Fortnightly Note

Freestyle Swimmer: Why You Should Swim All Four Strokes


Every swimmer should swim all four strokes.

It's a bold claim and one which strikes fear into the hearts of most triathlete freestylers.

If there is one word uttered on the pool deck that strikes fear into the hearts of triathletes the world over, it's this...


Of all the ways there are to imitate someone drowning, 'fly is one the best.

And yet, every swimmer should regularly include some butterfly in their training sessions. In fact, as a freestyle swimmer, you absolutely should swim all four strokes. Here are a few good reasons why...

Improved Body Position

Each of the four main strokes has its own body position.

Yes, they're different to front crawl, but their very differences are what will help you to improve your body position when swimming freestyle.

  • Breaststroke teaches your minimise frontal resistance so you get the most from the scissor kick.
  • Butterfly is similar, but the dolphin movement helps to get you moving your body as a unit through the core.
  • Backstroke teaches body rotation an a connected kick - you almost cannot swim good backstroke without a working kick.

What's more, having to learn different body positions to swim all four strokes will teach you better body awareness, something top swimmers have in spades.

One of my favourite experiences was observing a physio performing a movement assessment with a British Triathlon Talent Team athlete who was also a top swimmer. In observing him squat, the physio remarked quietly (not quietly enough) on a movement compensation the athlete was making. On the next repetition, the compensation was gone. The athlete had heard the comment and fixed it, such was his kinaesthetic awareness.

That's the power of having to learn positioning in the water for more than one stroke.

Improved Feel for the Water

Swimmers often talk about "feel for the water" and how this allows them to push against the greatest amount of water to gain maximum propulsion and thus the most speed.

In each of the strokes, you have catch, hold and push the water in a slightly different manner, but the principle is the same.

Much like with body position, this difference in feel translates into a more effective catch and pull in your freestyle.

Improved Fitness

If all you do is swim front crawl, there will come a point where your stroke mechanics limit how fast and how far you can swim. This seriously limits how much you can progress your swim fitness.

Throwing in some sets of a stroke you're not as good at could be that impetus that you need to make the next step in your swim fitness.

It's like anything you're not good at. Your lack of efficiency will drive an initial fitness gain until you get used to it.

Improved Mobility

If there's one thing we know about most triathletes, it's that they're some of the athletes with the least mobility anywhere. Over time, lots of training in familiar, limited ranges of movement means that the outer edges of your range of movement around major joints are slowly eroded.

When you swim all four strokes you will challenge the mobility of your shoulders, hips and even your spine.

That improved mobility will feed through into your front crawl swimming, but it's also life-enhancing as some of that familiar soreness that you put down to "being a triathlete" disappears.


We all like to do the things we're (quite) good at and not so keen on things at which we struggle. Those things make us look silly, both in our eys and, we imagine, in those of others.

However, as much as it challenges our ego, a commintment to swim all four strokes as part of our training will pay off in a number of ways.

And what's even better than that: given a little time and effort and you could be good at them all.

Will Newton

In over twenty years of coaching, I have coached everyone from absolute beginners to world champions. My interest in getting the best results for people who train for health and fitness or the love of sport, rather than as professionals, drives me to find the most effective ways to get results. My mission is simple: Be in better shape at 70 than most people are at 20, and to help you do the same.

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