Triathletes and training the other strokes

Recently I was asked if triathletes should train the other strokes from time to time and my answer was YES!  Swimming is the most technical of the three sports in triathlon and requires the athlete to learn to be one with the water.  Often times you will hear coaches talking about "the feel" of the water and one way you can enhance this feel is by training the other strokes from time to time.  In case you don't know what those other strokes are they would be butterfly, backstroke and breastroke.  If you do those three strokes in order and then add the freestyle, you would then being doing an Individual Medley or IM for short.

Typically the best all round swimmer is usually the 400 IM champion at Nationals (yearly) World championships (every 2 years) and Olympics (every 4 years). Interesting note 400 IM in swimming is a combination of doing 4 different strokes the fasted and a IM distance triathlon is a combination of doing 3 different sports the fastest.  
Where to start? If you only know freestyle, then I suggest the next stroke you learn would be backstroke.

  • Great for recovery swimming between sets stretching out the chest and shoulder muscles.
  • Helps connect the core to the pull as your body rotates and shoulder shifts similar to freestyle
  • Teaches the swimmer to kick with long legs and loose ankles
  • In the open water sometimes 4-6 strokes on your back in a long swim will give your freestyle muscles just enough of a break to maintain a good solid pace when you roll back on your stomach.  Lastly, if you are swimming an ocean race and have to come thru surf to finish, you can roll on your back for a couple quick strokes to check the waves behind you and possibly catch a free ride into the beach.
If you are feeling good about your backstroke, then next up would be butterfly. 

  • The pull pattern is similar to freestyle except now you are pulling with both arms at the same time and your body is moving through the water in an undulating motion like a dolphin instead of rotating from side to side.
  • Great stroke for helping swimmers develop power when repeats are done in short increments like 4 strokes,  12 1/2 or 25 for advanced athletes that can hold form.
  • Using the undulating motion of butterfly is great for dolphin dives at the beginning of a swim (beach start or shallow water) and exiting the water. 
Breastroke rounds out the other strokes.  A challenging stroke to teach as there are different ways to swim this stroke and swimmers knee, hip and ankle range of motion will determine the best kick.
  • Great for loosening up the hips, knees and ankles.
  • Because of the difference in the kicking motion, be careful when swimming breastroke and make sure you are warmed up before trying any harder kicking. 
  • The arm pull on breastroke outsweep and insweep, is a great way to enhance feel for the water and really give the forearms a good workout.

A simple set you can do to incorporate the other strokes would be 3 rounds of

4 x 25 Stroke
1 x 200 Free
The first round the stroke is butterfly, round two backstroke and round 3 breastroke.  As you progress you can bump up to 6 or 8 x 25's before the 200.
Not only does training the other strokes help feel for the water, it gives the freestyle muscles a break which may help decrease potential injuries from overuse.  Plus, it is a great way to add variety to a work out and keep the heart rate elevated as changing strokes and muscles groups frequently will challenge any athlete.
Have fun with it and don't be afraid to try something new in the pool the next time you go for a swim.
Make it a great week,
Coach Eric

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