Stretching and warming up are fundamental to exercising safely and effectively.
Stretching helps loosen tight muscles, increases the range of motion, and improves circulation. Warming up gradually increases your heart rate and prepares your body for intense activity.
Stretching and warming up before swimming is important for all levels of swimmers, from recreational swimmers to elites.
As a general rule, you should aim to complete a 10-minute warmup before you swim. Dynamic stretches, which are controlled movements, are best done before your swim, while static stretches which you hold for 15-30 seconds each are best performed after your swim.
I am guilty of occasionally skipping the warm-up part of my swim, as I have been so eager to get in the pool and start my swim set. However, I am now paying the price with very stiff lower back muscles.
These days, I never skip the warm-up and always complete cool-down stretches to further stretch my muscles and improve flexibility so I can swim injury free.
In this article, I will share what I have learned as a recreational swimmer, covering the importance of warming up, and why we do it, including:
- Should I stretch before swimming?
- Dynamic vs static stretching explained
- What are the benefits of stretching?
- How long should I stretch before swimming?
- How long should I warm up before swimming?
- What are the best stretches to do before swimming?
Before diving into this article, I want to point out that I am not a doctor and this article is not medical advice. To find stretching exercises specific to your level of fitness, I recommend you refer to professional medical websites such as the NHS.
Should I Stretch Before Swimming?
I recently had to visit my doctor with lower back pain. After a consultation with a physiotherapist, she concluded that my lower back muscles were too tight and stiff.
When she asked me how long I stretched before swimming, I had to admit that I was guilty of recently skipping my pre-swim warm-up.
I swim in the morning before work, and like so many recreational swimmers, I am eager to get the most out of my precious hour in the pool. But in order to maximise my training time, I started cutting down on my warm-up time, which is a big mistake and I learned the hard way.
Stretching before swimming, which includes a warm-up, is essential to keeping your body flexible and injury free. Stretching helps to prepare your body for physical activity by increasing circulation and improving oxygen delivery to the muscles. It also helps reduce muscle tension and stress.
According to the NHS, a warm-up for a light activity should take around 10 minutes. Warming up should cover some dynamic stretches and gentle aerobic activity that is suitable for your specific exercise. [source]
Dynamic and static stretching can help to warm up the muscles, increase flexibility, improve the range of motion, and reduce the risk of injury.
In conclusion, you should always stretch and warm up before swimming. From a gentle swim to a vigorous workout, it is important to prepare the body for exercise.
Dynamic Vs Static Stretching Explained
What Is Dynamic Stretching?
Dynamic stretching is an active form of stretching that helps to improve the range of motion and flexibility. This type of stretching involves actively moving the body through its full range of motion, which helps to warm up the muscles and prepare them for physical activity. [source]
Dynamic stretches are also great for improving coordination and balance, as they require stabilisation throughout the movements.
What Is Static Stretching?
Static stretching is a passive form of stretching that involves holding a position for a certain period in order to stretch and lengthen the muscles. This type of stretching helps to improve flexibility and range of motion by gradually lengthening the muscle fibres. [source]
Unlike dynamic stretching, static stretching involves no active motion or coordination. Instead, it relies on the body’s own weight or applied pressure to achieve the desired results.
As part of my current physiotherapy programme to loosen my lower back muscles, I have to complete a set of static stretches, which involves stretching certain muscle groups and holding the stretch for 15 seconds. Then repeating these sets of exercises.
When To Use Dynamic Stretches?
Dynamic stretches are best used before any physical activity, such as swimming. They are great for warming up the body and increasing overall flexibility.
By stretching muscles while they are in motion, dynamic stretching helps to improve the range of motion and increase muscular coordination. This can lead to improved performance during exercise.
To see some examples of dynamic stretches and how to do them, check out the Hospital for Special Surgery website here.
When To Use Static Stretches?
Static stretches are best used after physical activity, such as swimming. This helps to reduce muscle tension and soreness while increasing flexibility and preventing injuries.
By stretching muscles in a relaxed position for an extended period, static stretching allows the body to relax and recover from the strain it has been under during exercise.
To see examples of static stretches, check out the Hospital for Special Surgery website here.
What Are The Benefits Of Stretching?
Stretching offers numerous benefits, both physical and mental including,
1. Improved Flexibility
Improved Flexibility is one of the most notable benefits of stretching. Stretching helps the body to increase its range of motion, allowing for greater freedom and fluidity of movement.
2. Reduced Risk Of Injury
Stretching helps to increase the range of motion in joints, muscles, and tendons. This improves the body’s ability to move safely and effectively, reducing the risk of injuries from over-exertion or overextension.
By increasing flexibility and range of motion, stretching can help reduce the chances of sprains and strains that are caused by tight muscles and joints.
3. Improved Posture
Stretching can help improve posture by increasing flexibility in the back and shoulder muscles, which in turn, can correct misalignments of the spine and shoulders. Good posture is important for reducing strain on vulnerable areas such as the neck, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles.
4. Improved Circulation
Stretching can help increase blood flow throughout the body, improving circulation. This helps to deliver more oxygen and nutrients to muscles and other tissues, allowing them to be repaired and strengthened faster.
Improved circulation also helps reduce fatigue, allowing you to perform activities for longer periods of time without getting tired.
To learn more detail about the benefits of stretching, The Mayo Clinic has a great article on this topic which you can find here.
How Long Should I Warm Up Before Swimming?
It is important to warm up before swimming, as it helps prepare your body for the physical demands of the exercise.
For light physical activity, generally, a good warm-up should last around 10 minutes, according to the NHS. [source]
For the best results, start slowly and then pick up the pace. [source]
Athletes typically use dynamic stretches for pre-swim warm-ups, which involve gentle motion.
To start, begin with some light aerobic exercises such as water jogging or walking in place. This will help to increase your heart rate and gradually raise your body temperature.
If you are stretching or warming up in the water, the water will cool your body, therefore it is important to keep warm and maintain your body temperature. [source]
Next, you should perform some dynamic stretches and movements to help loosen up your muscles and joints. Focus on the primary muscle groups used in swimming, such as your shoulders, arms, back and legs. This can include arm circles, leg swings or shoulder rolls, etc.
Finally, end with a few light laps of the pool. This will help your body become accustomed to the temperature of the water and give you a chance to practice your swimming technique.
Remember, by warming up properly before swimming, you are more likely to have a better and safer experience in the pool.
What Are The Best Stretches To Do Before Swimming?
The best stretches to do before swimming include dynamic stretches that help to increase flexibility and range of motion in the muscles, joints, and tendons.
Examples of dynamic stretches include arm circles, leg swings, torso twists, shoulder rolls, and lateral side bends. These exercises help to prepare the body for the physical demands of swimming by loosening up the muscles and improving your range of motion.
It is also important to focus on the primary muscle groups used in swimming, such as your shoulders, arms, back and legs. By doing so, you will maximize the benefit of stretching before swimming and reduce the risk of injury.
Here is a great video which demonstrates some of the best stretches to do before swimming:
Swimming is a great form of exercise, but it’s important to prepare the body for the activity.
Stretching and warming up before swimming helps to increase flexibility and range of motion, reducing the risk of injuries caused by over-exertion or overextension while swimming.
It is important to warm up for around 10 minutes before you swim with some light aerobic exercises and dynamic stretching, focusing on the primary muscle groups used in swimming.
By doing so, you will maximise the benefit of stretching before swimming and ensure a safe and enjoyable experience in the pool.
10 minutes spent warming up before each swim will help you swim better, and for longer.