Getting back into swimming after a break, what are the benefits – good stretches to do

By Daria Reeve

Are you new to swimming or looking to get back into it?

Benefits of Swimming

Swimming is a fun and social activity, but did you also know swimming is a great low-impact form of exercise which means that it can be ideal for injury rehabilitation, particularly for injuries that are aggravated by impact? Low impact means that there is less strain on your body’s muscles and joints allowing you to move with greater ease than you would on land. The reason this is possible is because gravity is eliminated when in the water due to its level of buoyancy. The further we put our body underwater, the less impact is felt by the body. While aqua therapy is great for rehabilitation needs it is also a great way to change up your training routine and try a new form of exercise which can help to increase your strength and cardiovascular fitness due to the water’s increased resistance. It is the perfect environment for completing strength-based exercises in a safe and controlled environment, without the fear of falling, losing your balance or dropping weights.

There are many health concerns that may benefit from aqua therapy including:

  • Muscle strains
  • Shin splints
  • Patellofemoral pain
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Back pain
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Tendinopathies

The importance of dynamic and static stretching:

Just like most other forms of exercise, it is important to complete an adequate warm-up and cool-down to optimise your recovery and minimise your risk of injury. Prior to exercise it is best to perform a dynamic warm-up focused on preparing the muscles for the session ahead. A dynamic warm-up will involve gently moving the muscle through a range of movement that is beyond its normal length with the aid of momentum. This will help to increase blood flow throughout the body and activate our nervous system which are two key factors to consider for injury prevention.

Below are 5 exercises to complete as part of your dynamic warm-up. Each exercise should be completed 10 times. The arm circles and leg swings will be completed 10 times in each direction.

  1. Arm circles – stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Raise and extend your arms to the sides without bending the elbows. Slowly rotate your arms forward, making small circles gradually increasing to wider circles. Next change direction and repeat.
  2. Leg swings – start by standing on one leg and swing the other leg forward and back. Start small and progress into larger swings as tolerated. Next, complete on the other side.
  3. Air squats – keep your feet shoulder-width apart and pointed slightly outward. Place your arms across your chest, brace your abdomen and bend your knees to squat down as if you were to sit in a chair. Keep your weight evenly distributed through your feet and push through the feet back into a standing position.
  4. Wall push-ups – standing arm length away from the wall, place your hands on the wall at shoulder height, slightly wider than your shoulders. Take a step backward with both feet and rotate your shoulders outward to engage your lats. Squeeze your glutes together, brace your abdomen and bend your arms drawing your chest toward the wall. Push through your hands to straighten your arms, back to the starting position.
  5. Calf raises – start with your feet flat on the ground. Rise up onto the balls of your feet, slowly and controlled lower back down to the start position. Always hold onto a rail or complete near a wall to avoid loss of balance.

 A cool-down is an important aspect to complete at the end of your session that is quite often overlooked. A stretching routine will reduce the risk of muscle injury and will aid your recovery which is essential for high performance in future sessions.

A cool-down should mostly consist of static stretches which will involve stretching the muscle to the point of mild discomfort and holding it for a length of time, usually ranging between 15-30 seconds with a total stretching time of 60-90 seconds for each muscle group.  

Below are 5 static stretches to complete. Each stretch should be held for 15-30 seconds and completed 2 to 4 times.

  1. Elbow pull tricep stretch – bring your left elbow straight up while bending your arm. Grab your left elbow with your right hand and pull your left elbow toward your head with light pressure.
  2. Wall press chest stretch – with the side of your body facing the face place the palm of your left hand on the wall and slowly rotate your torso to the right until you feel a stretch in your chest and left shoulder.
  3. Figure 4 Stretch – lie on your back with your feet on the floor. Cross your right ankle over your left knee and then reach through your bent knee and draw it toward your chest. You should feel the stretch in your buttocks. Hold this stretch and repeat.
  4. Child pose – kneel on the floor with your toes together and knees hip-width apart. Lean forward, keeping your buttocks on your heels, rest your belly between your thighs and rest your forehead on the floor.
  5. Butterfly Stretch – sit on the floor with the soles of your feet pressed together. Bring closer toward your body to intensify the stretch. Drive your knees down toward the floor, holding this position for the designated time.

 Now, we know there are so many benefits to aqua therapy not only for your aches and pains but your balance and the variety it adds to your exercise routine. With the right warm-up and cool-down, you can be confident entering the water.

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