Swimming Technique from a Chiropractic Perspective
Of all the different forms of exercise, swimming is a great for muscles and joints. However a good swimming technique is important. The purpose of this article is not turn an amateur swimmer into a professional. But rather improve important aspects of an amateur swimmers technique in an effort to avoid aggravating or causing injury.
With both arms and legs working symmetrically this stroke is balanced and is effective at working a range of muscles including your core abdominals (important muscles in the prevention of back pain!). Propulsion comes mainly from the legs.
The main focus of this stroke should be head position. You’re going to have to get the goggles on and the hair wet. The head should be below the surface of the water and lifted only enough to take a breath. Lifting the head to high or swimming with the head out of the water compresses the joints in the neck and lower back. According to Steven Shaw, creator of the Shaw method of swimming, "For every inch you lift your head, your hips will drop two inches,"
To avoid strain on the shoulders don’t pull the arms too wide, elbows should not come past the shoulders. Steven Shaw says ‘snapping’ the legs out and in too forcefully during the leg kick, leaves the knees vulnerable to injury. Turn your feet and knees out like a frog; push the legs back and then actively bringing them in together. The feet and legs should move symmetrically.
As with breast stroke, head position is important with freestyle. To avoid repetitive strain to one side of the neck and uneven muscle development, we would encourage bilateral breathing (every 3rd or 5th stroke). When you do take a breath, don’t lift your head or over rotate, again this will put strain on the neck and lower back.
Poor swimming technique is a common cause of shoulder problems with freestyle. Inadequate body rotation results in increased rotation of the shoulder, whilst good rotation utilises and strengthens core muscles. Avoid crossing the arms over the midline on entry to water and the hand should enter the water flat, both reducing stress on the shoulder joint.
Kicking in freestyle should come from the hip. Kicking from the knee risks ligament injuries.
The backstroke puts less stress on the back and neck compared to freestyle and breast stroke. However Olympic swimmer Karen Pickering advises to keep the neck relaxed and to be careful not to lift the head too high putting strain on the neck.
Similar to freestyle the body should be allowed to rotate, and allow the elbows to bend during the underwater phase to reduce strain on the shoulders.
We would recommend varying your strokes frequently during your swim. Avoid swimming too many consecutive lengths of the same stroke. Mix things up a bit. In view of maintaining good bone density, it is important to add some form of weight bearing exercise to your weekly regime.