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Swimming for Fitness & When Not to Stretch

Swimming for Fitness & When Not to Stretch

Swimming is one of the best workouts there is!  It works your entire body including your legs, core, back, chest, and arms.  It even helps with cardiovascular fitness!

Swimming is amazing for anyone at any age.  It’s particularly noted for older adults with joint issues because swimming is easy on the joints as there’s no impact involved.  It is important to note, as it is with any sport, that overuse of anything in the body can cause inflammation.  One of the most common injuries we see in swimming is tendonitis of the shoulders.

I personally have had this and it is not fun.  I was told I had severe tendonitis in my shoulders.  Doing my hair in the morning was a real struggle during my swimming and water polo days.

While relatively uncommon, and usually only seen in those categorized as “athlete,” “competitive athlete,” or “competition swimmer,” the most impactful treatment for tendonitis is rest.  Anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, ginger tea, ginger tinctures, lemon tea, healthy and mindful eating, lots of water, and other herbal remedies can be quite helpful in reducing inflammation.

Swimming can also help with blood sugar control.  Yep!  It’s exercise and therefore assists in maintaining a healthy level of blood sugar.  It also increases muscle mass which helps maintain blood sugar outside of exercising bouts.  Double win!

So, where’s a good place to start?  I’d recommend taking to the water for at least 45 minutes and see how many meters you can swim.  One standard length of a pool is 25 meters, down and back is 50 meters, etc.  Once you have a good idea of how far you can swim in 45 meters, you can figure out which swimming level you’re at and adjust swim workouts to your meter quota for the day.

In my Swimming for Fitness class I have those who compete in competitions down to those who can’t even make it a full length of the pool, so planning workouts can be difficult.  For this week, we’re working mostly on stroke and breathing, so an easier workout was planned.  Those who are competitive swimmers adjusted the workout to include IM’s and upped the quota on meters.

Also, before we jump into the workout metrics, it’s important to always remember that the older we become the longer warm up and cool down we need.  Cardiac arrest most frequently occurs during the cool down stage.  Usually, this is because the person doesn’t allow enough time for the body to slow down enough (a.k.a. doesn’t do a long enough cool down) and the heart can’t handle what’s going on.

During a warm up no one should ever static stretch.  It has been shown by countless researchers that static stretching decreases power and increases risk of injury.

In a very brief explanation, the smallest contractile unit of muscle is the sarcomere.  The sarcomere is comprised of thick and thin filaments, which are then comprised of primarily actin and myosin.  When we go to contract our muscle, actin and myosin bind together and pull on one another creating what is called the Power Stroke.  The Power Stroke is what allows us to contract our muscles.  MIT has more information on the logistics of muscles.

For myosin and actin to bind in the most effective way, there needs to be optimal overlap of thick and thin filaments in the sarcomere.  Muscles that are too tight (someone who never stretches… ever… and has the worst flexibility possible) don’t allow for optimal overlap as the thick and thin filaments would be too close together.  On the other hand, muscles that are stretched “too far” (someone who stretches before exercising) don’t allow for optimal overlap either as the actin and myosin can’t bind properly and are often pulled so far apart that there is very little length of the sarcomere able to properly contract.  This is what leads to injury.

“Dynamic stretching” is a fancy term for loosening up muscles and getting blood to the areas that you’re going to be using.  It often feels nice to lengthen our muscles before exercising because we’re not at an optimal length for contraction.  So whether you want to “dynamically stretch” or do some other kind of warm up, you’ll be fine as long as you have sufficient blood flow to the muscles that are going to be used and don’t static stretch.

Static stretching after a workout has actually not been proven to increase muscle health.  However, it does help to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and can increase range of motion (ROM).  By stretching our muscles after physical activity, we’re lengthening the sarcomere past it’s optimal overlap and we actually put a bit of strain on our tendons.  This signals the body to repair the muscle, lengthen it (because we put it in a position where it wasn’t long enough to do what we wanted), and to rearrange the sarcomeres into an optimal overlap position.  When the body is able to improve it’s flexibility, we increase our ROM.

Now, on to the workout!

Tuesday’s workout:

Warm up:

2 x 100m free, 100m back



2 x 50m free, 50m breast, 50m kick


Workout: 1350m

5 x 100m free

2 x 100m kick

5 x 100m breast

3 x 50m kick


Cool down:

200m moderate any stroke

100 m easy any stroke


I’m having trouble with a few of my students who only know how to breast stroke, and their breast stroke isn’t proper either.  They are wanting to learn how to freestyle stroke.  However, instead of kicking straight up and down, their legs move in circles… sort of in a combination of freestyle kick and breast stroke kick.

I’ve taught several people young and old proper swim technique, but never anyone who has learned breast stroke first… I’m running out of ideas for how to teach them to kick straight.  If you have any ideas, shoot them my way!  I’d love to hear from you.  You can contact me through our Contact Us page, through email at thelewiscorner@gmail.com, or by commenting below.


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