Swimming: Which stroke to use for a triathlon

Your next goal: diving into a triathlon. Before starting your training, there is one question to ask: Which stroke should you focus on?

Swimming: Which stroke to use for a triathlon

So, you’ve decided to take on a new challenge: finishing a triathlon. Triathlon is a comprehensive, varied and challenging sport which gets you out into nature, so you won’t regret this! So, you’re into sports and like to push yourself, but this triathlon will be your first. To better your odds, we’re guessing you’ll be needing a few tips? Here, I’ll focus on one discipline: swimming. Whether swimming is your strong point or weak point, this article is for you!

Swimming: Which stroke to use for a triathlon


If, during a triathlon, you’re thinking of varying your stroke in line with your whims and fancies, it’s worth noting that 99.99% of athletes use front crawl. How? This is simply because it enables them to go faster. Despite the fact that regulations allow all strokes, we would recommend using the front crawl.

If this is your weak point, don’t panic! Progress is always possible. To impove your confidence, there is nothing better than taking a few lessons or reading through our tips. It’s better to start by going over the basics and mastering them, than diving head-first into hours and hours of practising with poor form.

For advanced swimmers, as you most likely already know, to swim a good front crawl, managing your breathing and technique is key. So, you’ll need to concentrate on these aspects as a priority as you start training.

For beginners, it can be interesting to alternate between front crawl and breaststroke at strategic moments. My first tip would be not to list a finish time which is overly ambitious on your sign-up sheet. This way, you’ll avoid any crushes and scrambles at the start of the race and you’ll push off after the first waves of triathletes. It is precisely at this point, over the first 20 or 30 metres, that breaststroke will be interesting for you. It will allow you to get into your swimming pace calmly, and to master your breathing. Once settled in, you can switch to front crawl. The other stage during which breaststroke is used is as you pass the buoy. At this time, which can be a little stressful as you take on a dozen other people, breaststroke can be reassuring and allows you to maintain precision whilst easily changing direction.

Finally, if front crawl really isn't your thing, don't give up on your triathlon goals! You can just focus on breaststroke. You’ll be slower and you’ll fatigue your legs more, but it’s definitely possible! So, don’t give up! :)


First of all, do you know the correct position for front crawl? If you have any doubts, check out these videos and copy the basic technique, taking all the time you need to master it. Next, to improve your front crawl, lessons and accessories will be your allies! Pull-boy, boards, plates and frontal tubes will help you to improve your form, and to work on your breathing and glide. The position of your hand, head movements when taking breaths, or even leg thrush can make all the difference on triathlon day. Remember that swimming is the first stage of the triathlon, so mastering front crawl will allow you to save your energy for the next events.

Once you’ve got to grips with the technique, it is important to work on your endurance with long distances, such as 3500 metres. Then, once you’ve finished training, you can focus on your speed by training sprints over the last two weeks. The objective is to feel good and not wear yourself out before the competition. For an M-distance triathlon, you should be able to swim 1500 metres in one go. Getting your body used to this effort is essential to make sure that you’re ready on D-Day, as you won’t have any supports to rely on if you fatigue.

Swimming: Which stroke to use for a triathlon
Swimming: Which stroke to use for a triathlon


For optimal preparation, swimming in your wetsuit before the competition is a step that should not be forgotten or neglected. Swimming can feel very different in a wetsuit and a swimsuit. Let’s avoid any nasty surprises on D-Day! Plus, rehearsals may allow you to find reassurance in finding that the wetsuit, thanks to the neoprene, assists floating. This is a real asset on competition day, as you’ll make fewer movements and save energy, which is good news, right? However, beware, because where there are wetsuits, there is need for anti-chafing cream or Vaseline. If you miss these, you risk irritations! These creams will also prove helpful when removing your wetsuit as you come out of the water. You get the message: it’s an essential item!

Once you’re truly at east with the technical side of things, you’ll need to get into open-water swimming. Water temperature, currents, lack of lanes, buoys and poor underwater visibility are all parameters that can be unsettling. Training in the same conditions as you’ll find in the actual competition is key to effective training. This especially applies to D-Day, as you’ll be surrounded by other athletes. You’ll need to know how to concentrate on your goals, despite any potential jostling. Running, even for just a few minutes, just after your swimming training session is always a good idea. The body isn’t used to this type of effort, so, again, it’s useful to prepare yourself by working on this transition.

PLEASE NOTE: Whenever you’re training open-water swimming, make sure to have a partner out on the water or on shore. Unnecessary risks are out of the question, and safety is key. :)


The big day is almost here! Your swimming technique is sorted, your pace is sorted, training in real conditions has been sorted, and now you just need to give it your all, and most importantly, enjoy it! To avoid any unpleasant surprises on D-Day, here are my last tips.

- You have two options available concerning goggles. You can adjust your cap and then your goggles before pulling on your competition cap. This way, everything should stay put, but once the goggles are on, it is difficult to move them and the final cap may come off. Your second option is to pull on the competition cap before positioning your goggles. This will allow you to make adjustments during the event if needed, but you’re not immune to the risk of a fellow competitor accidentally pulling them off! The choice is yours!

- Get into the water, you can even try out some movements, to adjust to the water temperature before the race starts. Be careful, and try to go as long as possible before your race to avoid having issues getting into your wetsuit once wet.

- Find a strategic starting position. For your first triathlon, I’d advise starting from the back or the sides. It’s better to lose a few seconds at the start than to inadvertently get hit as you’re at the heart of the scrum!

- During the swim, don't hesitate to position yourself in a way so as to ensure that you can benefit from the impetus of another swimmer, rather than being on the receiving end of it. Whether at the feet of another triathlete or to the side, at hip-level you can take advantage of their suction to save energy. However, this doesn’t mean you don't have to keep an eye on the direction you’re heading in, as the person in front of you can make a mistake and head the wrong way. Having a visual marker is best.

Now you know all there is to know on what is needed to succeed in the swimming event of your new sporting challenge. If you want more information on particular points or training plan models, check out our other articles. By following our tips and tricks during your preparation, you’ll be diving into your triathlon in confidence on D-Day. Who knows, maybe you’ll go beyond simply finishing the race to finishing with an impressive time!