Five Benefits of Mobility Training for Swimmers and Six Mobility Movements to Add to Your Fitness Routine

man swimming in pool with swimcap and goggles

Unless you’re one of the lucky few to have won the ever-elusive lottery, you probably have to work for a living. To add insult to injury, most modern office jobs require you to remain in a relatively stationary position for most of the day, which is great for when you need to focus on your work and be productive. However, if you’re a workout enthusiast, the modern office job is simply not healthy for your muscles or joints. Here’s the real kick in the pants: Even if you work out almost every day, being stuck in an inactive, sedentary position for hours at a time could be working against your fitness program, especially if you’re a swimmer.

Whether it’s splashing in a pool during the dog days of summer, competing on a nationally ranked team or playing with friends at a local lake, swimming is an activity that many of us learned as a kid. From well-defined muscles to a stronger heart and more efficient lungs, swimming provides so many health benefits that many people maintain it as a lifelong activity. Here’s a cool little fact about the human body: The more muscles involved in any particular activity, the more calories will be burned while performing that activity. Because it requires propelling the body through the resistance of water, swimming is an excellent form of movement that uses numerous muscles at one time, making it very effective for both improving muscular strength and burning calories.

However, there is a downside to swimming: The majority of the physical work to move through the water comes from the mobile joints of the shoulders, thoracic spine and hips. If any of the muscles that control those joints experience tightness, then it could affect the ability of the body to move unencumbered through the water. One thing about working at a desk job is that it could change your posture, which could subsequently affect your ability to enjoy your favorite activities, especially swimming.

Five fast facts about mobility training

Here are five things you should know about mobility training for swimmers along with a few mobility movements that could help improve your overall performance in the water.

Flexibility vs. mobility

Extensibility is the ability of muscle tissue to lengthen and shorten without restriction. Flexibility is the ability of a joint to move unimpeded through a complete range of motion. Mobility is a combination of the two and refers to the ability to control movement through the complete range of motion allowed by a joint.

Sitting shortens muscles

If held in the same position for an extended period, a muscle could shorten and lose its ability to lengthen. If a muscle does become tight, then it could change the position and motion of the joints that muscle crosses. When using a computer while seated at a desk, there is a natural tendency to slouch forward, which causes the muscles around the hips, thoracic spine (upper back, by the shoulder blades) and shoulders to shorten, which could, in turn, have the following consequences:

Movement in multiple directions

Most joints and muscles allow motion in multiple directions. However, if a muscle becomes too tight from being held in a shortened position for an extended period of time, it will restrict the direction a joint can move, which then could be a cause of injury.

Mobility as a warm-up

Mobility movements are relatively low intensity and can be used as a specific warm-up before a swimming workout, or they can be performed on an almost daily basis to help ensure optimal muscle length and joint motion.

Overcome sitting with mobility

Yes, being stuck at a desk while toiling away at your job may work against a favorite activity like swimming. However, the great news is that there are certain mobility movements that can help overcome the effects of being in a seated position for an extended period of time. Specific exercises for the hips, upper back and shoulders can undo the effects of being stuck in a sedentary position while also improving the overall function and performance of these muscles.

Mobility movements for swimmers

Offset Quadruped Rocking
Start in a quadruped position with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Move your right hand and right knee forward just a few inches so your hands and knees are not aligned. Keep your spine long while slowly rocking forward and back at a steady pace for 45 to 60 seconds, then switch so your left hand and left knee are forward and repeat for the same amount of time.

45 to 60 seconds

(each hand/knee forward)

2 to 4
Supine Hip Circles

Lie flat on your back with your right hand on your right knee and your left hand on your left knee. Circle both knees by pulling them up to your chest, then pull your right knee out to your right side while pulling your left knee out to the left side—both knees moving away from the midline of your body. Perform eight to 12 circles in this direction, then change directions from the outside of your body toward the midline and down away from your torso.

Hold your right knee stable, and with your left hand on your left knee, circle your hip eight to 12 reps in each direction—both clockwise and counterclockwise, then switch hips—hold your left hand on your left knee and circle your right hip for eight to 12 reps in each direction.

8 to 12 circles

(each direction)

Quadruped Rotation
Start in a quadruped position with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Place your right hand on the back of your head. Keep your spine straight as you slowly lower your right elbow toward your left wrist. Press your left hand into the ground as you pull back on your right shoulder to rotate your right elbow upward toward the ceiling. (This increases the stretch in your chest.) Do eight to 12 reps with your right shoulder, then switch to your right hand on the ground and your left hand behind your head.

8 to 12

(each arm)

Kneeling Offset Hip Stretch
Keep your left knee directly under your left hip, turn your right leg so that it is 90 degrees relative to the front of your body. (If your left hip is at 12 o’clock, your right knee should be pointing toward 3 o’clock.) Press your left knee into the ground as you lean your weight into your right leg. (Think about trying to create distance between both knees.) Hold the end range of motion and rotate your trunk to your left as you extend both arms straight in front of your body. Repeat for eight to 12 reps, rotating to your left before switching legs and repeating to the right side.

8 to 12

(each hip)

Spider-Person Stretch
Start in a high-plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders and your feet in line with your hips. Bring your right knee forward to the outside of your right elbow while pushing back through your left heel to straighten your left leg. (This helps increase the stretch in your right hip.) Pause three to four seconds, then place your right foot back to the starting position. Bring your left knee to the outside of your left elbow, pause three to four seconds, then bring your left foot back to the start position. Keep your spine straight by bracing your core muscles and pressing your hands into the floor while slowly moving each leg forward and back for six to 10 reps each.

6 to 10

(each leg)

Standing Thoracic Spine Mobility

(type 1 thoracic rotation)

Stand tall with your spine fully extended and your feet shoulder-width apart while keeping your knees slightly bent. With your right arm, reach across the front of your body to the left so that your torso rotates to the left. While your right arm is reaching across the front of your body, use your left arm to reach overhead toward the right side of your body so that your shoulders dip slightly to the right. The end result should be that your upper body leans to the right while rotating to your left. Repeat for 10 to 12 reps before switching arms and directions.

10 to 12

(each side)

The good news is that these mobility movements can help you improve the ability to move your body through multiple directions, which is an important foundation for any type of workout program that you may start following. However, if you want to become a better swimmer, you’re going to have to actually get in the water and do the laps. Yes, that’s going to be a lot of work, and no, it isn’t going to be easy, but nothing worth having is, and achieving your best possible level of fitness is definitely worth the effort, isn’t it?

Photo credit: Halfpoint. Getty Images