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Stroke improvement: Flexibility for swimming

flexibility for swimming

A lack of flexibility can cause problems for swimmers. Tight muscles can be easily strained or prone to cramp when swimming and limited range of joint movement can inhibit performance. Working on flexibility is something you can do at home or in the gym.

As always, make sure there are no medical reasons why stretching could cause you problems, warm your muscles up thoroughly before stretching (by doing light physical activity), make sure your stretching environment is safe and stop if you feel any pain.

The three most common problem areas for swimming are:

  • Shoulders
  • Hips
  • Ankles

Shoulder Flexibility for Swimming:

When swimming front crawl or backstroke, having a good range of movement at the shoulder enables you to pull a long, straight line, which is the most efficient. If your shoulder movement is limited, you may end up pulling short or snaking from side to side in the water.

woman holding arms in the air showing poor shoulder flexibility
Limited movement in the shoulder can make some swimming strokes less efficient
woman holding arms above head showing good shoulder flexibility
Good shoulder flexibility can help to make some swimming strokes more efficient

Shoulder stretches

woman demonstrating a tricep stretch
Reach one hand behind your back and gently pull the elbow behind your head









Hip Flexibility for Swimming:

woman in a squatting position showing good hip flexibility
Good hip flexibility allows for tighter tumble turns, stronger push & glides and can reduce strain to the muscles when swimming breaststroke

Hip stretches

woman demonstrating a hip stretch
To stretch the hips, take a long lunge. Hold on to something for support until you are flexible enough to be able to lunge low enough to touch the floor. Keep your back straight.








Ankle Flexibility for Swimming:

Good ankle flexibility is likely to make your kicking more efficient, flowing and powerful. Loose ankles can push the water in the optimal direction, whilst stiff ankles tend to push water straight up or down.

Ankle stretches

woman demonstrating a calf stretch
Keeping your back heel down, lean towards the wall to stretch the calf muscle at the back of the ankle. Increase or decrease the stretch by moving your back foot further from or nearer to the wall
woman demonstrating a front of ankle stretch
Use a step to stretch the front of your ankle.

Yoga and swimming:

Yoga is an excellent complementary activity for swimming. Dedicating time to progress stretches in a guided and structured session can be extremely beneficial. Michelle Nicholls has a programme of progressive stretching through yoga that will improve your flexibility and in turn, improve your swim.

The Kicking Yogi




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