April 10 - Flexibility
Before you dive in and start counting laps, remember that just because swimming doesn't involve any impact on the joints, that doesn't mean joint flexibility is not important.
Swimming performance can be greatly improved if you train for the flexibility needed to smooth out your favorite stroke.
The best swimmers incorporate flexibility training into their regimen for two main reasons. First, as muscles are stretched, the individual fibers lengthen. A longer muscle fiber can create more force when it contracts. So flexibility training helps to increase the muscle's ability to pull you through the water.
Second, the less turbulence you create as you move through the water, the faster you will go. One of the biggest causes of turbulence is moving your body from side to side as you swim. Flexibility training will increase the range of motion of your joints, which allows you to move the joint instead of your whole body.
This creates a more fluid motion in the water and less turbulence. Allysa Lutz, a collegiate swimmer and multiple triathlon winner, believes that flexibility can make the difference between someone swimming smoothly and efficiently, and someone splashing and making more waves than progress.
A complete stretching program will include the following components:
- Proper warm-up: Muscles and tendons stretch easier and stretch
farther when they are warmed up. Think of your muscles and tendons
as pieces of gum; when gum is cold and you try to bend it, it
breaks in half, but if it is warm, it just bends and stretches. So
before you start stretching, play around in the water, moving all
your muscles, get your heart rate up a little by swimming a few
easy laps at an easy pace.
- Stretch all the muscles you will use: We tend to think that we
will only be using our shoulders and glutes, quads during swimming
because those are the muscles that usually get sore after a good
swim workout. In truth, you use almost every muscle in your body!
Depending on which stroke you swim (freestyle, breast-stroke,
back-stroke, or butterfly), you will use some muscles more than
others, but they should all be stretched.
- Length of stretch: It's real easy to rush through our
stretching program to get to the fun part of the workout; but then
we wonder why we don't get more flexible. Each stretch should be
held for 15 - 30 seconds to increase flexibility. A shorter stretch
may feel like plenty, but it's not. This is one case where more is
better. Research has shown that 15 - 30 seconds of stretching will
increase flexibility, and holding stretches up to 2 minutes is even
better. So take a few extra minutes, and hold those stretches a
- Stretching repetitions: When you strength train, you do more
than one repetition of an exercise, so why not do more than one
repetition of a stretch? After holding a stretch for at least 15 -
30 seconds, release it, relax a moment, and stretch it again. You
will find that the second and third stretches go a lot farther and
make the muscle feel relaxed.
- Intensity of stretch: Stretching should not hurt. If it does, you are stretching too far. You should be able to feel a stretch as a slight pull on the muscle and tendon. Hold that position until you no longer feel the stretch, then pull a little more until you feel the tension again. If you feel any pain at all, STOP, you are stretching too far.