A lot of triathletes tend to adopt a swimming routine based around the front crawl. However, this isn’t always the most effective form of training. In fact, there can be far reaching benefits in practising with a variety of different strokes. Here Kevin Koskella offers up a few reasons why honing different strokes is a good thing, and throws in some sample drills for good measure.
Repetitive motion injuries: Shoulder injuries are fairly common when only using a freestyle stroke when doing 3-5,000 yards per workout. Too much of one stroke at that distance can be problematic, especially if there are any flaws in your stroke.
Help 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. Each backstroke will help your brain make the biomechanical connection. If you’re only going to learn one other stroke besides freestyle, backstroke should be it.
Boredom: Swimming thousands of yards 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 breastroke can be relaxing. Butterfly can give you a nice abdominal workout and even one or two lengths can burn many calories. Individual Medley (IM: one length each of butterfly, backstroke, breastroke, andfreestyle) 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, training strictly freestyle should be fine. Otherwise, I would make it a mission to at least learn backstroke, and practice it with one workout per week. Here’s a sample workout with strokes mixed in. You can always substitute backstroke for any stroke you don’t know.
Warm Up: 300, every 3rd length non-free
Drill: 5 x 100. #’s 1,3,5: 4 strokes back followed by 4 strokes free.
#’s 2, 4: Free, think about hip rotation Rest= :10.
Main: 7 x 200. #1-3 Freestyle, descend time (fastest on #3) on your base or cruise interval. #4 IM (2 lengths each, Fly, Back, Breast, Free) Rest :30. #4-6 Freestyle, descend and lower interval.
Warm Down: 200, breathe on weak side for odd lengths.
Learning the other three strokes is a personal decision. You don’t have to learn anything but freestyle for triathlon. But as you can see, there are some nice advantages to doing so. If you decide to take on one or more of the other strokes, take your time! There is no hurry, and keep in mind the results will be improved freestyle technique, faster in the water, more fun training and fewer injuries!