Competitive swimming is primarily an aerobic exercise, involving long exercise time. Muscles must be constantly supplied with oxygen, with the exception of sprints where the muscles are worked anaerobically. Swimming, particularly in events where the stroke styles are varied between backstroke, front crawl (freestyle) and breast stroke, make use of all major muscle groups:
• Biceps and triceps
The basic muscles used for each stroke are: Freestyle; deltoids and legs muscles Breastroke; thighs, biceps, and gluteal muscles Butterfly; abdominals, deltoids and leg muscles Backstroke; Triceps and leg muscles. A single stroke, for example, the butterfly, requires the coordination of various muscles and muscle groups, including:
• Latissimus dorsi
• Posterior deltoids
• Rhomboid muscles
• Middle and lower trapezius
• External and internal obliques
• Transverse abdominis
• Rectus abdominis
Hand force applied to the water is actually generated by the rotation of the hips, rather than the muscles of the arm. Torque generated by the larger, stronger hip muscles, allows the swimmer’s powerful arm strokes to strike the water with a rapid turn of the hips. For this reason, elite swimmers focusing on increasing the acceleration of their hips are able to double their peak hand force output.
Most Common Swimming Injuries
• Drowning can result from the inhalation of water, particularly if natural bodies of water swamp or otherwise overwhelm the swimmer
• Exhaustion or unconsciousness may result, especially in open bodies of water
• Swimmers may become incapacitated through shallow water blackout, due to heart attack, carotid sinus syncope (transient loss of consciousness) or stroke
• Secondary drowning can occur should salt water be inhaled, creating a foam in the lungs that restricts breathing, (a condition known as Salt Water Aspiration Syndrome, or SWAS)
• Thermal shock can result from jumping into icy water, which may cause the heart to stop
• An abnormal growth (or exotosis) in the ear can result, due to frequent splashing of water into the ear canal. (Commonly known as Swimmers’ ear)
• Exposure to chemicals, especially chlorine can cause skin irritations while the swallowing of chlorine can adversely affect the lungs
• Chlorine in pools can also damage the hair over time, turning blonde hair greenish and stripping brown hair of its colour
• Various infections can result from swimming as water provides an excellent environment for a variety bacteria, parasites, fungi and viruses
• Skin infections from both swimming and shower rooms are common, particularly, athlete’s foot
• Parasites including cryptosporidium can produce diarrhoea illness should they be swallowed
• Ear infections of the otitis media (or otitis externa) are not uncommon
• Serious health issues may arise from improperly chlorinated pools. These include
illnesses such as chronic bronchitis and asthma
Overuse injuries may result, including back pain, vertebral fractures or shoulder pain, (particularly from excessive butterfly strokes over time). Breaststroke swimmers may develop knee or hip pain, while freestyle and backstroke swimmers risk shoulder pain, (known as swimmer’s shoulder - a form of tendonitis). Osteopathy is essential. Finally, dangers in natural waters place swimmers at risk for a range of accidents and injuries, which include:
• Hypothermia, due to cold water, which can lead to rapid exhaustion and eventual unconsciousness
• Dangerous aquatic life including Stingrays and jellyfish, stinging corals, sea urchins, zebra mussels, sharks, eels, etc.
Injury Prevention Strategies
• Always take time to warm up and stretch, as cold muscles are more prone to injury.
• Avoid swimming alone or in unsupervised areas.
• Properly pace swimming activity avoiding situations of exhaustion, overheating or excessive cold
• Never dive into shallow water, as serious risk exists for disabling neck and back injuries
• Extreme care should be taken in open water. Be certain the water is free of undercurrents, riptides and other hazards
• Avoid swimming in lakes or rivers following a storm, when severe currents may be present
• Use of alcohol should be strictly avoided before swimming, as judgment, orientation and thermal regulation are all impaired with alcohol consumption
• Dry the body thoroughly after swimming and remove excess water from the ear canal to avoid infection
• Attention to proper swimming technique as well as strength and agility training can help avoid common overuse injuries
• Swimmers should be at least minimally knowledgeable about first aid and be prepared to administer it in the case of minor injuries including facial cuts, bruises, minor tendonitis, strains, or sprains
Three Swimming Stretches
1. Reaching-up Shoulder Stretch: Place one hand behind your back and then reach up between your shoulder blades.
2. Arm-up Rotator Stretch: Stand with your arm out and your forearm pointing upwards at 90 degrees. Place a broom stick in your hand and behind your elbow. With your other hand pull the bottom of the broom stick forward.
3. Single Heel-drop Calf Stretch: Stand on a raised object or step. Put the ball of one foot on the edge of the step and keep your leg straight. Let your heel drop towards the ground.