Stretching Routines for Swimmers to Increase Flexibility

Getting Flexible Out of the Swimming Pool

Shoulder-stretch-model.jpg
A swimmer performing a common stretch.

Most workout and fitness routines include regular stretching to increase or maintain flexibility. If you do choose to stretch, remember, you want to stretch things that should have some stretch or elasticity (muscle), not things that shouldn't (joints and ligaments).

Why Stretch? What could an appropriate level of flexibility do for a swimmer?

  • Might prevent injury
  • Could help a swimmer hold better technique
  • Could make a swimmer faster
  • Might make a swimmer more efficient

Is it a good idea to stretch before you get in the swimming pool? It would be hard to argue against stretching if it only accomplishes one of these. Depending on the swimmer, it could do all of them. It could not hurt to include a few stretches after your swim workout routines, if only to maintain a useful range of motion.

One simple routine I like is shown below. It should be done after warming up for 10:00 to 15:00 minutes or after the completion of your regular workout. Generally, stretching before a workout only restores your regular level of flexibility at best, and trying to stretch "cold" muscles cold injure them. Stretching after a workout tends to increase your flexibility and greatly decreases the odds of injuring the muscle during the stretch.

This program consists of several exercises. You can add or subtract to customize it to your needs.

many other stretches are listed in the resources (listed on the right). This routine should take between 5:00 and 15:00 minutes to complete.

Stretching Routine

  • Frequency: Daily
  • Sets: 1 - 4
  • Repetitions: 4 - 10
  • Duration: Hold for 2 - 4 seconds
  • Rest: 5 - 10 seconds between reps and 20 - 45 seconds between sets (but don't rush it, take more if you need it)
  • Exertion: Stretch until you feel resistance and hold
  • Use the opposing muscle to help move into the stretch
  • DO NOT FORCE A MOVEMENT, AND DO NOT HOLD A POSITION IF YOU FEEL PAIN
  • The motion of the stretch should stop a bit before it becomes painful

Note: Perform routine after a thorough warm-up or at the conclusion of your workout

Progression

  • Increase number of repetitions by 1 each week
  • Once you reach 10 repetitions, decrease to 4 repetitions and increase number of sets
  • While doing 2 sets, increase number of repetitions by 1 each week
  • Continue this pattern up to 3 sets of 4 repetitions (that should be plenty of flexibility work)

For specific stretches, check the suggested reading list for more information.

On a side note, remember not to stretch aggressively. There is emerging evidence that aggressive and abusive stretching increases instability and risk of injury. When performing a stretching routine, ease into it, don't stretch into pain and have a specific reason for stretching. Many swimmers stretch due to habit or to cancel sensation from painful shoulders. Don't stretch aimlessly

Swim On!

Updated by Dr. John Mullen on December 27th 2015.