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.