View Full Version : Stretching - A Supplement to Swim Practice

May 28th, 2005, 12:44 PM
This is a favorite topic of mine that came up in another thread, so I thought I'd start a new one here. I'd like to hear what others have to say about it.

One thing I find odd is that I have come across conflicting information about it being good/bad to stretch before/after exercising. Personally I think it is good to stretch both before and after (even during) swimming.

I've considered myself a swimmer all my life, though I've never participated in regular, structured swim practices. There were times however when I did not have easy access to a pool, so I sought out other ways to get the same benefits from a relaxing, healthy form of exercise. Somewhat by accident (or not), I stumbled onto Yoga.

I find the similarities between Yoga and swimming to be quite remarkable. Is there anyone else out there who can relate to this?

To refer to them simply as forms of exercise sells them quite short, for they both allow me to express myself in a spiritual way as well. They both are accomplished best by lots of practice, attaining the ability to relax into the form, which can bring out profound meditative qualities. Proper breathing is one of the top skills required. Proper alignment, smooth transitions of positions, full extension in movement and at rest, careful observation of body position... these all apply to both practices in a very important way. And perhaps most important is the ability to activate only the muscles you need when you need them, while relaxing the ones you don't need when you are not using them.

I guess you could say these things about most all forms of athletic endeavor, but because of my familiarity with both Yoga and Swimming I am soundly struck by the things they have in common.

I like to stretch while I swim. I typically do this at a more relaxed pace when I want to really focus on form, but don't want to be bothered with specifics like "exit elbow first". But I can do it powered up as well, with a sometimes-slight hesitation in fully extended positions. (Sometimes the hesitation is more than slight... think: "front quadrant swimming" and "catch-up drill".)

I also like to pay attention in my stroke to where I am carrying tension that is non-productive. The best example I can relate to from personal experience is in the waist during front-crawl. I notice at times that when I can sufficiently relax my waist here, my legs and torso seem to work better together, and I move through the water in a much more fluid style. I use a visualization exercise on this one, imagining that my hips are connected to my torso by a swivel joint, or just a cord.

Another image exercise I use to stretch as I swim is to imagine a cord attached to the top of my head pulling me along, with another (or a drag chute) magically attached to my feet (so it does not interfere with my kick) trying to hold me back. I imagine my spine being stretched out and relaxed, and my body maintaining a nice horizontal position in the water. (Think: "massage", not "medieval rack" :"> ) And yet another image is that of a swan gliding across a lake in the stillness of sunrise.

I've come to the realization over recent time that I'm at a plateau in my swimming practice, and that the best way to go higher is to incorporate a well disciplined stretching program as well. I've been a real slacker in my Yoga practice lately, but I try to keep reminding myself that it is OK to not try and do everything all the time, that just maintaining my swimming routine is better than nothing. And while I may be a slacker in routinely practicing Yoga asanas (postures) on a daily basis, the results of my previous Yoga studies are with me throughout the day as I sit, stand, walk, move, and even think. While Yoga can be just an exercise program, it often becomes a way of life.

"Cultivate good habits, and your bad habits will eventually disappear." - Paramahansa Yogananda

If you want a single Yoga routine that covers a wide range of motion try "Sun Salutations". While you can learn a great deal about this (and other Yoga practices) from books, videos, and the web, there is nothing that can substitute for a good, experienced teacher (with great emphasis on "good" and "experienced"), just as you would rely on a swim coach.

Here are a few web links/sites that can get you going if you want to pursue a stretching program through Yoga (which is something I highly recommend).


May 30th, 2005, 01:35 AM
I agree that yoga and swimming are a great combination for both physical and mental/spiritual fitness. I'm really a beginner at both--I've been regularly swimming for three years and doing yoga for two, but I completely agree with the points Conrad makes. I also think swimming and yoga complement each other--in swimming we get a great aerobic workout, but may become unbalanced in our muscle develoment; yoga rebalances us, pulls those shoulders back, and builds both strength and flexibility. Both swimming and yoga teach us focus, patience, and give us a lifetime of opportunities to improve.

Meditation is an important part of yoga, and I am slowly getting better at making time for it. I also think swimming can be a form of meditation, especially distance swimming and open water swimming, and it makes me better at yoga. Like Conrad, I also think about relaxing and stretching while swimming, and about being aware of what I am doing as I move through the water.

My favorite day of the week is the day that I do a moderate swim workout for an hour and then go straight to a challenging yoga class; the swimming gets my body and mind warmed up and flexible and ready for the stretching and strengthing asanas. Usually (although not always) afterward, the physical and mental wellbeing I feel are so energizing I can tackle my hardest tasks with confidence.

I'm still exploring ways to combine the two and to reconcile some of their differences. It took me a while to understand that yoga is not about competition (and it's still hard to actually put that idea into practice). In swimming I want to improve all my strokes and make them more technically perfect (very compatible with yoga), but I also want to swim FASTER and swim competitively--I'm not really sure how that fits with yoga. Any thoughts about this?

May 30th, 2005, 11:45 AM
"To do is to be" - Plato
"To be is to do" - Socrates
"Do-be-do-be-do" - Sinatra

Swimming is one of my favorite meditations. I enjoy most doing the complete stroke because there are moments when my mind is free of all its clutter, all the physical training goes into automatic, and it feels as though I am swimming through air. Sometimes I live for these moments.

I approach my swimming practice with the same sense of balance as my Yoga practice. All the way down to alternate breathing on both crawl strokes and alternating the direction that I come out of turns.

As you delve further into your yoga practice I think you will find that it can be quite aerobic as well. Ashtanga Yoga for example is incredibly aerobic. But even the seemingly static asanas can be very aerobic, when done correctly. A good, experienced Yoga teacher or student should be able to explain this to you.

Also, don't think that Yoga can't generate great strength. During the 80's I was a carpenter. I was remarkably strong. (Among other "feats of strength", I could overhand grip a sheet of 3/4" plywood standing on edge and lift it straight off the floor.) I complained in Yoga class one day while doing Full Boat Pose (Paripurna Navasana) that I could not ever hold the posture without shaking all over. My teacher retorted that I was weak. I was incensed, you probably could have seen the steam coming out of my ears. Yet here was this "skinny little woman" holding the posture for what seemed like forever without so much as a blink or even a hint of a quiver.

One of the main reasons I joined USMS was because I wanted an outlet to vent my competitive streak, and since I was swimming a lot anyway, it seemed like the easiest route. I seldom compete with anyone in my age bracket however, which gets a bit frustrating at times. For now I'm content to compete mostly with myself, so I'm staying with USMS for the moment.

I never thought of Yoga as being competitive, but that is probably because when I began to take classes (around 1980) the only places to do so were dedicated Yoga studios. Since about Y2K or so, Yoga classes have exploded at the all so prevalent suburban style health club, which tends to have a relatively competitive atmosphere. (The facility I swim at just finished building a "Mind and Body Studio" addition this year that mostly houses Yoga classes.) There is a lot of controversy in the Yoga community today regarding the quality of the instructors and classes at such facilities however, so if this is where you go for instruction then you need to be aware of this point. Try visiting http://www.yogajournal.com/ I read an excellent article about this issue in their magazine a few years ago.

While I never put it together before now, I suppose there could be a competitive side to Yoga. I often recall a story where Yogis (in India) would have contests by wrapping themselves in wet cloths and seeing who could dry them the fastest. I've also heard of similar Yogis living at high altitudes in the snow naked. They were/are essentially breatharians and would, using their body heat, keep an area of snow melted around them where they lived. These may be tall stories, but I can't disprove them. If you want to experience a collection of similar stories, try reading "Autobiography of a Yogi" by Paramahansa Yogananda. It is one of the most remarkable books I've ever read.

I believe that swimming speed is a natural byproduct of proper swimming technique. Concentrate on technique and speed will follow effortlessly. You will then be at your personal best, and what more can you ask for?

Can there be reconciliation between (swimming) competition and Yoga? I don't see why not. But it is when I don't try to go faster that I do. Like the guru that told his student "go home and meditate, and what ever you do, don't think about a pink elephant." Of course the student returns the next day complaining that all he could think about in meditation was a pink elephant. Sometimes it is the un-doing, and not the doing, that propels us forward and allows us to swim through air.

May 30th, 2005, 01:01 PM
I have had fitness instructors tell me absolutely do not stretch before exercise.

With that note I ALWAYS stretch before swimming or a weight workout. I stretch at least 10 minutes before, and ten minutes after the swim workout, and try to do more.

I also will get out during the workout and stretch my calves during or after a hard breaststroke kick set. The blood tends to accumulate in these muscles, and the pumped up muscles are shortened, and more likely to get injured.

I am your typical masters swimmer, bad shoulder, broken elbows, a knee with 85% of the ligament gone. So I have to be smart and stretch.

May 30th, 2005, 02:27 PM
I posted this reference on another thread back in March. It's from The Physician and Sportsmedicine:


May 30th, 2005, 03:58 PM
Originally posted by conradical
I've come to the realization over recent time that I'm at a plateau in my swimming practice, and that the best way to go higher is to incorporate a well disciplined stretching program as well. I've been a real slacker in my Yoga practice lately, but I try to keep [/url] Plateaus come and go. Most plateaus are accompanied by back slides. As my son inlaw says when we talk Yoga he says "I don't eat yogurt".

My wife does yoga but I leave that to others.

May 30th, 2005, 04:30 PM
Originally posted by breastroker

With that note I ALWAYS stretch before swimming or a weight workout.
I am your typical masters swimmer, bad shoulder, broken elbows, a knee with 85% of the ligament gone. So I have to be smart and stretch.

Are you sure all these problems you have are not partially the result of stretching before swimming?I never stretch before swimming, I believe that you need some kind of warm-up to stretch, because sretching cold muscles means trouble.Just my opinion...

May 30th, 2005, 04:36 PM
Right on... hooked-on-swimming

For sure do a swimming warmup before you think of stretching while swimming the main workout. Then rather than stretch after the main set do a good cool down swim.

May 30th, 2005, 08:59 PM
I agree with conradical. Streching should be done before and after you swim. In my own experience My muscles normaly cramp up or at least get sore if I don't strech first. I was always told it was best to strech before to help prevent from pulling anything during practice. I have also been told by gymnastics instrucers that you should always strech after any kind of physical activity to help prevent sore muscles later on the next day.
Streching is something that is up to an individual persons prefereneces.:D

May 30th, 2005, 11:27 PM
I think the stretching/warming up question also depends on the individual and on what else you've been doing before swimming. Some days (especially later in the day) I can just get in and do my swimming warm up, then stretch a little, swim some more, stretch some more, etc. Each time I stretch I only go as far as is comfortable and hold it until I feel my muscles relax, then stretch a little more. Other days, my body says "stretch me first," so I do some gentle stretches before I start swimming.

Probably a lot of us stretch first thing in the morning before getting out of bed. I had plantar fasciitis a few years ago and learned to always gently stretch out my calves and flex my feet for a few minutes before getting out of bed. I have a little routine, stretching my legs, back, arms, hips--just takes about 5 minutes but feels so good. (And my dog does the same thing after a nap, I've noticed.)

With stretching I think the key is that if your muscles are cold, you should start very gently, and increase the stretch as you get warmed up. At the end of swimming sets, and anytime my coach or a team mate is talking to me, or whenever it feels right in between, I'm stretching. Stretching in the water is great, because of the extra support you get.

May 31st, 2005, 08:06 AM

I wonder what your stretching routine looks like. Any stroke specific stretching or just a general stretching routine?

May 31st, 2005, 10:12 AM
Most pools I know of have the age group programs swimming right up to the time Masters get in. I don't think I have ever seen Masters swim for 10-15 minutes and get out and stretch for another 15 minutes. This would usually put you in the main set.

I use the time before practice starts to stretch on the pool deck.
I spend at least half my stretching time stretching my calves, that is essential for breaststrokers. All my stretches are gentle, no bouncing. I do ballistic arm swings to loosen the shoulders.

I am NOT flexible in the shoulders, so I use the ROM strap to gently stretch my shoulders. I makes a huge difference in my streamlines. Without this stretch I can only push off about 10 yards, when I am stretched I can go as far as 15 yards.

I have some articles on stretching on my web site:D

I believe without the ROM strap I would have not won my National Championship, would have been bridesmaid again.

May 31st, 2005, 10:44 AM
I hardly ever stretch, but I know I need to do it and that it would help me physically and competitively.


What is a ROM strap, should I get one? And, do you have a stretching routine that I may follow to become more flexible, especially for my ankles and lower body?

May 31st, 2005, 11:22 AM
Rom strap stretching with zoomers - http://www.zoomers.net/romstrap.htm

May 31st, 2005, 11:23 AM
Well my local swims during the week on T, W & Th. I try to go to my yoga class Wed. so depending on what else I have going on I alternate & think that my mind & bosy are happier when I get to do both.