Lack of mobility could keep you from an optimal swim stroke and put you more at risk for injury.
How does your flexibility stack up? These five tests are a good indicator of how mobile your swim-specific muscles and joints are. If you don’t make the grade in certain areas, improve your flexibility with the listed stretches from Bryan Hill, co-owner of Rehab United (Rehabunited.com) in San Diego. Hill recommends to hold each stretch for 30–60 seconds or to drive in and out of the stretch 10 times.
Test #1: Ankle
It’s common for triathletes who started as runners to lack good plantar flexion (the action of pointing your toe), which can hold back their kick.
Test yourself: Point your toe, aim for an angle of at least 50 degrees.
Fail Test #1? Do this: Perform a quad stretch with your toe on top of a surface. Press down on the heel to enhance the stretch. Or, if you don’t have a history of knee problems, put your knees under your body and sit back on your heels.
Test #2: Hip flexors
Any extension you can get at the hip allows you to load the legs and gain more propulsion with every kick.
Test yourself: Do a standing hip flexor stretch. Your spine should be upright with your hip at a reverse angle anywhere from 30 to 45 degrees. You have a limitation if you’re forced to lean forward or you feel back pain during the stretch.
Fail Test #2? Do this: Kneel on one leg and do a hip flexor stretch with your arms above your head. Hill says integrating your arms into the stretch will keep your spine aligned and allow your hip to drive the body forward. The farther your “reach” in swimming, the longer and more powerful your hip flexors can get.
Test #3: Shoulder (flexion)
Shoulders are the most vulnerable area for swimming injuries, and without proper mobility, you could be setting yourself up for tendinitis, rotator cuff issues or laberal tears.
Test yourself: Put your arm straight up behind your head as if you were in a streamline position. Your bicep should be past your ear.
Fail Test #3? Do this: In a doorway, slide your right arm onto the wall above your head. Step forward into a lunge with the right leg. (You can also do this with the opposite leg to simulate a swimming position, but using the same leg focuses on the shoulder.)
Test #4: Shoulder (internal rotation)
Your ability to internally rotate your shoulder can affect how high your elbow is on the catch portion of the stroke. A high-elbow catch means more speed and efficiency.
Test yourself: Bend your elbow and touch your back. You should be able to reach the pointy part of your opposite shoulder blade.
Fail Test #4? Do this: Place your hand on a doorway at shoulder-height with your wrist near 90 degrees and your elbow high. Step through into a lunge, similar to the exercise at left.
Test #5: Neck
Neck rotation is key to efficient breathing—without this mobility, some swimmers lift their heads out of the water, which can strain neck muscles and create drag.
Test yourself: Looking left and right, your chin should be relatively close to the shoulder, ideally 75 percent or more.
Fail? Do this: Lunge forward and drive your arms to the side while looking straight ahead (stick optional). By stepping through with the body instead of turning the neck, there’s less trauma to the vertebrae.