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From drowned rat to mermaid: swimming technique

Swimming is incredible for the body and mind…. if it is done properly. Do it wrong and you will feel at best like a drowning rat and at worst injured.

I love this description from the wonderful coaches at Immerse:

experiencing your whole body as a powerful machine as you slice through the water. You can feel your muscles working, your heart beating, your breath connected to your stroke, your body connected to the water, There is a rhythm to it all. Your swimming is strong and smooth, silent and still. Your whole body and being feels alive. Its an amazing feeling.’

So what are my seven top physio tips on optimizing your swimming experience…

1) Have a few sessions with Immerse. No I don’t work on commission. They are just truly excellent people providing an exceptional service. I have had tonnes of my physio patients of all levels raving about them. Plus they enabled me to transition from flailing around gasping for air to feeling like a mermaid in the water, even when I was 9 months pregnant. At the other end of the spectrum, they enabled my husband to half his triathlon swim time, and he reckoned he was pretty good at swimming even before he met them (imagine how smug he is now!)

​2) Rotate to breathe. Rotate from your neck, your upper back and your hips. If you don’t rotate you will need to bend your neck backwards and this causes increased resistance in the water and is a sure way of getting sore neck and shoulders. Get some physiotherapy or osteopathy if you can’t rotate!

3) Don’t over reach with your arms. This has been shown to cause shoulder damage so is a sure path to the physio room. If you absolutely have to do it then prioritise and only do it when you are competing or trying to smash a PB.

4) Contract your pelvic floor muscles and maintain pelvic neutral. Get your physio to teach you what these things are and apply them in the pool. This will boost your performance and prevent back pain.

5) Don’t move your hand across the midline or rotate your arm inwards as you. This will help to avoid shoulder impingement.

6) Keep your hand relaxed and fingers slightly open to increase the size of your paddle.

7) Strengthen your glut muscles (your buttocks) they will help to power you through the water.

Hope you have found this useful, let me know if you would like any other physio advice on swimming biomechanics, training, shoulder injuries, back pain, neck injuries or anything else in this post.


Lucy Macdonald
Chartered Physiotherapist

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