Mar 122011

If your pre-race prep consists of leaning over and reaching for your toes, think again. Performing static stretches, which involves lengthening any muscle and holding it, can actually slow your swim.

Research shows that performing static stretches before a workout or sporting event decreases eccentric strength and the rate of force production in the muscles. In a nut shell, your muscles won’t react as quickly or efficiently and optimal performance will be inhibited. However, mobilizing the muscles and joints before a race can be very beneficial. Not only can that improve performance, but it can reduce the potential for injury.

You can warm-up major muscle groups doing dynamic stretches involving movement patterns. Dynamic stretches differ from the “ballistic” stretches that ruled in the 80s, which basically involved bouncing a stretch that should have been static (such as reaching for your toes and then continually bouncing to see if your hand will eventually touch the ground).

Bouncing a stretch near its elastic limit can tear tissues. Dynamic stretches, on the other hand, increase body core temperature and improve range of motion. Some examples include lunging side to side, marching with high knees, pulling the heels to the hips and other similar movement patterns that move muscles and joints enough to stretch them and improve their range-of-motion. When you do dynamic stretches, always move in a smooth and fluid manner and avoid moving muscles beyond what you perceive as a comfortable range.

When choosing which dynamic stretches to do pre-race or -workout, it is prudent to think about which muscles and joints will be activated most during your swim. Breaststrokers, for example, will want to prep all muscles in the legs and hips and also perform range-of-motion activities for hips and ankles. All swimmers should perform some complex shoulder movements before their swims (think about doing movements that mimic weight training activities such as internal and external rotation for rotator cuff, chest flies, lateral raises, etc).

Racing or training with well-prepared muscles is always safer than forging forth with ones that are inadequately or inappropriately warmed up. So save the toe-touching for after the race and go for pectoral flies before you step up on the blocks.

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