Lifestyle factors in swimming technique problems

There are times when technique training won’t bear fruit.

Control of the pelvic girdle for efficient kick technique is a common region for inefficiency due to tightness, weakness, or a motor patterning issue around the pelvis.

It is worth noting that a persons walking gait pattern and work environment may be maintaining what looks to be an intractable issue. A common presentation is someone with super tight calves. This doesn’t affect their swimming directly, but during the day, the tight calves send the signal to the gluteal muscles they aren’t needed to extend the hip. From there they don’t work in the pool.

Or the desk worker using a forward head posture all day. In the pool this means to keep the head out of the water, the legs need to drop under the water, ruining the hip action and creating significant drag in the water.

Osteopathic treatment can sometimes very quickly decrease these factors by creating a more streamlined posture.

Othertimes some simple initiation exercises after a work-day or before the pool session unlocks access to that technique you consciously know about, but aren’t using.

Possibly the most common example of this is the dedicated, technique aware swimmer with rotator-cuff troubles they can’t shake. Chronic upper thoracic extension restriction and neck muscle shortening in many cases cannot be stretched out in a few minutes. Treatment and sports specific exercises can make faster progress.

There are sports specific swimmer range of motion measurements and tests that establish the presence of absolute movement restrictions likely to lead to injury and loss of performance, and I have these in clinic for just these occasions.

Swimming efficiency and neck range of motion

The pattern of cervical muscle use drives spinal alignment and shoulder girdle alignment in swimmers for similar reasons that it can distort upright posture.

Neck muscle misuse can be due to tissue shortening or weakening, generally both.

The scalene muscles of the neck are involved in higher intensity exercise to increase lung capacity but also deviate the neck from optimal if other muscles do not counterbalance their effects.

Excess scalene activity is very common. In the freestyle stroke it leads to counterproductive sinking into the water, reduced freedome of neck rotation and naturally increases drag effects. It also tends to interfere with optimal scapula positioning.

Both the endurance and strength of the deep neck flexors is an important counterbalance to scalene muscle activity. If you’re tending to sink into the water as a session progresses, these muscles or the hip extensor muscles may need work on their length, strength or endurance.