Triathletes often think that they should only swim freestyle (front crawl) because that’s the only stroke they race, but here’s why I think you should be swimming all four strokes in your workouts.
First of all swimming freestyle for a whole session can be boring! We’ve all been in a swim session where the time drags on and we’d rather be anywhere but the pool. Mixing in other strokes will make the session pass more quickly and make it more interesting. Adding in the other strokes will also raise your heart rate and use different muscle groups increasing your overall strength and fitness long-term.
Likewise too much distance on one stroke e.g. freestyle, can cause repetitive motion injuries, particularly if the stroke has flaws. For freestyle swimmers and triathletes shoulders are the most prone to injury. And a shoulder injury is not easy to get rid of!
So, how can you benefit from swimming backstroke, breastroke and butterfly?
Backstroke utilises the same muscle groups as freestyle (therefore still makes the muscles stronger), but relieves the pressure on your shoulders. It also helps a lot with hip rotation and shoulder flexibility, both key to all four strokes. Backstroke or Old English (double arm) backstroke is also a great way to relax the body and stretch out in your warm down.
Breastroke is a fab way to strengthen the smaller leg muscles, especially the adductors and abductors; it also improves hip strength. Breastroke (or just the kick) will keep your legs supple and flex your groin, calves and thighs. It is also another great stroke to mix into your warm down.
Butterfly is good for building your core. Strong abdominal muscles are important for any athlete and a quick way to build strength in this area is through incorporating butterfly (or just the kick) into your workouts.
Of course, swimming the other three strokes means learning them (if you don’t know how to do them already) but the off season is an ideal time to work on your weaknesses and mix up the training for a better 2019 season.
Jess Thorpe is European Aquathlon Champion 2016, 2017 and 2018 National Aquathlon Champion and 2018 European Silver medalist.