Regularly stretching your muscles is beneficial. It feels good, and it helps keep you flexible. You have probably heard you should stretch before you go for a run, but did you know you should do the same before you jump in the pool for a swim? Swimming puts less stress on your joints than running and a lot of other on-land exercises, but it is still a physically demanding activity. Pushing your body directly into a hard workout increases the risk of injury, such as tearing of your muscle fibers. Stretching helps warm up your muscles, which increases range of motion. Just seven quick minutes of stretching before you swim help get your body properly warmed up for the laps ahead.
Learn about good stretches for swimmers and how this small addition to your workout can have a significant benefit.
Tips for Stretching and Warming Up
The answer to the question, "Should you stretch before swimming?" is definitely yes, but what is the best approach?
Warm up your muscles: Stretching is your warmup, right? While this is true, you do not want to force cold muscles into intense stretches. If you are swimming outdoors or in cooler weather, you might find yourself feeling chilly before you start to work out. Take the time to warm your body up with a quick walk or even by running in place for a couple of minutes. Your walk from the changing room to the water might be enough to get your muscles warm. However you warm up, know it is a crucial part of maximizing the benefits of stretching. Stretching warm muscles will more likely improve your flexibility.
Stretch in and out of the water: You can do your stretching routine both on dry land and in the water. Start outside the pool with some basic stretches, priming your muscles for your workout. When you are ready, hop in the water and continue stretching in the water. You can use the side of the pool to help you with various stretching exercises. Doing this gives you time to get your body used to the water temperature. When you have gone through your dry land and water stretches, you will have primed your body for the laps you plan to swim.
Take your time: Stretching does not have to eat up a bunch of your time in the water, but don't rush through those few minutes you do spend stretching. Take your time to stretch each of your muscle groups, and allow yourself approximately a minute for each stretching exercise. Stretches can be either static, or held in one place, or dynamic, or moving through a range of motion. Either way, allow yourself time to feel the stretch and to work through any particularly tight spots. The stretch may cause you to feel tension, but it should not be painful. If it starts to hurt, listen to your body and ease back on the stretch.
Benefits of Stretching Before Swimming
Warmup exercises before swimming may seem unnecessary, but they do a lot for your body and your workout.
Avoid tight muscles: Cardio and strength training can cause your muscles to tighten. After an intense swim workout, you might feel stiff and sore the next day. You can reduce this unpleasant feeling with your swimming warmup. Take the time to stretch each major group of muscles, and you will likely find your post-workout soreness isn't as bad.
Prevent injuries: Tight and cold muscles are not as flexible as stretched and warmed-up muscles. If you hop in the pool and dive right into your workout, your muscles will do their best for you, but they could run into trouble. Without those swimming stretches, your tight muscles are more likely to cramp up or tear. Areas at risk of injury include your rotator cuff muscles, your neck muscles and your back muscles. Focusing on stretching those areas during your swimming warmup exercises can reduce the chances of straining or even tearing those muscles.
Improve performance: Your swimming warmup will help prepare your body to give the best performance possible. Stretching increases blood flow to your muscles and helps increase the oxygen flowing through your body. These physical changes prime your muscles for hard work and help improve your reaction time in the water.
The time spent stretching can also get you in the best possible headspace. Work on clearing your mind and concentrate on the movement of your body. You might find this helps improve your focus and reduce any anxiety you feel before starting your workout in earnest.
Different stretches before swimming target different muscle groups. Here are stretches for different parts of the body that can become a beneficial part of your swimming workout routine.
Your arms do some of the hardest work while you swim, especially during freestyle. Effectively stretch out your arm muscles with these warmup stretches.
Arm raises: Arm raises are a simple, but effective, stretch. While you are standing with your legs hip-distance apart, place your arms at your side. Raise both arms outward and then upward in sync. Continue to raise them until your fingertips meet above your head. Do not rush the movement. Another variation of arm raises involves moving your arms in opposite directions. While standing, raise one arm directly forward and upward while the opposite arm stretches upward and behind you. Stretch your arms until they form one smooth line. Switch arms and repeat the same stretch.
Elbow pull: Elbow pulls help stretch your tricep muscles, as well as the muscles in your shoulders. While standing up, raise one elbow upward until it is level with your head. With your opposite arm, take hold of your elbow and gently pull backward and inward. You should feel the stretch along the back of your arm, around your armpit and in your shoulder. Make sure you do each side the same number of times to stay balanced.
Shoulder muscle injuries are common in swimmers. If you ever watch someone swim butterfly or breaststroke, you can see just how much work those muscles do. Try these shoulder stretches before you swim.
Shoulder rotation: There are a couple of different ways to rotate your shoulders in their sockets. First, you can do a straight-arm swing. Stand with one foot forward and the other back, about shoulder-distance apart. Lean forward and rest one elbow on your knee. Swing the opposite arm upward and complete a full circle. Switch your footing and repeat a few reps of the same stretch with the other arm. You can also rotate your shoulders by using a goalpost position. Raise each of your arms upward and hold them at 90 degrees, so they look like goalposts. Keep your elbows in line with your shoulders while you raise and lower your forearms, rotating your shoulders in their sockets.
Crossbody stretch: You likely already know the crossbody stretch. You will see runners and other athletes use it during their warmups. While standing on dry land or in the water, take one arm and shoulder height and stretch it across your body. You can use your opposite arm to pull further across your chest. You will feel the stretch in your deltoids and biceps. Like many stretches, this one will work more than one muscle group. You may feel the primary stretch in your shoulder, but this exercise also benefits your chest muscles. Make sure you do this stretch on both sides of your body.
It can be difficult to access and stretch our chest muscles, although they often feel tight. Use these stretches to warm up your chest muscles before diving into the water.
Wall press: As you might have guessed by the name, you will need a wall for this stretch. Stand facing the wall and place one palm flat on the surface while keeping your arm straight. Next, slowly rotate your entire torso away from the wall. You should feel a stretch across your chest muscles and your shoulder. Rotate back and forth a few times. Switch to the other arm and repeat the stretch.
Pectoral stretch: You probably don't want to be lugging a bunch of equipment with you to the pool just to help you complete a couple of warmup stretches. Luckily, all you need for this stretch is your towel. Stand with your legs hip-distance apart while you hold your towel with both hands behind your back. Keep pulling your shoulder muscles down your back as you gently raise the towel upward behind you. You should feel a stretch across the front of your chest. You can hold the stretch for a few seconds and then relax your arms. Repeat this stretch a few times.
Our hip muscles can become tight throughout a normal day. Warm up this muscle group with the following exercises.
Hip flexor stretch: Your hip flexors are the muscles that allow you to move at the hip joint. Sitting all day long and rigorous exercise can lead to tight hip flexors, which in turn makes it more difficult to maintain a smooth swimming stroke. You can help loosen up those muscles with a type of leg lunge. Bend one leg and stretch the other straight behind you. You can use your hands on either side of your body to maintain balance. Keep your chest straight instead of bending over that top leg. Repeat this stretch on the other side of your body.
Figure four stretch: Borrowing a stretch from the yoga playbook can be beneficial for swimmers. For this stretch, you will need to lie flat on your back. Bend both knees and place your feet flat on the floor. Take one leg and rest your ankle on the thigh of the opposite leg. You can gently push down on the top leg to deepen the stretch, or you can place your arms out wide on the ground in a T-shape. This stretch gets deep into your hip muscles, so it can feel intense. Do not push your body to the point that your muscles hurt.
Your legs are a key group of muscles that propel you through the water. Stretch out your legs with these exercises.
Head-to-knee stretch: You can do this stretch on dry land or in the water. If you want to try this out before hopping in the pool, sit down and place your legs straight out in front of you. Bend one leg inward, resting the foot on the inner thigh of the opposite leg. Bend forward, while keeping your leg straight, and try to put your forehead on your knee. If you can't stretch that far, that is fine. Stretch as much as you are comfortable. In the pool, you can do this stretch by placing one foot on the side of the pool — if the height allows — and stretching your forehead toward your knee. This movement helps stretch muscles in your thigh.
Hamstring stretch: Tight hamstrings, the muscles located along the back of your thighs, are a common complaint among athletes. One way to stretch your hamstrings is to lie on the floor in a supine position with both knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Raise one leg upward, with the knee still bent, so you can grab behind your thigh with both hands. Pull your knee toward your chest and gently straighten your leg until you feel a stretch along the back of your leg. Do not worry about getting your leg completely straight — instead, focus on the stretch. Repeat the exercise on the other side.
A full-body stretch can feel good during any part of your day. Add these full-body stretches into your swimming warmup.
Side stretch: Stand up straight with your feet together. Raise your arms above your hand and clasp your fingers together, keeping only your index fingers straight. Keep your shoulder muscles pulled down your back and away from your ears. Slowly bend to one side while continuing to look straight ahead. Hold the position for a few seconds, then switch sides. You should feel a strong stretch running from your fingertips down through your ribcage and hip.
Morning stretch: This stretch might be the simplest one you can do, and one of the most satisfying. While you are flat on your back, raise your arms straight up by your ears and keep your legs straight. Stretch your arms and legs in opposite directions, feeling the stretch through the entire length of your body. Imagine you are just waking up in bed and stretching your arms and legs before starting your day. This stretch feels good and engages multiple muscle groups.
Gearing up for Your Workout
Once you are all warmed up, you will want to concentrate fully on your workout. And, getting the most of your exercise means having the right equipment. Shop All American Swim for swimsuits, goggles, kickboards and everything else you need for a satisfying swim workout. With the proper warmup and the right gear, you will have your workout perfected in no time.