How to Draft Effectively in the Swim

Do you want to swim faster with less effort?  Do you want to exit a triathlon swim fresh and ready for the bike?  Do you want to focus less on navigating all over the course, and more on looking for fishies while you swim?  If so, draft!

Drafting in a triathlon swim is something ALL the pros do, and almost none of the age groupers do. Its 100% legal, and makes a huge difference in your swim speed, and how cooked you are after the swim.

Just to reemphasize. Drafting in the swim is always legal. No passing zones, no time limits. Go crazy.

How do you draft effectively in the swim:

  1. Don’t try to draft for the first few minutes after the start- its too crazy, and you probably wont draft the right person.
  2. Focus on drafting in draft friendly conditions- crowded swim courses, not too wavy, and with good visibility in the water so you can see everyone else.
  3. Go really hard for the first few minutes before drafting. Remember you will rest once drafting, and going extra hard at first makes sure the person you do draft is a good swimmer.
  4. Once you are tired from going for say 5 minutes hard on your own, find the right person to draft.
  5. You want someone from your swim wave (you can check their cap color) who preferably is making a lot of bubbles so you can keep track of them easily, and is swimming in the right direction and who looks like they know what they are doing enough that they won’t grab the next buoy or swim way off course. Ideally a bigger swimmer is best, as they make for a bigger draft.

OK so now you know WHO to draft, but HOW do you draft?

“Behind Drafting” (this is the easiest)

  1. Swim right behind your draftee. Look to see their feet, and use their bubble trail to follow them. Feel for the swirl in the water that their kick makes with your hands.
  2. Once close, get in the optimal position- you want your hands as they enter the water to go slightly to the outside of their feet, and at full fingertip extension you want to be either just behind them or have your hands wider and overlapping with their feet.
  3. Relax. You will suddenly have to ease way up on your effort, and go the same speed. It will feel like the swimmer in front of you slowed way down. They didn't. This is the whole point of drafting- going really fast with no effort.
  4. Every few minutes if you think your swimmer is slowing down, you can swim a bit to the side of the swimmer you are drafting to prove to yourself that they haven’t slowed down. You will feel the resistance go up suddenly. Once you have re-convinced yourself that the swimmer is going fast enough, get back in that draft.
  5. Spend the rest of the swim leg in that spot. Relax. Mentally prepare for the bike. Focus not on swimming hard, but on swimming right in the proper spot.
  6. One note of etiquette: its ok to swim right behind someone else, but its bad manners to be constantly slapping their ankles or toes.

“Side Drafting”

  1. Another god spot for drafting is about half way up on the lead swimmer on the side- so your eyes are about even with their hips. You need to be close in side to side for this to work.
  2. This is actually a faster (less resistance) spot than behind, but it can be a bit hard to stay here, as the lead swimmer may just angle away.
  3. It's easiest when you choose the side of the swimmer so you can see them on your natural breathing side (ie if you breathe on the right, stay on the left side).

 

 

 

Coach Noah

Coach Noah is the founder of T1 Triathlon LLC, a triathlon and Ironman coaching group based out of Boston, MA. He has been coaching sports for over twenty years, and racing triathlons for over a decade. Coach Noah is a USAT Level 1 Certified Triathlon Coach, and has finished multiple Ironman and Ironman 70.3 races.

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About The Author

Coach Noah

Coach Noah is the founder of T1 Triathlon LLC, a triathlon and Ironman coaching group based out of Boston, MA. He has been coaching sports for over twenty years, and racing triathlons for over a decade. Coach Noah is a USAT Level 1 Certified Triathlon Coach, and has finished multiple Ironman and Ironman 70.3 races.

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