Mobility for Swimmers: Why it’s important and how should you practice it
Many swimmers' first exposure to Michael Phelps was during the 2008 Olympics, where his highlights included out-touching Milorad Čavić by one hundredth of a second (.01) in the 100 fly and participating in the greatest relay race in the history of swimming.
8 gold medals later, Michael Phelps was a swimming legend.
One thing about legends is that people love to emulate them. Swimmers tried to implement his routines, his practices, and even his diet. But perhaps his most copied ritual was his pre-race routine. Before each race, Michael would confidently step up to the blocks and stretch his muscular arms behind his back, slapping his back so ferociously that the sound would echo throughout the pool.
Although it may have just been a simple routine, his pre-race ritual was evident of his incredible mobility. In order to improve his range of motion in the water, Michael worked tirelessly at his mobility. The combination of his mobility and double-jointedness was a key tool to his incredible success.
And that's what we’re here to talk about today…MOBILITY.
Mobility can be an intimidating word for swimmers. After all, we spend much of the time doing the same movements over and over again. As a result, certain movements (i.e. freestyle) become really comfortable, while other movements (i.e. Turkish Get Up) can be VERY uncomfortable for swimmers.
By continuously and repeatedly doing the same movements over and over again, swimmers become very prone to muscular overuse, leading to nagging pain and injury.
Sooooo, in order for you to fully reach your potential, it’s important to try to use every tool at your disposal to improve your…
range of motion
Mobility accomplishes all four of those goals.
Here are 4 reasons why mobility should be an ESSENTIAL part of your dryland routine.
1. Improve your Range of Motion (ROM)
Improving your ROM allows you to have an optimal body position that reduces your drag in the water. This improves your balance and core stability while swimming, which, as a result, greatly improves your distance-per-stroke and efficiency in the water.
2. Improve Flexibility + Strength
Mobility is defined as “ability of a joint to move actively through a range of motion.”
A simple formula for mobility can be…
Mobility = Flexibility + Strength
It is the combination of these two factors that make mobility so important for swimming. When you are swimming, you are trying to think of how you can use your range of motion and strength to help move your body from Point A to Point B as quickly as possibly.
Flexibility is the ability to move a muscle temporarily. Think about it like a rubber band or bow-in-arrow…the greater the rubber band can stretch, the better you can move your joints.
Strength is the ability to exert force to overcome resistance. In the water, you encounter the resistance of pulling through the water. Your body creates force to overcome that resistance.
3. Improve Posture
When you are swimming, the goal is to try to be in a straight line as much as possible. With rounded shoulders due to continual overuse, your line is no longer straight. Instead, you are actually overcompensating towards your front side from too much freestyle. Mobility can help to reverse some of these postural issues by helping your body revert to its natural and upright posture. Instead of being hunched over from perpetual desk-sitting and swimming overuse, mobility helps to return our posture to its original state.
4. Prevent Injury
Furthermore, mobility works out muscles and underused joints that are underutilized in the pool. By activating these muscles, it helps with injury prevention and will untap muscles and joints that were underused.
As we can see, mobility is just as important as strength training, explosiveness, and hypertrophy for swimmers. As a swimmer, you can have big, rounded shoulders and flaunting, enormous biceps, but if you can’t easily move your muscles and joints, all of your dryland work will be useless.
3 Exercises to help with your mobility
These mobility exercises can be a real game-changer for swimmers. Whether doing them before practice, in between prelim-final sessions, or post practice/meet, these exercises can alleviate tightness in the back, hips, and spine to prevent soreness and injuries. These basic exercises are great to do on deck, in a hallway, or in a hotel room. With each exercise, we've included a link to a demonstration video.
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