It’s common for triathletes to have anxiety over the swim leg of a triathlon. After all, we run and ride bikes from an early age, so we have a level of confidence and ability in those disciplines.
But, most of us don’t learn to swim distance freestyle.
Open water swims can, naturally, add extra anxiety for triathletes with thoughts of become exhausted or cramping some distance from land.
Here are some ways to help reduce anxiety and fear of the swim leg of a triathlon.
The more comfortable you are in the water, the less anxious you will be. Swim regularly in the pool and learn how to swim with a relaxed stroke. I hope that you’ll try some of the triathlon swim workouts on this site. I designed them to help you develop a relaxed swim technique.
Also, practice floating on your back and swimming breaststroke. Both of these will help you if you become tired during an open-water swim. Once you’ve established a relaxed stroke, start swimming in open water, if possible. Do so with fellow triathletes and stay close to land to begin.
Focus on Your Breathing
Take slow, deep breaths to calm yourself before the start of the race. During the swim, maintain a steady breathing pattern to help you stay calm. Again, floating on your back or swimming breaststroke is a great way to take a breather during the race. Be sure to practice this.
Break the Swim into Smaller Segments
Instead of thinking about the entire swim, focus on completing one lap or one section at a time. In the pool, start by practicing a single length at a time with 15 seconds of rest after each length. The next time you swim, drop to 10 seconds rest and/or switch to 2 lengths with 15 seconds rest. Continue to increase the length of the swims and decrease the rest interval. This is the best way to build up your endurance.
Also, a few days before the race, try to complete a swim that’s around 10-15% longer swim than the race distance. You’ll get a confidence boost knowing that you can swim further than the race.
One tip. If you’re training entirely in a pool, try to do that swim without touching the walls. When you get close, just swim a u-turn and keep swimming without touching. That way you’re simulating the continuous swim, rather than having occasional wall breaks. It makes a big difference.
Having negative thoughts is natural and fuels the anxiety of a triathlon swim. But try to block out these thoughts. Encourage yourself with positive self-talk. When you swim in the pool and open water, think about achievable the swim is. Replace your negative thoughts with positive ones. The more you practice and feed positive thoughts, the quicker your anxiety will erode. You got this.
Wetsuits are typically made of neoprene, which is a spongy rubber material. It provides buoyancy for swimmers. When picking a triathlon wetsuit, choose one with extra buoyancy. Some provide extra material in areas that help with buoyancy.
If you need extra assurance, consider a Restube or something similar. Restube is a belt with a self-inflating tube inside. If you get in trouble, pull a cord and the tube will inflate, giving you a flotation device.
Keep in mind that anxiety about the triathlon swim leg is completely natural, In fact, this fear is often the thing that stops people from attempting a triathlon. But also keep in mind that you can overcome this fear through many of the tips above.
Prepare and be confident.