Prevent overuse injuries and enjoy your swimming more with these tips
By Talia Kruger
With all the hot weather we have been having recently, most of us have been flocking to the beaches and pools to keep cool. We've all heard about the benefits of swimming – not only is it a great aerobic workout, it also reduces the impact through our joints and increases muscle strength and tone.
Swimming requires optimal body alignment and core control to effectively move through the water. However, most of a swimmer's time training in the water focuses on working the global muscle system. This means the stabilising inner core muscles often get overlooked. An imbalance between these two systems leads to poor alignment, causing certain muscles to over-work. This can add precious seconds to your time or gradually lead to overuse injuries like we treat here at the clinic.
This is where Pilates can help get you swimming like Ian Thorpe!
Pilates focuses on improving strength and optimising the recruitment of the deep core muscles that are vital to your swimming. This includes the pelvic floor muscles, the deep abdominals (transverus abdominus), and multifidus. It also targets body awareness and good posture which will allow you to achieve correct positioning and technique in the pool.
Here are my top 5 Pilates tips for swimmers.
- Stronger Core: Pilates exercises are designed to improve your core control by linking your pelvis, trunk and shoulder girdle. We can teach you how to correctly activate this deep core system to achieve optimal balance and alignment. When these muscles are underactive you may find your pelvis dropping during your breaststroke or freestyle – causing drag and slowing you down.
- Breathing Pattern and Control: A key principle of Pilates is learning to control your breathing. Using a controlled exhale breathe can aid the correct recruitment of your deep core muscles - improving the power of your stroke. It will allow you to concentrate on your body alignment and stop you from thinking about how many laps you have left to go! Also, the benefit of a long mindful exhale will get you better depth of breath and oxygen delivery on those inhales too.
- Greater Joint Flexibility: Pilates also focuses on improving our spinal mobility and lengthening our muscles. Many of the exercises at The Fix Program focus on working through a variety of different movements and positions, challenging the flexibility and stability of the joints. These benefits will change how you feel in the water. For example, if you have a stiff thoracic spine (upper back) and lack rotation or extension, you will have a reduced shoulder reach which can cause overloading of the shoulder joint or neck when it comes to the pool.
- Low Impact: Sometimes we need to give our bodies a rest from high-impact exercise such as running, dancing or sport. Maybe you have noticed that you don't move as well as you used to and want to protect your joints from osteoarthritis? Perhaps you are recovering from an injury or are currently in pain? Whatever the reason, low-impact exercise is a great option to get your heart rate up and improve your fitness without your joints feeling the pressure! Pilates is a great 'cross training day' to mix your exercise up a little through the week.
- Scapular Stability: Research has found that almost 90% of the forward propulsion during swimming comes from the upper extremities. Doing Pilates exercises targeted at scapular stability will not only stabilise the shoulder and prevent overuse of the rotator tendons of the shoulder, but it will improve our muscles ability to "fire" correctly throughout the dynamic of swimming. An added bonus is these exercises also help to support our neck and head, so you will notice the benefit when sitting at your desk as well.
There are many benefits you will get to enjoy both in body and mind after adding Pilates to your weekly routine. Perhaps while reading this you were thinking that your swimming stroke needs improvement, or is even causing and pains?
So what are you waiting for? Dive into a pool (and a Pilates class) today!