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Flexibility for swimmers

It sounds like a new water sport, but swimmers can use these special tools to improve performance and recovery in and out of the water. Taking care of your body doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does have to be accurate and consistent, and with the proper tools and know-how from a professional, you will feel and stay better longer. Buy a foam roll and baseball to improve performance, reduce pain, and boost healing.

If you really want to build a long-term swimming plan for success, get our free youth sports guide

If you are having shoulder pain, please read here or here.

Swimmers can swim more than a million strokes in a season!

Stats about Swimmers and Their Bodies

Swimmers face a special set of challenges when they train and perform. Not only do their bodies – especially their shoulders – undergo unusual strain, but they also fight the resistance of the water, and the hours of training outside of the pool, too. Here are a few things you need to know first about swimmers and their bodies.

  • The most common swimmer injury is Swimmer’s Shoulder.
  • Breaststrokers suffer from injuries in their lower extremities – such as hip, ankle, and knee inflammation and pain.
  • The dolphin kick can cause herniations in the spine and lower back.
  • An hour of vigorous swimming can burn up to 650 calories.
  • Elite athletes will do more than a millions strokes in approximately one year.

Caring for and Healing the Swimmer’s Body with a Foam Roll and Baseball

Now that you know what swimmers are up against, it is important to take steps to prevent, address, and eliminate the pain and stress on the body. This is where affordable sports equipment, foam rolls, and YouTube come in handy for a better, healthier body.

Now, these tools and techniques still require more research and aren’t as effective as massage, but here are the 10 reasons why baseballs, foam rolls, and mobility are critical for swimmers.

1. It’s affordable

Let’s be honest – paying to swim can get pricey. Not only do swimmers pay for pool-time, coaching, suits, competitions, and physical therapy – as long as they don’t have to see a doctor – the costs can start to add up. It is not uncommon for families to spend $1,000 for swimmers, even if they are just starting out. And as the swimmer gets older, the costs creep up, too. Buying a couple baseballs and foam rolls is a drop in the bucket, and they can be replaced without breaking the bank.

2. Baseballs target small muscle groups and trigger points

Swimming is an all-body exercise. The entire body is in motion to propel a swimmer through the pool, and they move with greater force than most athletes experience. Swimmers use muscles that most people don’t even know exist. Common muscles in the shoulder, back and hips that are used for swimming are:

  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Trapezius
  • Deltoids
  • Neck muscles, especially at the top of the spine and the base of the skull

Checkout this great method for reducing upper shoulder pain from excessive shrugging during your training with the SMR Upper Trapezius, which can be done with a foam roll.

3. Baseballs, bars and foam roll improve soreness

Using a baseball or tennis ball on your muscles improves soreness. Think of the baseball as a deep tissue massage for your problem areas. Your triceps are important in the final and late push phase during the catch phase. The triceps experience unusual soreness and stiffness.

If you are just starting out with self-mobility exercises, use the foam roll or tennis ball. Progress up to a baseball and bar as you can tolerate it. Find the tender spot or problem area, put pressure on it, and roll it out once it releases.

4. Improves blood flow to the area

Blood flow to the muscles and throughout the body is important for many different reasons. It carries oxygen to the muscles, it improves overall circulation, it promotes healing, and it delivers vital nutrients to the area. Muscles that are cramped, impinged, or restricted suffer from a lack of blood flow. A lack of blood flow causes stress, it results in fatigue, reduces range of motion, and it increases the risk for injury.

5. Improves stroke mechanics

Decreased mobility and range of motion diminishes the power, efficiency, and accuracy of the stroke. During a single swim practice and certainly throughout a swimming year, shoulder range of motion becomes imbalanced. This imbalance alters stroke biomechanics. When the stroke is done improperly, it provokes the body to accommodate or favor a single area to make up for the lack of movement. As a result, the swimmer is more susceptible to injury. Improper stroke mechanics and execution can lead to overtraining and overusing a single side. Not only does the swimmer end up with an injury, but he/she has to work harder to get a slower time.

6. Improves flexibility

For many, simply baseball rolling under your foot increases toe touch and spinal range of motion.

Ankle flexibility is especially critical for freestyle, backstroke, and butterfly swimmers. This is a topic I addressed in a post: Ankle Swimming Flexibility. In the post, I talked about the muscles affected, the effects of poor flexibility and hyper-flexibility, as well as provided techniques to improve flexibility with self-myofascial release strategies.

7. Keeps you off the injury list

Shoulder pain and injury can cripple competitive swimmers, forcing them out of the pool for good. Many times, this occurs at a very young age, but older swimmers are not immune to the plight. A 2012 study, with 236 female swimmers between the ages of 8 and 77, found pain and disability in many:

  • 22.6% in swimmers in high school swimmers
  • 21.4% in swimmers 8 to 11
  • 19.4% in masters swimmers
  • 18.6% in swimmers 12 to 14

The study suggested that reduced shoulder flexion was one of the contributors to pain and injury in most cases.

8. Lengthens the muscles

Long muscles are healthy muscles, and the 2012 study suggests that muscle lengthening aids in preventing shoulder pain and injury too. Using a foam roller or baseball before a workout aids in preparing your muscles for the dryland and the pool. If you foam-roll after your workout or competition, it can act as a sports massage that lengthens the muscles to improve posture, prevent injury, and reduce future pain.

Now, the mechanical change in the actual tissue is likely minimal, but there is likely a small mechanical deformation of the tissue which increases muscle length.

9. Reduces and breaks up scar tissue

Scar tissue is the result of injury. It is part of the healing process, but it can cause muscle pain, dysfunction, reduced mobility, and pain. Think of scar tissue as a scar on muscles and ligaments after injury. Just because it is scarred, it doesn’t mean you have to live with it. Use of a foam roll is a popular technique to break up scar tissue in areas to alleviate pain and improve performance.

10. It’s access to a massage 24/7

The best part about foam roll and baseball mobility and foam-rolling is that they are like mini massage therapists whenever you need them. You could pay 50 to 100 bucks for a full-body, deep tissue massage, or you can do one at home on your problem areas [with a local professional, this is more effective…come see me if you can :)]. Self-massage is called self-myofascial release, which means you are in charge. You don’t have to spend money on weekly massages, you don’t have to wait weeks to get in, and you can massage your problem areas whenever you need the relief. Self-myofascial release (SMR) should replace stretching after your workout, and you can achieve a lot in just a short amount of time.

Advice from Dr. John: Before you get Started

Now that you know the benefits, you are digging through the garage for your old baseballs, or you are looking on Amazon for foam rollers, but there’s more. You need a few pointers to get your started. Follow my YouTube series to learn effective and targeted foam roll SMR techniques for swimmers, athletes, and even desk workers.

Once you get started, here are a few tips to avoid injury and pain:

  • Do not focus on the same area every time.
  • Don’t spend too much time on a single area during your session.
  • Don’t roll too quickly.
  • Maintain proper body form and use your bodyweight to guide your movements.
  • Don’t roll only where you feel pain. Consider the areas that attach, too.

If you are a serious swimmer, working with a performance coach is essential for maximizing mobility, strength, injury prevention, mental training, and much more!

If YOU are looking to improve your performance, Apply for a Free sports performance screen