Hello, Moves You family! Summer is in full swing and it is a hot one this year! This weather gives us the perfect conditions to enjoy lots of fun activities in the water such boating, jet skiing and swimming. However, a 2014 study by StatsCan found that swimming was one the most popular recreational activities in Canada. It provides amazing health benefits for people of all ages. It is a low-impact sport that allows us to engage in a full-body workout and challenges our cardiovascular system.
What may not be known is that although swimming is a very good sport to participate in, it can also result in various injuries when performed incorrectly. Poor stroke mechanics or decreased flexibility and strength can cause overuse injuries in the upper and lower body.
Keep reading to find out more about the benefits of swimming, common injuries, and prevention.
Benefits of swimming
Swimming has been called the perfect exercise. After all, you can get all the benefits of an aerobic workout without any extreme impact on the joints. Let’s dive into some of the benefits of swimming:
- Improves muscle definition and strength
Unlike other sports that are either lower or upper body dominant, swimmers utilize more muscle groups of the entire body to move through the water. While the legs kick, the arms pull. As the back reaches and rotates, the stomach tightens to power the legs and stabilize the core, making swimming one of the best aerobic exercises to give you a total body workout. Over time, swimmers gain muscle strength throughout the entire body without compromising their joint health.
- Helps you stay flexible
In order to reach, stretch, twist and pull your way through the water, swimming moves multiple joints and activates various muscles simultaneously. The amount of water resistance a swimmer experiences with every stroke can help increase the range of motion of their limbs. Your ankles become fins and are stretched with each kick as you push off against the water. This does not mean that you should not still stretch on your own, but repetitive stretching found in your various strokes also helps with flexibility.
- Lowers stress and depression
While many talk about a runner’s high, swimming can bring about all those feel-good emotions too. Swimming, like all exercise, releases endorphins in your brain. These are natural feel-good hormones that increase positivity and bring about a sense of wellbeing and happiness. In addition to the happy hormones, you can also feel a relaxation response similar to yoga. As mentioned above, swimming stretches your body constantly and this combined with the deep rhythmic breathing during every stroke, you can experience a relaxation rush that is quite unique to the sport.
- Improves heart health
Swimming is an aerobic exercise; it strengthens the heart by helping it to become more efficient in pumping blood throughout your body. 30 minutes of swimming a day could help reduce coronary heart disease as well as reduce blood pressure.
Common swimming injuries
Most swimming injuries are identified as overuse injuries and they usually arise from a combination of:
- Poor stroke mechanics
- Poor flexibility or range of motion of the neck or lower back
- Decreased muscular strength and stabilization of the rotator cuff
- Insufficient core strength/stability
- Decreased hip muscle strength
These are the culprits of the injuries we see in our clients. Our Therapists often treat “swimmer’s shoulder”, “swimmer’s knee”, hip joint and lower back inflammation.
Swimmer’s shoulder is the most common and often the most severe injury. As the arm is lifted overhead during swimming, impingement of the rotator cuff may occur. This is caused by the pressure that the shoulder blade places upon the rotator cuff. With repetitive swimming strokes the rotator cuff and surrounding muscles become weakened and subject to strain. This can result in painful inflammation of the bicep tendon as well as shoulder instability.
Swimmer’s knee is a common swimming injury that most frequently affects breaststroke swimmers. It is caused by the stress that is placed on the knee’s inner ligaments by the propulsive kicks of the legs that power breaststroke swimmers. As the legs extend during the breaststroke kick, the knee experiences unnatural external rotation, which strains the inner ligament.
Hip joint and low back problems are common injuries in swimmers as well. Poor kicking execution can lead to bursitis or tendonitis of the hip joint. Hip pain reduces the swimmer’s ability to fully extend their hip during activity, thus the pelvis tends to tilt and this over load the facet joints in the spine which then leads to pain in the lower back.
The best ways to prevent injuries are to warm up properly before swimming and to focus on strengthening and conditioning routines to physically prepare your muscles and joints.
Strength training should focus on:
- Rotator cuff muscles to improve stability of the shoulders
- Quadriceps (thigh muscles) and hip muscles to improve the kick, specifically for the breaststroke
- Core strengthening for better spine stability
In water your body is free from the constraints of gravity. The buoyancy in water helps to support your body, contributing to the feel of weightlessness. This makes swimming the ideal exercise for people who cannot participate with weight-bearing exercises. Remember to gradually build up the level of activity in order to prevent injuries.
The end of summer is just around the corner, so what are you waiting for? Get outside and see what your local swimming pool, river or oceanside has to offer.
As always stay safe, stay healthy and keep MOVING!