Why Do You Get A Sore Neck From Swimming?

Do you experience neck pain during or after swim sessions? What can you do about it? Neck pain is not often talked about in swimming but is very common issue and can be annoyingly persistent, especially for those quite new to the sport.

Fortunately the reasons for this discomfort are easy to understand and the fix is pretty straightforward. Combine the simple visualisations below with a little perseverance on your part and you will be sliding through the water pain free in no time!

Why Do I Get Neck Pain?

One of our favourite sayings at Swim Smooth is: If something's going to go wrong in your stroke, it'll go wrong when you breathe. And that's definitely true when it comes to the cause of neck pain!

When you go to breathe, you should keep your head low in the water, looking across the surface of the pool (more on this below) but if you are not too confident about taking a clear breath of air, the tendency is to lift your face further and further towards the sky:

For this swimmer twisting the head like this places a large strain on the neck which over time leads to soreness in the neck and the trapezius muscles.

As well as this, the lead arm will have a tendency to drop down in the water, giving you little support and only adding to the anxiety of not being able to breathe. A classic problem for all you Bambinos out there:

If this sounds familiar to you then what can you do to stop your head looking towards the sky as you breathe?

Use The Bow Wave!

As you move through the water a bow wave develops around you, lowering the depth of the surface around the side of your head. This creates a trough providing you with the perfect position to take a breath without altering your body position in the water too much. Physics at its finest:

Notice the shape of the bow wave created around your head, aim to breathe into the trough at position A. 

When you breathe you simply rotate your body and head to position A, and take a breath. We often get our swimmers to imagine they are breathing out of the side of their mouth like Popeye (as seen in the picture below) to encourage them to keep their head even lower in the water. This keeps the head better in line with the body reducing stress on the neck:

Swim Smooth Coach, Steve Bailey, perfectly demonstrating his 'Popeye Breathing' technique. 

Grasping this concept can be a real challenge for many swimmers especially if they experience anxiety when their head is underneath the water. Here's a great exercise to help:

Ask a friend or coach to walk alongside you on the pool deck as you are swimming. As you turn to breathe look towards your coach/friend's feet, it will help keep your head low in the water and gives you something to focus on whilst you are swimming.

Looking for your coach's feet when taking a breath is a great drill to keep your head in the right position

Note this only works in a flush-deck pool where the deck is at the same level as the surface!

As you can see in the video, the swimmer's head remains low in the water and dramatically reduces the twist and strain on their neck. Practise this a few times and once you get the hang of it, simply imagine your friend's feet walking on water alongside you whenever you need a reminder.

Don't forget we have plenty of other drills to help with your breathing technique in the fault fixers section of our Swim Smooth Guru. In fact there's a proven step-by-step process to follow for every classic stroke fault:

Swim Smooth!

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