Should You Swim Other Strokes (Or WHY Should You Swim Other Strokes)?

man doing butterfly stroke

Front crawl is the stroke that all triathletes aim to master, but many Masters, swimmers, swim coaches and triathlon coaches support the idea of swimming the other main strokes too. Conversely many triathletes and triathlon coaches feel that you shouldn’t do anything outside of freestyle. I’m very much in the former camp – as a previous medley swimmer before coming into triathlon I feel that it has numerous benefits – but here’s both sides, and you can decide for yourself!

Why You May Feel That You Shouldn’t

Many age-group athletes won’t have had the same intensity and hours of swimming as they’ve grown through their teens as other swimmers have done. In fact, many will not have even been in a pool during these years, so they’ll have to play catch-up and will need more time practising front crawl to ensure a good technique. You may argue that, in these circumstances, swimming other strokes is wasting time that could be spent on developing front crawl.

Why Maybe You Should

Repetitive Motion Injuries

The major problem with training just freestyle when you are doing 2-3,000m per session is that shoulder problems that can develop. Too much of one stroke at that distance consistently can be problematic, especially if there are any flaws in your stroke.

Backstroke Helps With Hip Rotation

Learning proper backstroke and mixing it in to your workouts can help your freestyle hip rotation. It is even more essential in backstroke to rotate your hips with each stroke than in freestyle, and will help your brain make the biomechanical connection. If you’re only going to learn one other stroke besides freestyle, backstroke should be it.

Understanding Movement Through The Water

By being able to do other strokes, you work out what makes your body move. If you are new to swimming/triathlon, breaststroke can give you an easy get out if panic sets in or you are tired – but can also make you realise why freestyle is faster (body position).


Swimming thousands of meters and hundreds of laps of nothing but freestyle is way too monotonous and can play with your mind! I recommend mixing it up. Backstroke or breaststroke can be relaxing. Butterfly can give you a nice ab workout, and even just one or two lengths can burn many calories! It also helps develop power, and your hold on the water.

Individual medley (IM: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle) can really give you a good aerobic workout, take your mind off of counting laps or yards for a bit, and relieve the boredom of staring at the line at the bottom of the pool.
It’s important to take a “holistic” approach to your swim training. If you are just training to do one sprint-distance race and nothing more, ever, then training strictly freestyle can be fine. Otherwise, I would make it a mission to at least learn backstroke, and practice it with one workout per week; whether that is part of a warm up, cool down, or a break in your main set.

Points To Remember On Each Stroke


Keep the same long leg kick from freestyle. Push your hip and shoulder out of the water for every stroke. Keep your arms moving, don’t pause by your hips!


Timing is important, and so is making sure you get as much out of each stroke. Think pull, kick, glide – and when you do, keep your head as low as possible.


Ultimately it’s all about rhythm. 2 kicks to every pull, driving from the hips, and trying not to heave the arms over the water. As with backstroke, your pull should be continuous and flow.

Personally, I have done all 4 strokes growing up – as mentioned above I used to swim & race medley all the time. However even the freestylers I trained with did medley work, for exactly the reasons above; So thanks to Coach Kevin for the work you put in with me and the impressions you left on me!

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here!

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