Swim faster with longer strokes

Swim Goggles Maintenance
Swim Goggles Maintenance

In the 1990s, a heated debate arose in sports science regarding the right and wrong approaches to stretching. The supporters of active stretching, which involves swinging stretching exercises, and the supporters of static stretching formed two opposing camps.

There is a consensus that flexible muscles offer significant advantages in swimming. Whether it’s conserving energy with every movement or achieving higher performance with the same effort, such as through improved stroke length, the time saved can be immense. Muscles that are shortened always limit movement, which is why flexibility training should be part of your training regimen.

The connection between stretching methods becomes clear when analyzing sporting movements. For example, try throwing a ball as far as possible. You will notice that stretching the muscles in your shoulder area is necessary to achieve a powerful throw. The greater the range of motion you have in your throwing arm, the higher the momentum, resulting in the ball traveling a greater distance.

Now let’s return to the theories of correct stretching. In the 1980s, experts viewed rocking movements derived from gymnastics as potentially causing injuries. It was also discovered that when a muscle is suddenly overstretched, such as through rocking movements, its protective mechanism is activated, causing the muscle to immediately contract. From this perspective, dynamic stretching seemed counterproductive.

A new idea emerged: static stretching. Studies by Sven-A. Sölveborn (1983) and Karl-Peter Knebel (1985) revealed that this form of stretching, involving slow, gentle, or even static stretching exercises, eliminates the protective mechanism in the muscle during the final stretching position. This type of stretching led to a significant decrease in muscle tension through neuronal mechanisms, promoting relaxation. The concept of stretching seemed to have achieved its goal, rendering dynamic and swinging stretching as outdated.

However, after years of research, Klaus Wiemann (1991) and Georg Wydra (1997) clarified that neither method of stretching is superior to the other. Each method serves a specific and useful purpose. Stretched and flexible muscles are more efficient, but reducing muscle tension (muscle tone) before a competition tends to hinder performance. Stretching, therefore, may have a negative impact on performance if the muscle relaxes too much. Dynamic stretching, particularly when performed with short contractions imitating competitive movements, prepares the muscle for optimal performance.

Consequently, before engaging in any sporting activity, it is more important to prepare the muscles by performing dynamic movements that stretch and activate them. During warm-up before a competition, it is recommended to perform light, swinging movements to increase blood flow and raise the temperature in the muscles and joints, priming your body for action. Andreas Klee (1999) demonstrated that a few stretching movements are sufficient to increase the range of motion by 8-15 percent, which is crucial for achieving a relaxed above-water phase and executing expansive movements.

However, caution should be exercised after intense exertion. Static stretching in held positions is particularly beneficial during the post-exercise phase. Long-term studies conducted by Geoffrey Goldspink in the 1990s revealed that regular static stretching leads to structural length changes in the muscles. New protein bridges are even formed, resulting in measurable lengthening. Over time, this can lead to an improvement in swimming stroke length.

Nevertheless, it is not advisable to immediately start stretching after exercise. It is important to allow some time to pass, especially after intense exertion involving high levels of muscular effort. In such cases, when a maximum number of muscle fibers are recruited and numerous bridges are formed within the muscle, metabolic end products (e.g., lactate) accumulate. Therefore, it is recommended to first engage in a gentle warm-up activity like walking or swimming, or even take regenerative measures like baths or sauna sessions, before performing stretching exercises.

When utilized correctly, both methods of stretching have their place in athletic training.

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Peter Parker
Hey there, swimmers! I'm Peter Parker, your go-to guy for all things swimming. With a lifelong love for the water, I'm here to share my passion and expertise with you. Whether it's gliding through pools or conquering open waters, I'm all about diving in headfirst and making a splash. Join me on my blog as we explore the beauty, challenges, and joys of swimming together. From beginner tips to advanced techniques, let's dive deep and make every stroke count. Together, let's embrace the aquatic adventure and become the best swimmers we can be!


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