How To: Do Simple Stretching for Swimming

Swimmers train a lot. A lot of time is spent in the water. One consequence is tight muscles. Another problem for some is insufficient flexibility for swimming, like ankles and legs.

Apart from the essentials of regular massage, and probably direct icing, stretching becomes necessary if not essential. Each of us will probably have some problem that is particular to us, and we all also have common problems.

This is not about Warm-Up stretching, which is a different subject.

My favourite (i.e. only) stretching book is Michael J. Alter’s Sport Stretch. The book includes over 300 stretches and separates them both by body part, and by sport, so you can cross reference. Within each sport he then gives the best exercises for each requirement, making cross referencing very easy, including stretches for swimming.

The stretches themselves are simple line drawings, which is good, because it simplifies everything.

The areas I have to concentrate on are:

  • Neck
  • Lower back (not a swimming issue)
  • Shoulders
  • Arms

Neck stretches are pretty simple.

First are neck rolls which just mean rolling the head around through a full circle, both clockwise and anti-clockwise, working on range of motion, (ROM), simple but effective.

Along with those, because I occasionally get neck ROM problems, I’ll also just turn my head as far as I can to left and right and hold it for 20 to 12 seconds. You can also use your hands to put (constant, not sudden) pressure on your head to turn, but never hold a stretch if you feel pain and stretching should only be done to UNINJURED muscles (unless advised otherwise by a professional).

For lower back issues, I use a simple a Seal Stretch

or a Seal Press which is similar but the arms are used to gently raise the upper body.

For shoulders:

The parallel Shoulder arm stretch is very popular with swimmers for working the Deltoids;

The towel stretch is very good but I can’t find a video for it: Hold a pole, rope or towel stretched behind your back, parallel to the ground, with your thumbs facing out and your palm facing forward. Then slowly raise your arms over your head and return.

Another favourite is simple with one arm by my side, to press the palm of the other into a wall or door frame and lean into it, which works the pectoral muscles.





There is also external shoulder rotation, an overlooked area for swimmers.

One of my favourite stretches is the wrist, arm and shoulder stretch, below.



This is by no means a comprehensive guide, just my favourite stretches, when I remember to do them…  In fact below is a 10 minutes swimmer’s stretching routine in one video. Here’s a nice downloadable PDF of swimmer’s stretches.

You need to find what works for you, and what your issues that need addressing are.

3 thoughts on “How To: Do Simple Stretching for Swimming

  1. Nice new header image!

    You sort of allude to this, but it’s important to note that many of these stretches (the “static” ones, as opposed to the “dynamic” ones) should actually be *avoided* as a warm-up to a workout or competition. These guidelines have changed substantially in just the last few years.

    I trained with a Div 1 college team in Chicago, and they did literally zero stretching before practice. Their approach seemed to be: slow swimming is the best warmup for fast swimming.


    • You’re absolutely correct Evan, maybe I should have been more explicit, but I didn’t want to go down a side alley. the new research is indeed pretty incontrovertible, slow warmup swimming is best with no prior stretching, though some research I think seems to show that it is ok to stretch after warmup, before main set (not that I have any plan to do that). And stretching after swimming is more beneficial.

      Glad you like the new header, I only took it last week.


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