Good flexibility is an essential requirement for anyone who participates in competitive sports.
One of the causes of poor performance in swimming is often due to lack of flexibility, the limitation of range of movement in the joints, in particular the shoulder and ankle joints. It restricts the extent to which a limb can be placed in the water to give maximum effect for efficient stroke technique, hence the speed and endurance of a swimmer will suffer. Where there is stiffness in a joint the muscles have to work harder to overcome this stiffness and the body is using up valuable energy which could otherwise be used to swim faster.
By increasing the range of movement in the shoulder, spine and ankle joints, vital energy is saved, technique improves and the swimmer is able to swim faster, harder and longer. It also prevents injuries such as torn muscles and aching shoulder joints, which are very common amongst swimmers with poor flexibility.
As one gets older, flexibility becomes less, even with regular training in the water. It is, therefore, important that swimmers perform flexing and stretching exercises regularly. For young swimmers, especially those who are just starting to train, it is even more important to exercise because a marked loss of flexibility occurs between the ages of 11 and 13 years, to maintain their natural flexibility throughout their swimming life.
Flexibility exercising requires a serious commitment on the part of the swimmer. A swimmer needs to exercise at least once a day for about 10 to 15 minutes at a time and perform the exercises correctly and with purpose in mind. Exercising once a week or now and then, or just going through the motions, has no benefit whatsoever and is time- wasting.
Every swimmer can find time to exercise once or twice every day for 15 minutes. The exercises are simple, require no equipment, no special rooms and can be done anywhere, whilst watching television, for example. Some exercises can even be done in the back of a car on the way to the pool, whilst waiting for the bus or when walking home from school.
All swimmers should also do some flexing and stretching before getting in the water to prepare the muscles for the work, and after training to prevent stiffening up. For those who do weight training, flexing and stretching is important both before and after the weight work.
In general, simple mobility exercises, stretching the spine, shoulder, hip and ankle joints are all that is basically required. However, a swimmer who has a particular weakness should consult the Coach who may then design a special programme to overcome this problem.
Any flexing exercise which involves bouncing and jerking movements should not be used as this could cause painful damage to the muscle and the joint. Forced stretch where another person is attempting to force the joint that little bit further, should be avoided unless that person is experienced and qualified. Remember, the other person cannot feel what the swimmer feels. By the time the swimmer tells him “it hurts”, it may be too late; the damage is done and that could mean the swimmer is a long time out of the water waiting for the damage to heal up.