Is It Necessary to Stretch Before Swimming?

Is it a good idea to stretch before you get in the swimming pool?

Swimmer Stretching in a Swimming Pool
Chad Baker/Jason Reed/Ryan McVay / Getty Images

How many times have you seen swimmers stretching before they get in the pool? I can't count that high! Should all this stretching be taking place? Is it safe for swimmers to stretch before an event? 

We have been told that flexibility is important for increased performance ability and to decrease the occurrence of injury. Is it? It may be more important to stretch at the right time - or it might be a waste of time.

What is the difference between flexibility, stretching and warming up?

While you should never base all your decisions on one report, studies like those in "The Physician and Sportsmedicine" show that stretching before exercise does not decrease the risk of injury and that increased warm-up is probably more valuable.

Others say you should warm-up, stretch, then get back in and swim some more laps. Still, others say wait until after your workout because stretching decreases the muscle's ability to generate force for some period of time after the stretch has been performed; you will be slower after you stretch, until your muscle recovers. Another line of reasoning is that stretching before a workout only returns a muscle to its normal level of exercise flexibility. To gain flexibility, stretches must be performed after the muscle has been fully warmed up and is already at its greatest current level of flexibility, most likely after a workout has been completed.

So what do you do? I recommend a simple stretching routine:

  • a short, 10 to 15-minute swim session warm-up
  • a brief, 5 to 10-minute stretching session
  • back in the swimming pool for the rest of the warm-up
  • or... wait to stretch until after your workout, using it as part of a cool-down

Follow-up with additional stretching after completing your workout as part of your cool-down routine.

During a meeting, limit stretching before your event to a few seconds to help you relax after you complete an in-pool, pre-event warm-up. No warm-up pool? Then do some other gentle activity to increase blood circulation and raise the temperature of your muscles, do that slight, gentle stretching, then get up and swim fast!

Swim On!