Does Stretching Before Swimming Help?

by Kay Tang, Demand Media
    When it comes to conditioning, many swimmers ignore stretching.

    When it comes to conditioning, many swimmers ignore stretching.

    Most swimmers want to jump right into the water and start swimming laps as soon as they pull on their swim suits or trunks. Because they are so focused on doing quality laps, they might feel there is simply not enough time to stretch. However, increased flexibility can lengthen stroke and reduce racing time. The two kinds of stretching that are important for swimming are static and dynamic. While static stretching can extend the range of motion of your joints and muscles, dynamic stretching can loosen your muscles and prepare your body for a workout.

    Static Stretching

    During static stretching, you hold stretches for 20 to 30 seconds to increase the range of motion of a joint or muscle. The general consensus among experts is that static stretching is detrimental if you do it before a workout or a race. This is because static stretches negatively impact a muscle’s ability to produce peak power for about an hour after doing the stretches, according to Dave Salo’s book “Complete Conditioning for Swimming.” Because you use practically all of your muscles to swim, static stretches can curb your performance. If you have to do such flexibility stretches before a workout or a race, do them at least an hour before you hit the water.

    Stretching as Warm Up

    For nearly a decade, Olympic gold medalist Janet Evans performed a 10-minute stretching routine before her swimming workouts. In her book, “Janet Evans’ Total Swimming,” Evans says novice and intermediate swimmers don’t take enough time to do pre-workout stretching. She believes warm up and stretching should be mandatory and make up the first phase of a workout. Stretches not only loosen your body, they also help you to focus your mind on swimming. Her pool-side stretching regimen includes arm swings, spine stretches, toe touches, hurdle stretches, head and ankle circles and a good shake out of the limbs.

    Dynamic Stretching

    Dynamic stretching, which involves movement through a range of motion, can help prepare you for the act of swimming. These stretches typically incorporate controlled whole-body movements and can serve as a low-intensity component of your warm up. The objective of dynamic stretching is to make your muscles more pliable and your joints looser. For swimmers, dynamic stretches should include the trunk, hips, arms and shoulders. Examples of dynamic stretches include arm circles, walking lunges and side lunges, according to Jim Montgomery’s book “Mastering Swimming.” Include such stretches at the start of your workout.

    Flexibility Training

    Static stretches are best after a workout when muscles are warm. For long-term gains in flexibility, do 10 to 15 minutes of static stretching every day for all the major joints and muscle groups. Because swimming is a bilateral exercise, you need to stretch both sides of your body to maintain muscular balance. Examples of static stretches include a forward lunge for the hip flexors, a forward bend with one bent leg and the other leg extended to stretch the hamstring muscle and slow stretches for your upper back, chest, quads and calves, according to Montgomery. These stretches should be held for at least 30 seconds and repeated two or three times.

    About the Author

    Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.

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