Take a minute to stay loose, healthy, and fast
Well in my case, the answer would likely include words like “slacker,” “uncommitted,” and “easily distracted by shiny objects.” But there’s good news for swimmers who have even an iota of self-discipline; there’s a quick and easy way to loosen up without a major time commitment.
Here are four quick stretches and a built-in reminder trigger for each.
Much of what we do tends to pull our shoulders forward, risking postural issues and repetitive stress inflammation. Gently stretching the pectoral muscles and shoulder tendons increases range of motion and loosens the chest for easier breathing.
Trigger: Doorway. Every time you pass through a doorway, take a few seconds to stretch out your pecs. Place your palms on the outside of the door frame and lean forward until you feel a gentle pull between your shoulder and your sternum. Alternately, stretch one side at a time by using any corner wall instead of a door frame.
Another chest stretch requires lying on a foam roller with your spine along the length of the roller while your arms are outstretched and touching the floor with your palms upward. You may also use stretch bands to apply the same gentle backward pull on your arms.
Ankle flexibility is the key to a great kick. Stretching the front of your ankles allows greater range of motion for your feet, increasing propulsion from your legs.
Trigger: Television. Every time you sit down to watch TV (or cat videos on your phone), gently sit on your feet for a bit. Point your toes backward with the tops of your feet against a well-padded surface. Lower your body until you feel a gentle pull along the front of your feet and shins. You may also feel some stretching into your thighs, which can be controlled by changing the angle of your upper body. Be careful not to put too much pressure on your feet.
Another option is to stand upright and grasp your toes to lift your foot directly behind you. Hold onto something for balance, or for an extra core challenge, learn to stand completely on one foot during this stretch.
If you restricted the vocabulary of Masters coaches to just one word, that word would be “streamline.” The narrower you are in the water, the faster you can go—and stretching your shoulders facilitates streamlining.
Trigger: Hangup. Each time you pass near an overhead bar, grab it and hang for 30 seconds or more. It could be at the gym, the underside of a stairway, or on a grade-school playground horizontal bar. Place your hands close together and press your head forward to allow your arms to lie against the back of your head. Relax your muscles to avoid holding yourself up; let gravity elongate your body.
You can perform an alternative streamline stretch by leaning over and grasping any solid surface (fence rail, bathroom counter, etc.) with your hands together while pulling backwards to exert the stretching force against your shoulders.
Neck mobility is also a factor in streamlining, both in keeping your head down when your hands are together and in maintaining alignment when breathing. It only takes a few extra seconds to gently stretch your neck each time you do your shoulder stretches. Use your hands to apply moderate pressure against your head to stretch it left, right, and forward.
Runners (including triathletes) often experience knee pain from tightness-driven muscle imbalances. Others may have similar problems from being sedentary (sitting, driving, etc.) Frequent brief leg stretches can alleviate such issues and keep us continually ready to swim.
Trigger: Thirst. Whenever you feel the urge to get a drink of water, take a moment at the sink or drinking fountain to bend over to stretch your hamstrings and iliotibial (IT) bands. Basic toe-touches work well for the hamstrings, and squatting with one heel extended in front can gently stretch the calf muscles. For IT bands, cross your feet and bend over with your torso to the side of your hip. Switch sides and repeat. Another good stretch is to sit on the floor with one leg extended and one leg bent to where the foot touches the opposite knee (figure-four position). Lean forward to get the stretch.
Let’s be honest: Sporadic cue-triggered stretching is unlikely to be as effective as a fully planned and religiously followed stretching program. But it’s way better than getting tighter every day, which inevitably happens if you take no action. The examples in this article are just suggestions to get you started. Choose your own triggers—anything that will remind you to take a moment to loosen up. Add other stretches if you have time. Keep it gentle; relax and let the muscles loosen naturally. The key is to make stretching an easy and enjoyable daily habit.
- Technique and Training