Get Drafting

Swim Technique

All age group athletes know that drafting on the bike can bring huge energy and time savings but of course most also realise it is met with opprobrium and time penalties. However, few make effective use of drafting in the swim discipline, where time and energy savings can be as big as 20%.

The swim leg of a Triathlon is the discipline that most Age Group athletes fear, worries of missing the time cut, getting off course, surviving the churn of arms and legs as well as that irrational fear of the deep! Yes we’ve all had it!

However, drafting on a swimmer of a similar/slightly better ability is something that can help mitigate many of these factors and get you out of the water quicker and feeling fresher. It requires practice in training, but it’s well worth the effort and training to improve drafting skills can give some structure and focus to those open water sessions.

Follow these steps to make the most of the draft in your next race.


  • Recent studies have shown that the optimal place to draft a leading swimmer is right on that swimmers feet (within 0.5m is best). Many athletes are taught to draft by positioning their head near the lead swimmers hips. This positioning will save some effort but not as much as being safely tucked in behind the feet.
  • Follow the bubbles. To find athletes you can draft on it’s a good idea to swim a little harder in the first 100-200m then pick up the feet of passing swimmers, not swimmers your catching, as they are already slowing and likely to do so further.
  • Make sure you are nice and close to the lead swimmer by ensuring your head is in the turbulence caused by that swimmers kick. Don’t be afraid to touch the feet of the swimmer your drafting, it helps ensure your close enough to get a benefit and makes staying in contact easier.
  • Regularly breath and sight on the swimmer your drafting, at least every 6 strokes.
  • Fight for your position. You will be working less hard when drafting but you will need to be prepared to accelerate hard every now and then to avoid other athletes muscling in on your space.
  • Work hard around buoys and increase the frequency of sighting for a few metres into and out of the turn. As you turn around buoys it can be hard to keep the lead swimmers feet in sight. As you approach the buoy, move closer to the lead swimmers feet, maybe even draft at the hip for a few strokes into the turn. As the turn is made you’ll naturally slip back to the feet.
  • Occasionally sight on the buoys to ensure the person your drafting is on course. If they are of course a little it is rarely worth deserting their feet, the benefits of drafting will easily compensate for a few extra metres swum, On the other hand if your heading in the opposite direction to the rest of the pack, probably time to find a new pilot!
  • prior to the race start chat to people in the holding pen and get an idea of their potential swim splits (subtly!). Then try and position yourself near those athletes whom come closest to matching your swim speed. Consider if you draft well, you could swim up to 60s quicker over 750m.

You will of course need to practise the above techniques in open water training. It can be useful to do this with a coach or fellow athlete that has previous experience of drafting in races. At Racesnake swim sets that develop the short explosive efforts and skills needed to draft successfully are built into training all year around. But it is never to late to get comfortable with drafting technique so make it a priority in your next open water swim set.

For more information or tips and advice on race day swim skills, get in touch via e mail or through out Facebook page at

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