Should Triathletes Swim Other Strokes?


Posted by Coach Mark Sortino


Wow - I can hear the arguments from both sides when I just read the title. Well, here’s my thoughts on swimming butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke:


First, let’s talk about the POSITIVES of swimming “stroke” sets other than freestyle.

  • They help build all-around strength in the water. Think of it as a swimmer’s “trail running” day. Swimming butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke help develop a stronger swim core as well as back, chest, lats, etc.
  • They help “stretch” a swimmer’s body using movements that are different and sometimes opposite of the freestyle swim. Backstroke, often thought of as "freestyle's natural complement" is wonderful for freestyle swimmers as it helps open up the chest - they’re both “long-axis” strokes. Butterfly and breaststroke, both "short-axis” strokes provide different benefits such as core, lower back engagement and lower leg strengthening and stretching.

How about the NEGATIVES?

  • There’s really no stroke swimming in triathlon (although many of us have taken a break or rounded a turn buoy utilizing back or breaststroke).
  • If a triathlete only has a few days a week to swim, time would be better spent perfecting strength and efficiency swimming freestyle alone.


So, find out which athlete you are below, and you’ll find my answer:


In the YES Camp:

  • Those swimmers who have experience swimming competitively in High School or College. They know how to swim the other strokes and have a huge volume of freestyle swimming. They’ve typically developed an efficient freestyle and therefore won't lose much by spending a little time each week swimming stroke sets.
  • Those swimmers who are competent freestyle swimmers (above average) who are swimming at least 4 times a week. These swimmers can afford to spend a bit of time each week on stroke sets since they’re getting a lot of freestyle in already and they have a solid freestyle stroke.

In the NO Camp:

  • Those swimmers who are new. If you’ve got less than a few years of swimming, your time spent improving your freestyle is time well spent. No stroke work for now.
  • Those swimmers who are experienced swimmers (including high school and college) who only get in the pool 1 or 2 times a week. No matter how good your butterfly is, you can be a better freestyle swimmer if that’s all the time you’ve got, so stick with freestyle.


So there you have it. Now I can’t imagine there are any opinions on this....


~ Coach Mark

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