Swimming: More Essential Stretches for Swimmers

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Stretching is an important part of any warm up and cool down. Sport specific stretching allows you to warm up the specific muscles required for the sport. In swimming, the four competitive strokes are:

  • Butterfly
  • Backstroke
  • Breastroke
  • Freestyle

Primary Muscles

These strokes encompass the use of practically all the muscles in the body. The main muscles that are responsible for the movements that make up a swimming stroke are called the primary muscles. Primary muscles used for all strokes are:

  • Anterior deltoid
  • Posterior deltoid
  • Pectorals
  • Serratus anterior
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Triceps
  • Hip stabilisers
  • Hamstrings
  • Quadriceps
  • Gluteals

Secondary Muscles

Other muscles that allow for controlled smooth movements are secondary muscles these are:

  • Trapezius
  • Biceps
  • Upper abdominals
  • Lower abdominals
  • Calf

Types Of Stretching For Swimming

There are many different types of stretches that a swimmer can use. The main types of stretching are:

  • Static Stretching – Holding a position that stretches the muscle for ~ 30 seconds.
  • Passive Stretching – Similar to static, but someone else holds the position for you.
  • Dynamic Stretching – Controlled leg and arm swings that gently take you to the limits of your range of motion. It mimics the action of the muscles during the event. Often used in warm ups or in preparation for an event.
  • Ballistic Stretching – Forcing a joint beyond its normal range of motion by bouncing into a stretched position. Unpopular these days due to the high risk of injury associated with it.
  • Active Isolated (AI) Stretching – Using a muscle to stretch the opposite muscle by contracting one muscle and moving the opposite muscle in a stretched position.
  • Isometric Stretching – Alternatively stretching a muscle and contracting it to facilitate its relaxation.
  • Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) – Combination of passive and isometric stretching.
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Australian S12 swimmer Jeff Hardy swims freestyle at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games

A combination of these stretches is appropriate for swimmers. Try them out and see which ones help you most. Regular stretching improves force, and speed essential for swimming. One bout of stretching won’t make a difference.

Examples Of Stretching For Primary Muscles In Swimming

Here are some examples of stretches that are particular the primary muscles used in swimming.

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Anterior deltoid, serratus anterior and pectorals stretch – Rotate your body so that you can feel a stretching sensation over the front of the shoulder and chest.
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Triceps stretch – With your opposite hand, pull your elbow downwards and towards your head so that you feel the stretch over your upper arm
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Posterior shoulder stretch 1 – Pull the arm towards the chest

Posterior shoulder stretch 2 – Some traction can be applied by leaning the body away from the hand.

Posterior shoulder stretch 3 – All your body weight should be positioned over your shoulder; your opposite hands helps to push the arm down towards the floor. The shoulder angle is kept at 90 degree, and so is the elbow joint. This stretch is felt at the back of the shoulder.

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Latissimus dorsi stretch 1 – Accompany this stretch with breathing exercises. As you exhale, lean a little further over the side.

Latissimus dorsi stretch 1:1 – Starting in a forward position, crawl your fingers towards to maximise the stretch, hold this position, then change your direction to one side to feel the stretch over the opposite side.

Latissimus dorsi stretch 1:2 – Starting in a forward position, crawl your fingers towards to maximise the stretch, hold this position, then change your direction to one side to feel the stretch over the opposite side.

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Hip stabilisers stretch 1 – To stretch your right hip, put the right leg diagonally behind the left, lean over to the left side, so as to increase the length and stretch over the right side.

Hip stabilisers stretch 2 – Cross your right leg over a straightened left leg, and rotate to your right. You will feel this stretch through your lower back, but predominantly through your right hip.

Hip stabilisers stretch 3 – This will stretch your right side, holding onto your left knee, gently pull it in towards your chest to feel the stretch on the outside and back of your right hip.

Hip stabilisers stretch 4 – This will stretch your right side, holding onto your left knee, gently pull it in towards your chest to feel the stretch on the outside and back of your right hip.

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Quadriceps stretch – Keeping your knees and thighs together, stretch the front of your thigh by standing up straight and pushing your hip forwards.
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Hamstrings stretch – You don’t need to flex your foot to stretch your hamstrings, let it relax and lean forwards from your hips, your back should not be overly arched.