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Mon 20th Sep 2021
Swimming: the Triathlon Medley
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Monday 25th November 2013

Tags  Dan Bullock  |  Swim For Tri  |  Swimfortri

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Should triathletes use the 'other' swim strokes to improve their triathlon (Front Crawl) performance?

In this great article, Dan Bullock from Swim for Tri ( puts together a nicely balanced assessment not just on why you should, but how and when you should do it too. What's more, you don't have to learn butterfly and breastroke from scratch to help your front crawl performance either; there are some practical ways of applying elements of those techniques into your triathlon-specific training. Read on, and do check out the video piece too.

I read a couple of interviews with some Pros recently and all advocated the use of using the off-season to work on other related skills. To mix things up and keep your training fresh. I completely agree.

To me as a swim coach this means the other swim strokes are something to consider. If you are still struggling with front crawl then it probably is not the best use of your time, but the other strokes are like mountain biking helping your road bike handling skills or cross country running making your road running stronger. A few triathletes queried why we do the other strokes and if they are of use. Hopefully this might offer some guidance.

The fastest triathlon swimmers have not stopped tumble turning just because we don't do them in open water. An arm pathway under the water will never be repeated with the degree of accuracy that a pedal stroke might. Due to the chaotic nature of water if you can manipulate it and retain propulsion as it varies slightly with each stroke you will make the best of a tricky environment. The other strokes will help this. Using the slightly different but related other stroke swim muscles will provide more fitness benefits. Rather then spend a lot of time on learning the other strokes from scratch we have developed some easier options that recreate many of the benefits, shown in this video:

Think about how:

  • Fly legs encourages a faster front crawl arm turnover due to the forced increase in rhythm
  • Breaststroke arm pathways (the very first part of the stroke), closely mimic the small scull into catch that would make for a great front crawl arm movement.
  • Backstroke & rotation through the long axis once mastered will mean front crawl rotation could not be easier. Kicking down from the glutes (front crawl) is much easier then kicking up with the hip flexors (backstroke)
  • Backstroke arms reverse the many '000s of front crawl movements we perform and gives the shoulders a moment of respite. Pure swimmers while swimming perhaps 3-5 times a triathletes distance, per week, would divide their shoulder stresses across the 4 strokes equally. (And probably do a lot less pulling then a triathlete would).

In general:

  • Would I rely on the other strokes to prepare me for a triathlon specifically? No.
  • Would I be doing them from March onwards? No.
  • As an interesting alternative in the Winter to develop swim skills? Absolutely!

To help a long training block pass more quickly due to the constant need to focus and concentrate, interrupt the front crawl 'autopilot' and get the heart rate up as different muscles are engaged, this set will really help:

My favourite combination: 5x400s rest 45secs, each 400m as:

  • 75m FC into 25m flykick/FC arms
  • 75m FC into 25m Back
  • 75m FC into 25m Breaststroke arms/FC legs
  • 100 FC

For more information on open water sessions, swim coaching, workshops and overseas camps visit

Swim for Tri

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