Open Water Swimming Activation for Triathletes

As a young swimmer, for as long as I could remember my coach always tasked me with a warmup prior to my own swim races.  As an ignorant youngster, items within that warmup seemed inconsequential, as an older coach I now understand why the dryland portion of my warmup and then subsequent water work was done in such a specific way. 

I have always believed that warmups, whether wet or dry, needed to do the following things: get me mentally prepared to swim, physiologically get my body revved up and ready to go and finally, get my body technically ready by reminding myself of things I had changed or needed to work on.

The open water portion of triathlon is no different.  Although there are considerations that need to be made because of environment (temperature being the biggest one), as well as facilities (sometimes there is no access prior to your swim), swimming at the end of the day is still swimming. 

Today, I would like to chat specifically about the dryland aspect of activations.   What do you do before you get into your water warmup (if there is one), and how this activation might differ if you do not have the opportunity or desire to get wet.

The mental side of your activation might consist of getting yourself into the correct activation zone.  Pumping yourself up, or calming yourself down.  It may be an opportunity to remind yourself of things that are important to your swim; how do you approach your buoys, nuances in technique that you have changed, things you feel would make great landmarks when sighting.  You may require yourself to mentally rehearse these things, or just remind yourself.

The physiological aspect is the most commonly thought of part of the warmup.  In this portion of your activation you are looking to raise your body’s temperature through movement, prime and activate the most used muscle groups and rehearse movement patterns.  The entire activation may take you approximately 10 to 30 minutes.  Increasing your blood flow and raising your body temperature can be done through exercises like skipping, light running, or jump/hops.  Activities should be low in intensity to start and can increase until you are comfortable, but should not be crazy hard or taxing.  They can be in any combination, and varied to your preference.

Activating the major muscle groups in swimming might entail exercises like arm swings, arm circles and leg swings.  This list is not all encompassing, and is very general.  There are more advanced exercises that can be done, and those exercises can be specifically prescribed to your individual circumstance.  This portion of your activation might make up 5-10 minutes worth of time.

At SwimFocused we are big fans of Cordz (not because they sponsor us, or we receive any kickbacks in any way, but because we think they have a great, and useful product).   Set your Cordz up and work through some pull patterns paying specific attention to areas of the pull that you have been working on with your coach or on your own.  This time will be doubly well spent as you are activating memory and motor patterns in your brain while using your muscles.

Once you are all done, remember to stay warm.  Most triathlons start early in the morning when temperatures are lower.  Spending 10-30 minutes warming up only to cool down right away is counter productive.  Jump back into your track suits, take in some fluids and remind yourself why what you’re doing is fun.

If you have any questions regarding your open water swim or the swim portion of your triathlon feel free to get in touch with us at

Regardless of where you are in your journey focused planning, focused practices and honest effort will result in seeing great gains in the swim portion of your races.

Yours in Swimming,