Each of us has collected a puzzle at least once in our life. Imagine that your body is also a puzzle, and you need to piece together the body of an ideal swimmer. What parts are needed for this?
Going from top to bottom: flexible neck for good breathing technique, shoulder mobility and flexibility, chest muscles for a cool stroke, core muscles to form an axis, strong legs with well-open hip joints for a strong kick in the breaststroke and, of course, mobile and a flexible ankle so that the foot does not brake you in the water, but propels you forward.
Only if you work on these components will your physical shape be perfect swimmer and will allow you to show excellent results in the water.
So let’s take a closer look at each piece of the puzzle.
1. Flexible healthy neck
Let’s try to calculate how many turns of the head for inhalation during crawl swimming a swimmer should make at a distance of 1 km. If on average you make 18 strokes per 25 meters, then with a 3×3 breathing mode there will be 24 head turns per 100 meters, and at a distance of 1 km this is already 240 turns.
Imagine what will happen at a long distance, if the swimmer’s neck has low mobility, its muscles are inelastic and easily spasm. And if, in addition, from many hours of work at the computer developed osteochondrosis of the cervical vertebrae? Is it worth subjecting the unfortunate neck to great intensity of the same turns?
Let’s talk about what the mobility of the cervical spine affects:
- an artery runs through the neck and supplies blood to the brain. The vertebrae in this zone are very tightly adjacent to each other, so even a slight displacement of them can squeeze the artery, and a sufficient amount of blood will cease to flow to the brain. The result is often increased fatigue, attacks of dizziness, headache, flickering “blackheads” in the eyes, hearing impairment and tinnitus.
- problems in the cervical spine affect the function of the upper limbs, as nerves that innervate the muscles of the arms pass between the vertebrae. If you are familiar with the tingling sensation in your fingers while exercising, your neck should be the first thing to do.
Before swimming, you need to take time to warm up the cervical spine. It is also important to regularly do full-fledged therapeutic and preventive gymnastics for the neck. This will not only qualitatively increase the effectiveness of your workouts, but also significantly improve your overall well-being in everyday life.
2. Movable shoulder joints and flexible shoulders
The most obvious bonus from the mobility and flexibility of the upper shoulder girdle is the length of the hand grip during the stroke, which you will have significantly more than a swimmer who does not engage in upper limb mobility. Your body gets longer in the water, which increases glide and your results.
Since swimmers perform hundreds of thousands of arm rotations every year, it is not surprising that the muscles and joints of the shoulder are subjected to a lot of stress. The shoulders become the most commonly injured body parts in swimming. If you take the input data above and calculate the average number of strokes of a swimmer in the pool, you get 720 swings per 1 km – that’s 360 times with each hand. If a swimmer covers a distance of 10 km, then the number of strokes increases to 3600 with each arm. This is a colossal load for which the upper limbs must be prepared in advance.
A study in Australia with 80 of the country’s best swimmers between the ages of 13 and 25 found that 91% of them experienced shoulder pain. According to the results of MRI, 69% of swimmers found an inflammatory process in the tendon of the supraspinatus muscle (this tendon helps to fix the shoulder and raise the arm to the side; therefore, with tendinitis, it is painful to move the arm.)
There is even a special term in swimming – “swimmer’s shoulder”. The reasons for this injury are explained in the article “Shoulder Injury in Long Distance Swimming.”
What to do to avoid injury and prepare the upper limbs for the load in advance?
- warm up well before training and follow the correct swimming technique in water that is closest to the natural shoulder position
- do regular gymnastics to increase joint mobility
- strengthen the stabilizing muscles of the scapula and shoulder. With the help of a strong shoulder blade, the shoulder joint will work with greater strength and endurance, because the shoulder blade is a reliable support for it
- improve the mobility of the thoracic spine
3. Opened thoracic region
The thoracic region refers to the portion of the spine located in the upper mid-back. If the swimmer has insufficient mobility of the thoracic region, then due to low rotation of the body, the head for inhalation will need to be rotated either by turning the body over, or due to a fracture in the cervical region, which will lead to a loss of axis and sliding position.
Also, the muscles of the thoracic region are involved in the movement of the shoulder and are responsible for the movement of the upper limb belt forward. Their flexibility and length influences the stroke length, take-off phase, and form the correct swing of the arm.
4. Core muscles
The core muscles are a complex of muscles (including the abdominal muscles), the main function of which in the body is to stabilize the spine, pelvis and hips. The abdominals and core muscles stabilize our position in the water. In the rabbit, by tightening the core muscles, we support the rotation of the body in the water, coordinate it, providing a long slide. In this case, the muscles of the body keep the body from excessive rotation and deviations from the course. During the swim, they work continuously and therefore carry a heavy load.
An important function of the abdominal muscles is also the prevention of lumbar hyperlordosis. Excessive deflection in the lumbar spine, combined with the unstretched muscles of the front of the thighs, does not allow the pelvis to fully tuck, and turns the swimmer into a “sitting on a chair”. This often causes swimming with bent knees and makes kicking ineffective, makes it difficult to slide and breaks the body axis.
5. Open and movable hip joints
Hip joints play a special role in breaststroke. Almost 80% of the momentum in this swimming style comes from the kick. Adequate opening of the hip joints increases the impact surface of the foot. In addition, the extension of the leg in the hip joint occurs abruptly. It is important that the joints are ready for this load and have good mobility.
The hip joint has the shape of a ball and by its structure it assumes high mobility. However, in the modern world, people, especially adults, most often use its movements in only one plane (flexion / extension). We are obliged to this by walking, sitting on chairs. The lack of movement in various planes of the joint leads to a decrease in blood flow in the ligaments and muscles that surround it, and the mobility of the joint is reduced. As a result, we get a decrease in the force of the push and the danger of injury (dislocation, stretching, etc.).
Swimming is a sport in which even the smallest angles and turns of the body are of great importance for acceleration and overcoming resistance. The ankle is a good example of this.
In the rabbit, there is such a thing as “swimming with a hatchet” / “legs with a poker”. This means that the angle between the leg and foot is in the order of 90 degrees, which leads to ineffective leg swing. Instead of naturally moving forward, a person swims very slowly, stands still, or even swims with his feet forward (this is possible!).
Here are some of the possible consequences of not working on the ankle:
- ankle injury (dislocation, sprain or contusion)
- cramps or flattening of the foot while swimming in open water
- ineffective kick and inability to master the correct crawl and breaststroke technique
Thus, the swimmer needs to maximize the flexibility of the ankle in order to utilize the maximum area of the foot for a quality push, minimize resistance and improve body streamlining.
To improve the efficiency of swimming and reduce the risk of injury, it is enough to devote a little time to the preliminary preparation of the zones that we have identified. This preparation should become a habit and become a regular integral part of your workout – like glasses or swimming trunks.