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Your Core And Posture In Swimming

core stability - the buzz phrase of the 00's



The buzz-phrase in the fitness world for the last decade has been Core Stability. Most of us realise that core stability is important for our swimming technique but are unsure how to tune into it and how to improve it. In this article we're going to take a deeper look at how to do just that.

We're going to use three simple exercises to help:

1) Stretching Through Your Core

2) Squeezing Your Butt

3) Swimming Proud

A Strong Core

We know that a good swim stroke technique is fluid and relaxed right? Well, that's only partially true. Your arm action and your kick action should be nice and relaxed yes. But your core should be strong and engaged when you swim. This is a bit of a paradox about swimming - all the time you're trying to be relaxed and fluid with your stroke you need to be strong through your core - all the way from your glutes to your upper spine.

Having a strong stable core makes you more torpedo-like so you spear through the water in a straight line. It also helps connect your arm strokes to your core, allowing you to use your whole body to drive your arm propulsion, not just your small shoulder muscles - great technique.

pic to be added
Visualise some licorice stretched between your pelvis and rib cage.

Exercise 1. Stretching Through Your Core

To engage your lower core try this visualisation the next time you swim.

Think about your pelvis and your rib cage. Imagine you have a piece of floppy elastic or licorice attached at one end to your pelvis and the other to your rib cage. If you stretch tall through your core, bringing your rib cage away from your pelvis, you can make the elastic stretch and be tight.

As you swim, stretch tall through your core and keep that imaginary elastic tight. This will engage your lower core muscles and strengthen your torso.

Exercise 2. Squeezing Your Butt Muscles

Our second exercise is another visualisation. This time we're focused on the lower-rear core muscles, the glutes (your bum/butt). As you swim, imagine you have a large coin between your butt cheeks and you've got to keep it there! To do that you've got to lightly squeeze your butt cheeks together - a crude thought but very effective none the less!

Don't over do it, a very light clench is enough to engage your glutes, straighten your lower body and connect your legs better to your torso. This exercise also helps you develop better kicking technique.

Think about this regularly when you swim and you will gradually develop neural pathways to your glute muscles, recruiting them for permanent use.


Computer work is very bad for your posture and that can impact on your swimming.

Many of us have office jobs and spend our days itching to break free from the PC and head out the door to train. But it gets worse. The posture that you adopt in an office job in front of the computer can really hurt your swimming technique. Unless you are very careful, computer work and other desk jobs cause you to develop a slouched posture with hunched forward shoulders and a bent forwards spine and neck.

You probably remember growing up and your parents or teachers telling you "...don't slouch - shoulders back and chest forward". This is actually excellent advice for your swimming too.

We are taught to think of core stability as being purely about the area around your abdominal and lower back, whereas in fact core stability concerns a much larger area. Your whole core comprises your abdominals, lower back, glutes (i.e. your bum / butt) and your upper back / shoulder region.

As a swimmer, you should be concerned about your level of core stability, especially when it comes to the upper back and shoulder region. Having hunched or rounded shoulders from the way you sit at the office leads to a swinging arm recovery technique, coming wide around the side rather than over the top of the body. A wide arm recovery causes cross overs, ruins the catch and is one of the leading causes of shoulder injury.

cross over
Poor posture leads to poor body roll which causes cross-overs. =(

By sitting slouched at your desk, you are inadvertently shortening the muscles at the front of the shoulder and chest (the pectorals or 'pecs') and elongating those at the back (mid and lower trapezius muscles or 'traps' and the rhomboids). Over a prolonged period of time, this posture becomes ingrained.

So sit-up! Shoulders back and chest forward! Let’s remedy this whilst you read.

Working to strengthen the muscles at the back of the shoulder and stretch those at the front will pay real dividends when it comes to your stroke technique. It will help develop a range of motion around the shoulder joint and through the upper back, and in doing so help prevent cross-overs.

Exercise 3. The YTWL and Swimming Proud!

Swim Smooth employ a simple exercise that is used by many physiotherapists to help tune into this upper-core stability. Perform the "Y-T-W-L" at the pool, in the gym or at home to gradually tune into your upper posture and something called Scapula Retraction.

The YTWL is a basic scapula retraction exercise that can work wonders - even if you feel like a bit of an idiot whilst doing it (!). Do you remember The YMCA? Well, the YTWL is similar! :


What is Scapula Retraction?

Your Scapula are your shoulder blades. The shoulder blades connect your humerus (upper most arm bone) to your collar bone.

shoulder blades together

Scapula retraction is the action of pulling your shoulder blades together, bringing them towards your spine. This is important in swimming because it stabilises your arm attachment to the body and strengthens your upper core.

When you stand up tall and proud, your scapula retracts to pull your shoulders back. Engage these muscles when you swim and you will develop more power from your stroke.

Run through each of the Y-T-W-L positions shown in the picture in turn, hold each position for about 10 seconds. Stand up tall as you do it but keep your back straight - don't arch it. Hold your stomach in, your shoulders back and chest proudly forwards. We suggest you repeat the YTWL through about 5 times each time.

By doing this exercise before you swim and even before you go to bed at night, you’ll help rectify the bad posture which you may have adopted at work. Over time this will get better and better and may even help to cure common ailments such as a tight neck, shoulder and back muscles.

Why Is Your Posture Important?

Three major reasons:

1) Having better posture keeps you straighter in the water, particularly your arm extension forwards. This means you'll expend less energy travelling down the pool. Being straighter will also avoid cross-overs, which ruin your catch technique and lead to shoulder injury.

2) Better posture helps develop good body roll. Good body roll gives you a longer more powerful stroke.

3) Having a strong upper core helps attach your arm stroke to your body. This means you start to use the whole of your body and your body roll to drive the stroke rather than just your shoulder muscles. This is a much more powerful swimming technique.

Good posture is one of the keys to Swimming Smooth. Start thinking about yours today.

Should I be Doing Core Work In the Gym?

If you can get to the gym regularly, then yes. Seek some advice from the personal trainers and get them to build and demonstrate a short session tailored to your needs. Mention to them you are interested in improving your upper body posture in particular.

Swim Smooth DVD Boxset
If you put a DVD up to each of your ears and listen very carefully, you'll hear the distant roar of pool filtration pumps. We think that's quite romantic.

If you cannot get to a gym easily then the Swim Smooth DVD Boxset contains a comprehensive set of land based techniques to improve your core strength and awareness. They've been specifically designed with your swimming and posture in mind.

You don't need to do huge amounts of core work to make a big improvement to your swimming technique. A structured routine performed little and often can make all the difference.

The swimming drills, techniques and training sessions contained within the DVD Boxset are designed to develop your core awareness as you swim.

Swim Smooth Terms and Conditions

Swim Smooth Links

all about front crawl breathing here.
shake off swimming shoulder injury today.
lots of swim tips for freestyle swimmers.
improve your feel for the water to swim faster.
do you need a swimming training plan to lift your swim fitness?
some handy catch drills to improve your feel for the water.
a unique advanced swimming course from experts Swim Smooth.
how to develop a better catch and pull and swim quicker.
a special open water swimming course from experts Swim Smooth.
get your swim hand entry right.
use your core in swimming to be quicker.
you can learn to swim freestyle with Swim Smooth.