe I would not have panic / hyperventilated during the swim. It knocked me for a loop and spent most of the time on my back trying to catch my breath. I swam in pools before the triathlon but it was always calm and nothing like race day. I would also suggest never use a mountain bike bought from Wal-Mart. Those things are heavy and not ideal for racing. HA!

Oliver – Instagram

I was lucky enough to have a big brother who told me a lot of different tips before my first triathlon, whether it was how to do a transition or tips on using your gear. But the one thing I didn’t know before I started was how crazy the swim is.

During the winter and summer, I had used a lot of time in the swimming pool, improving my technique and stamina, as well as getting used to the water. I still wasn’t 100% comfortable with breathing when I did my first event, and that was probably why this race made such a long-lasting impression on me. Once the signal started, the nice canal became a crazy battlefield of kicking feet and grabbing hands. It was war! People wanted to get ahead, and once we got to the first buoy it all just intensified. I was during the first five minutes in a pure survival mode, just trying to stay calm enough to not panic. Once I got up, I remember feeling like I was the most badass person in the city for enduring something like that.

I LOVE the swim and all the challenges that it brings to the table but must recommend to new triathletes to join a club where you practice swimming in packs before you start off on your own in a race.

Lars – Instagram / Website

Before the first triathlon, it’s essential to know why you are doing it. The main reason will be the challenge and the curiosity to try something new you have not done before. So make sure you take it all in, every moment the good and bad. I was not the strongest swimmer and decided it was a good idea to start in the front row since it would be better since you do not have really slow swimmers to block you. Well, that was a big mistake since I got dunked a few times and swum over like I was not existing. So my tip, place yourself smartly at the swim so you enjoy the first part as well and take in the whole day.

Matthias – Instagram

I wish I would have known that open water swims with hundreds of people around you can be even more challenging than I expected.

Piotr – Instagram

The one thing I would have liked to know before my first triathlon race was that the swimming fraction is not a sport…. but it’s more similar to a battle! I remember that after my first 100 meters I didn’t recognize where I was going because there were too many athletes in too little space and I hit my right arm against the first buoy. But despite all, this sport is fun also. Thanks to these “problems” which could compromise your race, but also other’s race… so all of this makes the sport so unpredictable 🙂

Nicolò – Instagram

Part 1 ->  9 motivational tips
Part 2 ->  19 beginner tips
Part 3 ->  12 swimming tips
Part 4 ->  5 biking & running tips
Part 5 ->  8 transitions tips