The importance of all four strokes

Fly, back and breast stroke to improve your freestyle? Yes, doing other strokes will help you swim faster in your next tri.

| January 19, 2017 | TRAINING

Delfinschwimmen | Alternative strokes can help your triathlon swim times.

Alternative strokes can help your triathlon swim times.

Photo >Frank Wechsel

Freestyle, or front crawl, is the most efficient stroke for triathletes to use. Of the four swim strokes - butterfly, back, breast and free, it is not only the fastest, it also is uses the fewest resources. While swimming breast and fly, swimmers basically lose their momentum after each stroke because the speed between each arm movement and kick drops so dramatically. In freestyle the floating movement between each arm pull keeps the pace relatively constant, which saves energy. 

While freestyle is clearly the best for in competition, training in other strokes is useful. For triathletes, training in other strokes will:

  • Improve your feel of the water
  • Help your freestyle technique
  • Balance the muscular stress of your training
  • Provide some variety to your workouts.

 

    Kraulschwimmen | Triathletes should master freestyle, but should also practice the other swim strokes, too.

    Triathletes should master freestyle, but should also practice the other swim strokes, too.

    Photo >Frank Wechsel

    The individual medley

    Combining all four strokes, the individual medley (IM) is not unlike a triathlon in terms of requiring a mastery of different events. You start with fly, then back, then breast and finish up with freestyle.

    While the different swim strokes look very different from above the water, when you look at the underwater action it becomes clear that the similarities are greater than the differences between the strokes.

    Brustschwimmen | Properly executed, breast stroke is one of the most difficult swimming strokes.

    Properly executed, breast stroke is one of the most difficult swimming strokes.

    Photo >Frank Wechsel

    Similarities

    The pull during the fly stroke is almost identical to the freestyle pull, except that you move both arms through the water at the same time in fly. The pull during back stroke uses a similar pattern to free and there are even parallels in the shorter pull you work through in breast stroke.

    Therefore you do not have to worry about neglecting your crawl technique when you are swimming other strokes. In fact, it's the opposite: due to the frequent change of position, you experience a variety of movements in the water. Over time, you will develop a much more differentiated feeling for your swimming movements and a better feel in the water - both keys to good swimming technique.

    Rückenschwimmen | Backstroke is an excellent way to work on your rotation in the water.

    Backstroke is an excellent way to work on your rotation in the water.

    Photo >Frank Wechsel

    In spite of the similarities mentioned above, you are still using your different muscles for each stroke. In a workout, you can take advantage of this by repeatedly breaking out of the monotony of only swimming freestyle, giving yourself some short breaks. This will keep you more relaxed in the water. On the other hand, the much more dynamic butterfly stroke can also be seen as specific strength training for crawl.

    Example workout:

    • 250 m: 25 m Fly+ 50 m Back + 75 m Breast + 100 m Free
    • 4 x 50 m Mini-IM: 12,5 m of each stroke
    • 6 x 100 m: Alternate one IM, one free
    • 100 m Free
    • 600 m: Alternating 150 m free/ 50 alternate stroke
    • 6 x 50 m: 2 x free Tempo, 1 x back easy
    • 1,000 m: 400 + 300 + 200 + 100 m, switch strokes every length