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Triathlon Articles by Local Coaches

Swimming in current

Ever wondered about how to swim in current in a triathlon?  Not sure what swim technique will get you to the triathlon finish soonest? Read on!

Racing in the Ironman US Championships last weekend (which were held in the very tidal Hudson river) i was amazed at how many swimmers clearly hadn't been told how to swim in currents.

Currents are quite a common experience- Vineman, Beach 2 Battleship, Ironman NYC, Escape from Alcatraz, and a number of other races are all held in very currenty conditions.  Its worth figuring out how to swim in them fast.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Its impossible to tell the current if you are swimming in it- you have no reference.  You  have to look for the current before the start (look at stuff floating in the water and see which way it moves) or stop swimming next to a buoy and see which way you float
  • Current is at its slowest right up against the shore (either the bottom of the channel or the sides of the channel).  Therefore, the further you are away from the ground, the faster the current is.  This means that the strongest current is in the deepest water, farthest from the shore.  This typically means the fastest current is in the middle of the channel
  • The only exception is around corners- in corners, the fastest current is typically shifted to the outside of the corner
  • When you are swimming downcurrent (most common in well organized races) try to stay in the fastest current
  • When going upcurrent stay in the slowest current- often in VERY shallow water
  • Finding the best current is almost always more important than any other consideration- even a 1 knot current (not that fast) will increase your speed by 50%
  • When going across a current towards a specific place (swim exit for example) there is an easy trick to figure out if you are going the correct direction- site on where you are going, and then look at what is behind it (ie line up the swim exit gate with a tree behind it).  Then watch how the background moves.  If the foreground moves left vs the background, you are swimming too far to the right, and vice versa.  Once the foreground is not moving vs the background, you have the proper aim point worked out.
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