Better Stretches for Swimming - Cook Strait Update
The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Better Stretches for Swimming - Cook Strait Update

The September equinox was this weekend. At the moment of the equinox, the center of the disk of the sun crosses the equator. The northern hemisphere comes into Fall while the southern hemisphere begins Spring. For the day before and after that moment, the entire apparent disk of the sun passes the equator, and night and day are approximately equal length all over the world.

Japan celebrates three days before and after the equinox as a time for life reflection, looking forward and back. A Mid-Autumn Festival of the second of three fall harvests is celebrated in many East Asian communities around this time on a varying lunar calendar. The full moon closest to the Autumn equinox is the Harvest Moon, lighting long evenings of harvest work. The moon all during the month of the Autumn equinox is the Wine Moon, a good time for grape harvest, occurring (usually) around September in the northern hemisphere and March in the southern hemisphere.

With this equinox, the weather is warming in the Southern Hemisphere, meaning increased swim training for New Zealander 'Dr. Ernie' (blog name).

He is training to swim the 16 miles of the Cook Straight, introduced in May's post Sixteen Miles of Cold Water and updated in Getting Fitter in 50 Degrees.

Dr. Ernie sent the photo at left and wrote,

"This phase has been one of knuckling down. So here goes:
"Cook Strait Swim: Phase II
"Now it gets serious.....

"On June 6 I completed my last open water swim in Wellington Harbour in water temps of about 14 C: It felt really cold, the coldest I've experienced. The swim lasted 45 minutes and I noted that afterwards I didn't shiver at all -- a clear sign of acclimatization. I was advised by all to start serious swim technique and endurance preparation in the pool.

"I met with Phil Rush -- the man who has crossed the Strait seven times (including a double-crossing) and who holds the world's record for a triple crossing of the English Channel. He will be piloting the support boat for my attempt, which will hopefully be in February 2008. His advice: swim, swim, swim -- get up to 40 km/week by December (approx 25 statute miles or 21.6 nautical miles), and then be ready to take a 6-hour test in early January. In the test I will have to demonstrate that I can sustain at least a 3 km/hour pace for the 6 hours (a little under 2 miles per hour, a mid-training pace).

"Since July, I've been meeting with my coach, a former Olympian (I'll not mention his name until I've made it successfully across the Strait) and it's been hard going. But very necessary. What I assumed I could do on my own proved to be incorrect. For one, basic aspects of technique have been clarified and my entire stroke has been reworked in the past two months -- a good thing because I don't have a competitive swimming background and I've been doing lots of stuff to create drag. If' I' m to make it across the Strait I'll have to be extremely efficient. And I'll have to be able to keep up pace to stay warm. So my coach had done several important things: first, he's forced me to realign my body position, stressing posture, line and balance; second, he's pushed high-intensity sprint and interval training in addition to long distance swims. I plan to continue weekly lessons through the end of the year."

One of the things Dr. Ernie and I have been working on is better swim stretches.

Good shoulder range of motion helps swimming. Some experts regard the extra range as always destabilizing for the shoulder joints.

I investigated this over several years in the lab, and found that much of the problem is unhealthful stretches, not the range achieved.

You can have a mobile strong shoulder without developing instability or injuring the shoulder joints and surrounding cartilage and soft tissue.

One counterproductive stretch for most people is pulling one arm across the front of your body. It is usually The Stretch You Need The Least. Click the link for more about why.

A better way to stretch your shoulders is to stop doing this less healthful stretch and do three healthier ones:

  1. Front chest (pectoral) muscles, taught in Fixing Upper Back and Neck Pain

  2. Nice Neck Stretch. To make sure you get the stretch as intended and not lean or round forward, do the Nice Neck Stretch (trapezius stretch pictured at right) with your back and the back of your head against a wall so that you do not bring your head forward of the wall as you slide down to the side.

  3. Fast Fitness Friday this week will add a third stretch that is more effective than the common practice of pulling the elbow overhead with the other hand - Friday Fast Fitness - Better Shoulder and Triceps Stretch.

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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.