3 Body Parts for Greater Range of Motion for Elite Swimming

Sport specific range of motion is required for elite swimming biomechanics. In swimming, the shoulders, ankles, and hips are the most common areas of extreme range of motion. However, the effects of this range of motion are not well documented in the literature. Despite the lack of research on range of motion required at specific body parts for elite performance, many coaches place an importance on range of motion training for these body parts. This results in a lot of time and effort in stretching and other range of motion activities. 

Now, a lack of evidence, doesn't mean evidence is lacking, but it means research and confirmation is required by researchers, ensuring the correct body parts are being stressed for greater range of motion in swimming. However, until research confirms speculation, we must consider the following areas need greater range of motion for elite swimming performance. 

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Glenohumeral internal rotation is required for an early vertical catch in swimming. Yet, internal rotation deficits do occur in swimmers, likely from the volume of training.

Torres (2009) assessed shoulder rotation in groups of swimmers, tennis, players and controls. Overall, there was a gross internal rotation deficit of 12 degrees in swimmers, compared to only 4.9 degrees in the control group.

Bak (1997) compared swimmers with shoulder pain and without shoulder pain and noted increased shoulder external range of motion and decreased shoulder internal range of motion compared to normalized data.


Swimmers with and without shoulder pain exhibit a lack of shoulder internal rotation which may decrease force production potential. However, future studies must see if interventions at improving internal rotation motion improve swimming velocity.

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Wilems (2014) had twenty-six healthy competitive swimmers (M=15, F=11; ~16.4 years; minimum 500 FINA score) undergo a passive plantar flexion range of motion test, bilateral active and passive internal rotation ROM, isometric strength, and an underwater dolphin kicking analysis.  The swimmers also underwent a trial using a tape, preventing ankle range of motion.

Ankle dorsiflexion and internal rotation muscle strength were positively correlated with dolphin kick velocity. There was no correlation between plantar flexion and external rotation strength and dolphin kick velocity. Despite popular belief, active and passive plantar flexion and internal rotation ROM were not significantly correlated with the dolphin kick velocity. During the kick condition, ankle flexibility and dolphin kick velocity were significantly impaired. Ankle flexibility doesn’t correlate with dolphin kick velocity, yet research must assess if improved ankle range of motion further improves dolphin kicking. Also, research on flutter kicking is also essential before completely ruling out ankle flexibility programs.


Another study comparing flutter kick speed in collegiate swimmers (n = 10) compared to recreational swimmers (n = 10) noted significant moderate correlations between plantar flexion and flutter kicking speed (McCullough 2009).


Ankle mobility is a necessity for swimmers, but it doesn’t appear the most beneficial aspect for dolphin kicking. Future studies must assess the importance of ankle mobility and swimming speed for each stroke. Then, intervention studies must see if more ankle range of motion improves performance.

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Breaststroke and knee pain.

Unfortunately, there are no studies on hip range of motion and breaststroke performance. Future studies are needed on this subject as it seems obvious hip internal range of motion is paramount for elite breaststroke. However, one can speculate the further a swimmer can bring their feet away from their body, the greater their potential force production.


Future studies must see if a correlation exists between breaststroke kicking velocity, breaststroke velocity and hip range of motion. 


Clearly, more research on the range of motion required for elite swimming is necessary. However, until this time anecdotal research and common sense must drive the areas of increasing range of motion training.