Swim Safe in 2014

Man Swimming in Pool







My column this month at Endurance Corner is about swim safety.  Since the triathlon season is ramping up here in the U.S., I thought I’d post the column here, too.

From a safety perspective, the triathlon swim can be very unforgiving.  As we know, there are a few athletes who die each year in the United States during the swim portion of multisport events.  That’s really just the tip of the iceberg, though.  Many other athletes require rescue because of serious medical problems or just because conditions on race day were too tough to handle.

Athletes often ask me:  “What can I do to ensure my safety during the swim?”  Here’s my 10-item checklist:

1. Get a check-up.  Be sure that you’re healthy for the race.  Visit the doctor for a check-up.  Identify any major medical problems, especially any unsuspected heart condition.  We know that among athlete fatalities, unrecognized heart problems are found in the majority.

2. Understand the warning signs.  During training, pay attention to warning signs that may be a clue to an unrecognized heart problem:  chest pain/discomfort, unusual shortness of breath, palpitations, light-headedness or passing out, and unexplained fatigue.  Get evaluted if you have any of these symptoms.

3. Become a capable swimmer.  Perhaps it’s obvious.  This is the cornerstone to your swim safety on race day.

4. Practice open water swimming.  It’s simply different from the pool.  You need an extra set of practiced skills for the open water triathlon swim.

5. Choose an event carefully.  Take into consideration your health and your preparedness.  It’s find to “think big,” but remember to think about your safety, too.  It’s easy to underestimate the demands of the open water triathlon swim.

6. Develop a race plan that takes your health and preparedness into consideration.  Work with your doctor and your coach.

7. Check your swim gear before the race.  Make certain your race suit, swimskin or wetsuit, goggles, and cap are ready to go on race day.

8. Include a swim warm-up as part of your pre-race routine.  This will help with your safety as well as your performance.

9. Use a race-day checklist just before you start.  Deliberately review the course conditions, recall your race plan, locate the safety resources, and make a conscious decision about whether to participate or not.  Make a wise decision.  Only you can make the final decision to participate.

10. Swim safely.  Know where to find a lifeguard if you need one.  Remember to stop at the first sign of a medical problem.  Your life could depend on it.

 Related Posts:

 1. Triathlon Fatalities:  2013 in Review

2. New USAT Water Temperature Safety Recommendations

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  1. says

    Hello, Larry. Thank you for very practical and important messages for athletes.
    One thing I would like to ask you about safety during swimming. What do you think about physical contact mainly at the beginning of swim part? I am thinking that both direct damages and indirect adverse effect due to spending additional energy are harmful to athletes. Especially in Japan, many of triathlon races are very crowded. Unfortunately, one athlete died during his swim part in May.
    It would be my pleasure if I can hear your expert opinion.

    And may I introduce your “Swim Safe in 2014” on my blog after translated in Japanese? I am quite sure it is very important messages for triathletes in Japan, too.

    • Larry Creswell, MD says

      Thanks, Ichiro.

      Yes, please feel free to share the post, translated. I hope the suggestions are helpful to your Japanese audience.

      I think that there can be great physicality at the beginning of triathlon swims, particularly if large numbers of athletes start at the same time. This contributes to anxiety because of what athletes expect….but it also increases the heart rate as it happens, placing extra demands on the cardiovascular system. It’s simply stressful.

      Here in the USA, our USAT ordinarily limits wave size to less than 150 athletes. Many races here are changing to time trial start, with athletes starting the race at 3-5 second intervals. This reduces anxiety before the race….and reduces the physicality during the race.

      Regarding trauma, I’ve wondered particularly about head trauma. I would think it’s very possible for a kick in the head to render an athlete unconscious.

      Hope this is helpful.


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