Should You Perform The Other Three Strokes?

As a triathlete or distance swimmer looking to improve your freestyle, should you swim backstroke, breaststroke or butterfly sets in training?

Our answer is that it depends on how much you are swimming. If you're in the water up to three times per week then we think it's best to focus exclusively on freestyle to give you as much specific stroke and fitness work as possible. However, if you are swimming four or more times a week then a little variety is stimulating and the other three strokes are great for developing your feel for the water and your all round conditioning.

Saying that, if you're swimming mostly for health rather than specific race fitness, or enjoying some less focused off-season training, then introducing some non-freestyle sets is a great way to liven up your sessions.

Give Individual Medley (IM) a try too - this involves swimming all four strokes in succession without a break, normally in the order: fly-back-breast-free. This is pretty tough, so start with a set of 100s IM (25m of each stroke in turn) before attempting 200s (50m of each stroke) which are quite a bit harder!

With butterfly many swimmers struggle with getting their arms up over the surface of the water. Two quick tips on that: 1. Focus on an undulating rhythm through the core akin to doing a backwards and forwards hula-hoop at the hips. 2. When breathing lift your head early to inhale and then immediately dip your chin back down to your chest to continue the undulating action of the stroke.

Swim Smooth!


Anonymous said...

I think swimming a little back stroke after and/or during each session is very important to help prevent muscle injury.


Anonymous said...

Am wonering if running or riding backwards after a run or bike workout would help prevent injury?

Barbara said...

I have 2 comments about this:
1. “Three other strokes” – what about the rest! Perhaps I am showing my age here but Side- Stroke (as taught to me by my mother circa 1965) is an extremely useful stroke as: a) You only use one arm at a time – useful for admiring scenery when going on long swims around the coast. Also good on long-distance swims as you can swap arms whenever one gets tired.
b) Of course, when swimming on one side you minimise drag and never have to worry about breathing. In the sea I also find I can swim and breathe facing away from incoming waves most of the time.

Also the stroke known as “Old English Backstroke” is great for a wind-down session at the end of a swim as you are rotating both arms backwards at once and doing a breast-stroke kick – usually things you don’t do in a free-style session (unless you are performing it horribly wrong).

2. I also find combining conventional strokes great fun and very useful for improving both. For example – I never would have learned Butterfly without doing some Breast-stroke/Butterfly combos first. Conversely, by doing these same combos I found my Breast-stroke improved dramatically, as suddenly I had introduced short axis rotation (undulation) into this stroke without even trying.
Most useful of all is a backstroke/freestyle combo – doing odd numbers of strokes for one and even numbers for the other (eg 4 backstrokes, then 3 freestyle) rotating round on your outstretched leading arm. Fantastic for bilateral breathing– as it is impossible to breathe on the same side twice! And because you are on your back a lot you never worry about not being able to breathe at all on your “bad” side.
OK – I agree - in a conventional pool “Fitness Session” performing any or all of the above will mark you out as irretreivably WEIRD – but Hey! Who cares!

Chris said...

Barbara, I wondered if anyone else remembered the side stroke. I always felt that was my best stroke -- in South Dakota circa 1975. We also learned your "old English Backstroke" although I think we hand another name for it that I can't recall now.

I've been swimming with a local masters group. The focus is mainly freestyle, but they usually throw in a little bit of IM. Unfortunately, learning butterfly has been rough. I'm up to doing one length of a 25 yd pool, not too impressive.

I can see how all four strokes together balance all the muscle groups, so I don't feel like it is taking much away from my freestyle to do those extra sets.

Any other tips you have for butterfly would be great. I'm not sure my body "undulates" properly...

Adam Young said...

Hi Barbara and Chris,

Great comments guys! We only coach the four competition strokes so there's definitely an open market out there waiting for you!


Barbara said...

Dear Chris,
Thanks for positive comment. As far as Butterfly goes, I had great difficulty learning too and can still only do 75m max. at one time.
Tried watching videos, but had to have one-to-one lessons to finally get it. I think it is the timing that is problematical, not so much the individual actions. The most useful thing I found was when my instructor fitted me with flippers and told me to forget my feet and just concentrate on my arms. The feet just followed on behind, but the flippers magnified the movements my rear-end was making naturally, and suddenly I could feel when to kick.
Hope this helps,

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