Once again I am enlisting the help of Swimsmooth for this blog post (why invent the wheel when they have a very good one already?!)
Most of us realise that core stability is important for our swimming technique but are unsure how to tune into it and how to improve it. In this article we're going to take a deeper look at how to do just that.
We're going to use three simple exercises to help:
1) Stretching Through Your Core 2) Squeezing Your Butt 3) Swimming Proud
A Strong Core
We know that a good swim stroke technique is fluid and relaxed right? Well, that's only partially true. Your arm action and your kick action should be nice and relaxed yes. But your core should be strong and engaged when you swim. This is a bit of a paradox about swimming - all the time you're trying to be relaxed and fluid with your stroke you need to be strong through your core - all the way from your glutes to your upper spine.
Having a strong stable core makes you more torpedo-like so you spear through the water in a straight line. It also helps connect your arm strokes to your core, allowing you to use your whole body to drive your arm propulsion, not just your small shoulder muscles - great technique.
Exercise 1. Stretching Through Your Core
To engage your lower core try this visualisation the next time you swim.
Think about your pelvis and your rib cage. Imagine you have a piece of floppy elastic or licorice attached at one end to your pelvis and the other to your rib cage. If you stretch tall through your core, bringing your rib cage away from your pelvis, you can make the elastic stretch and be tight.
As you swim, stretch tall through your core and keep that imaginary elastic tight. This will engage your lower core muscles and strengthen your torso.
Exercise 2. Squeezing Your Butt Muscles
Our second exercise is another visualisation. This time we're focused on the lower-rear core muscles, the glutes (your bum/butt). As you swim, imagine you have a large coin between your butt cheeks and you've got to keep it there! To do that you've got to lightly squeeze your butt cheeks together - a crude thought but very effective none the less!
Don't over do it, a very light clench is enough to engage your glutes, straighten your lower body and connect your legs better to your torso. This exercise also helps you develop better kicking technique.
Think about this regularly when you swim and you will gradually develop neural pathways to your glute muscles, recruiting them for permanent use.
You probably remember growing up and your parents or teachers telling you "...don't slouch - shoulders back and chest forward". This is actually excellent advice for your swimming too.
We are taught to think of core stability as being purely about the area around your abdominal and lower back, whereas infact core stability concerns a much larger area. Your whole core comprises your abdominals, lower back, glutes (i.e. your bum / butt) and your upper back / shoulder region.
As a swimmer, you should be concerned about your level of core stability, especially when it comes to the upper back and shoulder region. Having hunched or rounded shoulders from the way you might sit at the office leads to a swinging arm recovery technique, coming wide around the side rather than over the top of the body. A wide arm recovery causes cross overs, ruins the catch and is one of the leading causes of shoulder injury.
Poor posture leads to poor body roll which causes cross-overs. =(
By sitting slouched at your desk, you are inadvertently shortening the muscles at the front of the shoulder and chest (the pectorals or 'pecs') and elongating those at the back (mid and lower trapezius muscles or 'traps' and the rhomboids). Over a prolonged period of time, this posture becomes ingrained.
So sit-up! Shoulders back and chest forward! Let’s remedy this whilst you read.
Working to strengthen the muscles at the back of the shoulder and stretch those at the front will pay real dividends when it comes to your stroke technique. It will help develop a range of motion around the shoulder joint and through the upper back, and in doing so help prevent cross-overs.
Exercise 3. The YTWL and Swimming Proud!
Swim Smooth employ a simple exercise that is used by many physiotherapists to help tune into this upper-core stability. Perform the "Y-T-W-L" at the pool, in the gym or at home to gradually tune into your upper posture and something called Scapula Retraction.
Run through each of the Y-T-W-L positions shown in the picture in turn, hold each position for about 10 seconds. Stand up tall as you do it but keep your back straight - don't arch it. Hold your stomach in, your shoulders back and chest proudly forwards. We suggest you repeat the YTWL through about 5 times each time.
By doing this exercise before you swim and even before you go to bed at night, you’ll help rectify the bad posture which you may have adopted at work. Over time this will get better and better and may even help to cure common ailments such as a tight neck, shoulder and back muscles.
Why Is Your Posture Important?
Three major reasons:
1) Having better posture keeps you straighter in the water, particularly your arm extension forwards. This means you'll expend less energy travelling down the pool. Being straighter will also avoid cross-overs, which ruin your catch technique and lead to shoulder injury.
2) Better posture helps develop good body roll. Good body roll gives you a longer more powerful stroke.
3) Having a strong upper core helps attach your arm stroke to your body. This means you start to use the whole of your body and your body roll to drive the stroke rather than just your shoulder muscles. This is a much more powerful swimming technique.
Should I be Doing Core Work In the Gym?
If you can get to the gym regularly, then yes. Seek some advice from the personal trainers and get them to build and demonstrate a short session tailored to your needs. Mention to them you are interested in improving your upper body posture in particular. Obviously you don't have to get to the gym to work your core or your upper body. I have a core challenge on my website you could do, and below are some land-based swimming specific exercises you could also try.