Sunday 23 August 2015

Pilates in the Pool

I love swimming, it's a great, low impact, full-body workout.  Swimming first thing in the morning sets you up for the day, it makes you feel alive!

As a teenager I swam every day before school.  At university I moved on to play squash instead.  Then after university, I broke my ankle (bad landing from a parachute jump).   So no squash for some time.

After months on crutches, I wanted to build my fitness again.   I joined a swimming club and they helped me to work on my fitness.  The drills we did also helped me to work on various issues.

1. Symmetry
To start with I began to address having a dominant right arm due to playing squash.  For this, I swam front crawl with my right hand in a fist.  This made my left arm work harder and so helped me re-balance my upper body strength.   

This can also work if recovering from a shoulder injury.  Using a fist on the injured side (instead of a flat hand) will create less resistance through the water and therefore less work through the injured side. 

Training aids such as kickboards (floats) and fins can also help you work on symmetry by letting you focus on part of your body.   If you need to build leg strength, for example, you can do front crawl legs while holding a kickboard.

 2. Flexibility
Swimming helped me to work on my ankle flexibility without the impact of training on land.

Training aids can help again. Using fins when practising front crawl legs can increase the movement of your ankles as well as help with your leg technique.
As a regular activity, swimming can improve flexibility as many strokes involve taking the body in and out of a stretched position, such as the lengthening of arms and legs in breaststroke as you glide.

Conversely, a lack of flexibility can be a problem in breaststroke.  The upper back needs to gently extend to allow the head to leave the water each time.  If the thoracic spine is stiff then the movement will have to come from the lumbar region and may cause discomfort.   Finding the movement in your upper back (for example with Pilates exercises) before swimming can therefore be beneficial.

3.  Body alignment / posture
Swimming with the club helped me to work on my alignment within strokes - particularly my head position in front crawl.
If you look around the average swimming pool you will see people swimming breaststroke with their head held out of the water throughout the stroke.  This can cause problems with existing neck issues as well as creating new problems.   

Learning to swim with your face in the water is the best way to avoid neck issues.   Swimming lessons can be a good way to gain confidence in the water and improve your technique.

Because competitive and regular swimming puts repetitive force through the shoulders, having good shoulder alignment (as well as scapular stability) is very important. 

4.  Body awareness of how you move and feel

Swimming with the club helped me enormously but it's only since doing Pilates that I've really developed my body awareness.   If you can take that awareness to your swimming, all the better!

Feel that your spine moves segmentally as you swim; whether that's the gentle extension in your upper back as your head lifts out of the water in breaststroke or the rotation of the upper back as your rib-cage twists each time your arm lifts out of the water in front crawl.

Pilates exercises for swimmers
Good spinal mobility is important in swimming.  If you already have a lower back problem, the availability of thoracic mobility may be key in whether you can enjoy swimming or not.   Exercises such as Standing Side Bends and Spine Twists will help before swimming.

Similarly, for regular swimmers with good spinal mobility, exercises to improve shoulder stability such as Shoulder Squeeze and Swimming Arms are great.

Exercises for core and pelvic stability will also have a positive impact on more competitive swimmers.  In our classes we cover all of the above every week!

Doing some stretching afterwards is also great to work on the movement you've found, perhaps a Shoulder Bridge on the side of the pool if you feel brave!

And if you swim outdoors over the rest of the summer, enjoy the experience and do a couple of extra laps for me too!

1 comment:

  1. As someone who has a very stiff upper back, some of this advice is very helpful!