A Simple Stretch To Reduce Drag

Let's take a look at a simple hip-flexor stretch that could really help improve your swimming. Many swimmer's legs drag low in the water creating lots of drag, slowing them down dramatically:

A low body position is very characteristic of the Arnie swim type but can affect any swimmer to a greater or lesser extent. If you're much faster in a wetsuit or with a pull-buoy between your legs, then a low body position is likely to be the single biggest thing holding you back with your swimming.

Unfortunately there's no silver-bullet solution to improving your body position in the water, it requires an all-round approach developing all aspects of your stroke technique. However, if your hip flexor muscles are tight then this will make improving your body position very difficult and will hold you back significantly.

Your hip flexors are the muscle group at the front of your hip which contract to lift your leg upwards from a standing position. In water, if your hip flexors are short they will want to contract at the hip and so draw your legs forward and downward in the water:

To develop the length of your hip flexors, use a towel or some form of cushioning under your knee and position the other leg out in the front of you with that knee bent at around 90 degrees:

Hold your upper body tall and strong, and gently press the hips forwards. You should feel the stretch at the front of the hip and possibly down into your quads. Don't force it but hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds on each leg.

As with all stretches, makes sure you are properly warmed up before starting or you risk a muscular strain or tear. Don't rush the lengthening process, it will take many weeks and months of regular stretching to gradually lengthen out the hip flexors. Take a "little and often" approach here.

How do they get short in the first place? Modern desk jobs have us sitting for many hours with the hip flexors in a shortened position and cycling (especially on the tri-bars) works the hip flexors whilst in a shortened position. This is why triathletes are especially susceptible to this problem.

If you have low lying legs in the water then you'll really benefit from adding this simple but powerful stretch into your routine. If you have no other spare time then practise it in front of the TV in the evening when the kids are in bed!

Swim Smooth!


Anonymous said...

Excellent advice - such an important stretch particularly for adult swimmers - worth adding that if the hip flexors are short and tight then the extension (which may still happen to bring the swimmer legs to horizontal) may happen at the lumbar spine (increased lordosis) which often (posturaly) goes hand in hand with tightened/short hip flexors - over time leading to greater risk of low back dysfunction


Rudolf said...

That's an interesting blog entry, worth testing out.

I would have another issue i would love to read some more from you about, the back muscles in freestyle in all details, what their importance really is, how to optimize them vs. triceps muscles etc. etc.
(i am just starting to try and focus more on this rather than just on lower arms and hands pull etc., so i wonder if i actually go the right way or not).

P.S. I tried the "Subscribe to Post Comments (Atom) link - all i got was html garble, looks like something isn't working well with that, but it is vitally important that anyone posting a comment here can tick some box and therefore gets alerted by email when an answering comment has been written.

Adam Young said...

Hi Rudolf, yes we get that too – must be a glitch in blogger or perhaps it's designed for an RSS reader. They seem to be making a lot of changes to blogger at the moment, perhaps making it closer to wordpress (I know you're keen on it!).

With the back muscles, the role is really to hold your core tall: http://www.feelforthewater.com/2011/02/how-to-improve-your-swimming-core.html

They also flex to promote rotation of course but it's not really possible to think about them as they do this, it should follow naturally from good stroke visualisations.



SSpopesy said...

This looks like a useful stretch to add to the range of other stretches I do. My main frustration is the position of my legs; I have a tendency towards using my pull buoy - probably a bit too much! Need to ween myself off this...

Rudolf said...

One more time i want to get back to this sentence in your other post Adam:
"You don't have to be super-strong through the core to do this well, it's more about using your core muscles in the right way than outright strength"

I just have the feeling this part could use more details once in a special post. How do we know if we do it right, if we use to much strength or if we fley to much, how can we "feel" we reached the point....

Adam Young said...

Hi Rudolf,

It's worth reading this in relation to your question:

You should feel that your legs come up in the water and everything feels easier and efficient when you get it right. How hard to stretch? Not too hard, you've got to sustain it for long periods of time - the issue isn't how hard normally but coordinating it and not switching off and relaxing your core again.

A great way to get this right it to practise a good torpedo pushoff at the beginning of every length stretching through your core. If you get in the habit of that then you stand a much better chance of sustaining it the whole time you swim.

I hope that helps.


Dean said...

Thanks for the instructions, Paul!
I haven't been into swimming for that long, honestly, I started to swim only because I wanted to lose weight and I didn't expect to love it so much

Anonymous said...

1 it is not tight hip flexors, it is restriction of the Ilio-femoral ligaments
2 the half kneeling exercise is ineffective in gaining range. The modified Thomas position in a sustained stretch of a minute is the most effective.
3 daily alternate x3 pairs is minimum. Ideally twice a day initially
4 ask if you need more info

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