Olympic gold medalists Natalie Coughlin, Misty Hyman, and Jenny Thompson cite their Pilates practice as a major contributor to improved and injury-free performance in the pool.
However, you don’t have to train at an Olympic level to reap the benefits of a Pilates practice in the water. Whether you swim once a week or twice daily, frequent Pilates practice will help you work with the water – not against it – for a faster, safer and more efficient swim.
Most swim-specific and adjunctive weight training programs focus on strengthening the larger superficial muscles. The smaller, deeper stabilizer muscles, of equal or greater importance to balanced movement, are not addressed, leaving an athlete prone to injury. Supraspinatus tendinopathy (tendon degeneration), shoulder joint instability and labral (cartilage) tears are among the most common injuries to non-competitive and elite swimmers alike. Studies have shown nearly 50% of elite and 30% of recreational swimmers experience at least one of these issues.
Body alignment, symmetrical/balanced strength, mobility, coordination of movement with breath, and mind-body connection, are of paramount importance to a strong and injury-free swim. (Do any of these ring a bell?) For example, inadequate abdominal strength may lead to a swimmer’s hips dropping in the water. In addition, this creates drag, requiring more effort for propulsion, posing a greater risk of shoulder, neck, and back strain.
If you’re reading this article, it’s likely you’re well aware of the focus on alignment, safe range of motion, breathwork, and stability (think “magnets” and “bolts”) in a Fletcher Pilates ® practice. These foundational concepts are applied to each movement on every apparatus and in each of our group classes offered at Body Works Pilates.
In particular, to improve a swimmer’s performance, physical well-being and shoulder joint health, the Pilates Matwork is incredibly beneficial. The 100’s, Roll-ups and Ab Series strengthen the deep core, while front, side and back planks fine-tune the stabilizers throughout shoulders and torso. Pelvic Press, “Swimming”, Swan and Rocking strengthen the back line and spinal extensors.
Balanced shoulder stability and mobility may also be achieved through precise Fletcher Towelwork®, as well as on the Spine Corrector and the Ped-i-Pul – and with the Cadillac push-through bar – to name a few. The Fletcher Breath technique, incorporated in every movement, expands lung capacity and helps create a solid connection between rhythm and motion – key components of each swim stroke.
If a swimmer’s mind wanders, the stroke rhythm may falter and they run the risk of crossing a lane line or botching a flip turn. The intense concentration and focus in Fletcher Pilates on drawing movement from the center of the body, and moving along the midline, reinforces and refines the mind-body connection required while swimming.
If you are interested in working on your freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke or butterfly, schedule a private session with one of our wonderful team of Pilates Teachers or try out one of our many Matwork Classes offered throughout the week.
Dive into Pilates to keep from “floundering” in the pool this summer!