Mobility is the key to swimming fast
Swimming well is a combination of good mobility, strength, technique and fitness. Most triathletes focus on fitness first, then try to address their technique and, in the process, neglect strength and mobility. This is a mistake as inadequate mobility makes strength, fitness and technique impossible to achieve.
Performing swim drills requires mobility to access the new motor pattern. Similarly, tight muscles work as inefficiently as weak muscles, so strength work to dial in new patterns is ineffective if you aren’t flexible enough. Some athletes try to use strength work to prevent injury when it’s actually mobility (preventing proper technique) that is the root cause of the injury. Finally, most triathletes who struggle with swimming have poor technique, but are very fit, so training harder, with an inefficient stroke, is not productive. All of these factors point to mobility as the foundation of a better swim split.
One reason children pick up swimming more easily than adults is because they have more flexible joints and muscles – basically they have a greater range of motion. Creating new motor patterns to adopt a better swim stroke is impossible if the body can’t get into the right position. Adults who have spent years hunched over a computer have a difficult time activating the correct muscles for a good swim catch. This means the body, which is great at compensating if the correct muscles are not available, uses less effective muscles to try and adopt the new technique. The good news is that persistent work on fundamental mobility can help you improve significantly.
Even elite swimmers continually work on mobility. Elite swim programs in Victoria follow a dryland routine of 10 minutes of mobility, 10 minutes of strength and 10 minutes of dryland warm-up before every practice. This work is on top of any strength and mobility training that occurs regularly as an additional session. Considering that flexible swimmers are always working on their range of motion, triathletes struggling to achieve even minimum mobility should include these sessions.
The following are some ideas on mobility and strength exercises for swimming. These exercises focus on the thoracic spine, shoulders and pectoral muscles. These are a good place to start, but exercises for the hips, lower back and ankles are also important. With persistent practice, tight and inflexible athletes can improve their range of motion and access a good catch and effective pull, the keys to swimming well in open water.