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The Ergonomics of: Swimming

Author: Tyler Reinhardt | Posted:

Some people ran in high school. Some people did football. Others did lacrosse, tennis, basket weaving, etc. I was a swimmer. Not a very good one. I was pretty average. But it was probably some of the most intense physical activity of anything I’ve ever done. Try a season of club swimming if you get the chance. You’ll see exactly what I mean. It’s a full body experience and timing your breathing is pretty important as it keeps you from going the way of that guppy you got from that carnival in 6th grade. But while swimming isn’t typically regarded by most as being particularly injury prone, there are risks that one takes when they decide to get their feet wet. Luckily you can mitigate the worst possibilities with the proper precautions.

Probably the biggest injury that occurs from swimming is the dreaded shoulder injury. I remember at least two of my team mates in high school having to sit out meets or even an entire season due to should injury. I never got to the point where I had to stay out of the water for any real length of time but toward the end of my high school swimming career, my right shoulder was definitely getting stiff. The main causes of this injury are overuse and bad technique, the latter of those two probably being the biggest one. Good form takes practice and there are two big issues I had with mine.

One of the fatal flaws in my form and I’m sure a lot of other peoples’ was staying totally flat while swimming, for lack of a better way to phrase it. When you take a stroke in freestyle or backstroke, you don’t want your arm to stay long, stiff, and locked. The resistance from the water is going to eventually destroy your arm if you keep a rigid technique like that. A better alternative is what my coach called, or calls assuming he’s still alive and kicking, the “reach and roll.” As you reach forward and take a stroke, you also want to roll your body to the side. Imagine having a steel rod that runs from the top of your head to the bottom of your bottom. Your body can only stay straight but you can still pivot it on an axis. This form not only takes pressure off of your shoulder, it also extends your reach when you take a stroke and eventually will make you a lot faster.

The other big issue that took me a while to correct is crossing your hands when you stroke. Much like locking your arms, this puts undue strain on your shoulders, slows you down, and makes you look like you’re having a mini seizure underwater. The best way to fix this is actually the aforementioned “reach and roll” technique because if you’re rolling your body as you stroke, your arm naturally wants to reach straight forward as opposed to diagonally.

Another thing to keep in mind as you swim is your breathing. Breathing is super important because it’s how you don’t drown. The best way to do it is to time it with your roll while you’re taking a stroke. When your arm is fully extended, you can roll your head to the side as well putting your face about halfway out of the water. You can then breathe from the corner of your mouth and then get back to swimming. My final tip on ergonomic swimming is proper eyewear.Chlorine hates eyeballs. To avoid feeling the burn in your eyeholes, find a good pair of goggles. They should suction slightly and keep out most of the water. I can tell you from experience you will probably never find a pair that keeps out all of the water all of the time.

As you get more into the sport you’ll discover other little tips and tricks to keep your swimming sessions enjoyable but the ones discussed here should at least get you started. I cannot stress enough that your shoulders do a lot of work here. You’re going to want to take care of them. Just remember the good ol’ reach and roll and your laps in the pool should go, well…….swimmingly.