Triathlon coach Andy Bullock explains the pros and cons of mixing swimming strokes

Should you swim strokes other than front crawl?

Front crawl is the stroke that all triathletes aim to master, but Masters, swimmers, swim coaches and triathlon coaches support the idea of swimming the other main strokes too. These will bring in variety and technique that can transfer from one stroke to the next. Swimming all four strokes can also build a more balanced shoulder and back musculature, which may lessen your risk of overuse swimming injuries. However, some coaches will not teach anything other than front crawl, arguing that if this is what you’re going to do in the race then this is all you need in practice.

Integrating other strokes into your swim session is easy. You could add simple repetitions of individual medley of anything from 25m of each through to 100m of each. If you’d prefer to practise the individual strokes, it’d be useful to learn some drills for each and add them into the warm-up of your swim session.

If you find that working through the other strokes is challenging, there are steps that you can take to make it easier. Fins are an easy addition to your session that will help give you basic propulsion and an improved body position while you learn the arm technique for backstroke and butterfly. Pullbuoys aren’t used in all strokes and should be avoided for butterfly and breaststroke but could be used in backstroke.

If you’re completely new to these strokes, the time to start adding them into your swim training is during the off-season. At this time it’s easy to work on technique if you fancy a more relaxed swim session, while some cardiovascular training can still be achieved. As you approach the race season your front crawl technique needs to be at its best and your fitness needs to build to a peak. During this build-up you should reduce the volume of other strokes within your sessions.

Are there downsides of swimming other strokes? Maybe. Many age-group athletes won’t have had the same intensity and hours of swimming as they’ve grown through their teens as other swimmers have done. In fact, many will not have even been in a pool during these years, so they’ll have to play catch-up and will need more time practising front crawl to ensure a good technique. You may argue that, in these circumstances, swimming other strokes is wasting time that could be spent on developing front crawl.


  • Breaststroke

Timing is very important when swimming breaststroke so say to yourself as you swim: “kick, glide, pull, breathe.”

  • Backstroke

Flick the water with the top of your feet as you kick and maintain a good body roll to both sides, getting each shoulder out of the water.

  • Butterfly

Undulation of the hips is key and is controlled by your head position – lift your head to drop your hips and drop your head to lift your hips. is the online home of Triathlon Plus – the best source of triathlon training advice, triathlon gear reviews and triathlon news.

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