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Swimming is a very low-impact sport that strengthens and tones most of the body’s muscle groups, including the hamstrings, quadriceps, core, upper back and shoulders. Swimming is often recommended as an exercise to athletes who have injured themselves through other intense physical activities. Despite being a very low-impact sport, there are still debilitating injuries you can sustain while swimming, including swimmer’s shoulder and muscle cramps.
Swimmer’s shoulder is typified by pain in the rotator cuff and is very common in competitive freestyle swimmers. Swimmer’s shoulder is caused by tendonitis, or inflammation in the tendons of the rotator cuff, often from overuse. Stretching, varying your swimming styles, ensuring you are using proper stroke form and lifting weights to strengthen the upper trapezius and serratus interior muscles can help prevent swimmer’s shoulder. If you incur an episode of swimmer’s shoulder, there are many methods of rehabilitation, including stretching, anti-inflammatory medication and even cessation of swimming for 4-6 weeks.
Muscle cramps often occur in the gastrocnemius (calf), hamstring and quadriceps muscles. Symptoms include spasms or cramping caused by involuntary muscle contractions. Sometimes intense muscle cramps are released only by guided stretching that helps lengthened the contracted muscle. Dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and muscle fatigue are all contributing factors to cramping. Stretching a cramped muscle until the cramp ceases is the best treatment for muscle cramps; however, proper warm-up and stretching before and after exercise greatly reduces muscle cramps.
Stretches for Swimmers
Top 6 Stretches (Calf, Quadriceps, Hamstring, Triceps & Latissimus Dorsi, Tricep & Shoulder, Upper Back)
Top 12 Stretches (Add to the above: Deltoid & Rotator Cuff, Chest, Hip & Low Back, Gluteus Maximus, Groin, Shoulder)
Top 18 Stretches (Add to the above: Neck, Hip Flexor & Psoas, IT Band, Side Arch, Backwards Stretch, Achilles Tendon)
Performing the Stretches Correctly
Achilles Tendon – Stand straight with your hands against a wall with one leg slightly behind your other leg. Keeping your heels flat on the floor, slowly bend both knees. You should feel the stretch in the lower part of your leg. Repeat on the other side.
Backward Stretch – While standing straight, place the palms of your hands against the small of your back. Tighten your buttocks and core and bend backwards, holding your neck straight.
Calf – Stand facing a wall or other support, approximately one leg’s length away. Lunge forward with right leg, extending arms to allow the wall to balance you. Feet should be about hip width apart, toes forward and left leg extended back with the knee straight and the foot flat on the floor. Push the left heal to the floor and move hips slightly forward. Repeat on the other side.
Chest – With right arm extended, place hand on a fixed structure at about shoulder height. Turn your body away from the right arm until gentle stretch occurs in the chest. Repeat on the other side. Note that the upper chest stretch increases with the elbow lower and the lower chest stretch increases with the elbow higher. Repeat on the other side.
Deltoid & Rotator Cuff – Bring your left arm across your body and hold it with your right arm, either above or below the elbow. Pull as close to chest as possible. Repeat on other side.
Gluteus Maximus – Stand facing the back of a park bench. Take your left foot and cross it over your right knee, creating a figure-four-type posture. Holding on to the bench with both hands, begin to ease your rear end down until it is parallel to the floor. It should feel like you are sitting in an imaginary chair. If possible, release the left hand from the bench and press your left elbow down on your left knee for a deeper stretch. Release your elbow from your knee, put both hands on the bench, and slowly return to standing position. Release your crossed foot to the floor. Repeat on the other side.
Groin – Stand with your feet as far apart as possible, toes pointing forward. Gradually shift all your weight to your left leg by bending your left knee. Your right leg stays straight. You can increase the starting distance between your feet for a greater stretch. Repeat on the other side.
Hamstring – Stand with your left foot on a park bench or low wall, no higher than hip height, with the middle of your shoe on the edge. Lock your left leg straight and bend your right leg slightly. Gently bend forward from the hip bringing your head towards the leg until you feel a gentle stretch in the left hamstring. Repeat on the other side.
Hip & Low Back – This great swimmer’s stretch opens up the hips and stretches the muscles of the hips, groin and lower back.
Begin in a forward lunge position then drop your left knee to the ground. Place your right elbow on the inside of your right knee. Press your right elbow gently into your right knee and twist your torso to the left. Reach your left arm behind you until you feel a gentle stretch in your lower back and right groin. Repeat on the other side.
Hip Flexor & Psoas – Stand facing a bench or elevated platform, approximately one leg’s length away. Place right foot on bench or platform. Slowly lunge forward by bending right leg. With chest high, straighten hip of left leg by pushing hips forward. Keep torso upright, close to vertical and hips square to the wall. Repeat on the other side.
IT Band – Standing near a wall for support, cross your right leg in front of your left leg. Extend your left arm overhead and reach to your right side. Put your right hand on your hip and push slightly to move your hips to the left until you feel a gentle stretch along the left side of your torso, hip, upper thigh and knee. Repeat on the other side.
Neck – Bend your head forward and slightly to the right. With your right hand, gently pull your head downward. You’ll feel a nice, easy stretch along the back left side of your neck. Repeat on other side.
Quadriceps – Near a wall or bench, stand with your feet hip width apart. Bend your left knee and grasp the top of your left foot with your left hand. Bring your heel as close as possible to the left side of your buttocks, feeling a gentle stretch of the quad and shin. Keep your back straight, your left knee vertically in alignment with your left hip and horizontally in alignment with your right knee. Repeat on the other side.
Shoulder – place one hand behind your back and reach up between your shoulder blades until you feel a gentle stretch.
Side Arch – Stand with feet just slightly apart. Raise your left arm, making a line from your left foot to the fingertips. Let your right arm extend down the right side of the body as you bend your upper body to the right feeling a gentle stretch along your left side. Bring the body back to the original position and repeat on the other side.
Triceps & Latissimus Dorsi – Standing about 4 feet away from a solid prop, slowly hinge forward at the hip, grab the prop at about waist height and allow your upper body weight to rest on your arms. Let the head drop deeply between the shoulder blades to create a powerful stretch in the tris and lats. Pulling down with the arms increases the stretch further.
Triceps & Shoulder – Extend your right arm straight up in the air. Bend arm at the elbow, pointing the elbow towards the sky and letting the forearm fall behind your back. Take your left hand and grab your right elbow. Pull the elbow behind your head feeling a gentle stretch. Repeat on the other side.
Upper Back – Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your legs slightly bent. With arms straight, clasp your fingers in front of you while keeping your core muscles engaged and your body upright. Gently push your hands away from you until you feel a gentle stretch at the back of the shoulders and across the upper back.