Starting your Open Water Swim

There are 4 common starts to open water swims:

  • Treading water,
  • Running start,
  • Wading in, and
  • Diving or jumping in.

You should become familiar with and practice each type in case your event uses them.

Treading Water

 A treading water start is used when the water is too deep to do a running start and there is no wading area.  You will enter the water from a dock (feet first is best) and usually have 1 to 3 minutes to tread water before the gun goes off.  I suggest using the whole time allotted to get used to the water and slowly get your face and head wet to get acclimated and have good breath control.

To tread water you will be in water where you cannot touch the ground.  You will be in a vertical position and can use your freestyle flutter kick, a bicycle kick (like you are riding a bike), or a scissor kick for the leg portion (like your legs are closing scissors).  Your hands are going to be in front of you in a back and forth motion starting with both hands coming toward each other (as if they were going to clap but they don’t touch), then turn both hands to push away from each other, turn back to go toward each other, and continue this motion.

You don’t want to use a lot of effort for this piece of the event.  You are merely staying afloat while keeping your body warm with the movements.  You also don’t need much room to do this move.  The hands stay close to the body and your legs are under you.

Running Start

 A running start is used when the beach is the entry point for the race.  You will be grouped together in your swim wave and everyone will start at once by running down the beach to the water.  Once you hit the water, use high knees to get over the water until you cannot use high knees anymore.  Then you will either dive or slide into the water and start your swim.  If you choose to dive in, make sure your goggles are secured tightly so they don’t come off during the dive.  This start is common in ocean swims.

Wading In

A wading in start will put your wave in the water at about waist deep water waiting for the start signal.  Once you are in the water and are waiting, get your face wet and stay as much in the water as possible to begin acclimating to the temperature.  Once you get the signal to start, everyone will start swimming.


Diving or Jumping In

 A dive or a jump in will be done in a pool or from a dock or a vessel.  Some events do not allow for diving in so be sure to check the rules.  When you jump in, splay your arms out and have your legs scissor kick up to try to keep your head above the water.  That way you can control how your head goes into the water and not have to worry about your goggles falling off.

If you are diving in, place your goggles on your head before you put your swim cap on and tighten the goggles a bit more than usual.  This will help your goggles stay on better during the entry into the water.  Stack your hands one on top of the other, squeeze your ears between your arms, lean forward, and push off with your legs.  You can have both legs in line or your strong leg to your back.  Either way, you should practice your dive under a trained coach prior to your event so you can get used to the entry and don’t belly flop.

New Swimmers

With any start, if you are not a strong swimmer, I suggest waiting a few seconds after the start signal to begin your swim.  Let everyone else start first and then you can get your rhythm going. And, don’t forget your red cap!

Finally, before you sign up for your event, find out what kind of start they will be using and then practice, practice, practice.  The more comfortable you are with each piece of the event, the better results you will get on race day.  If I can provide any help to you on this subject, feel free to reach out to me at

Posted February 28, 2017