Friday, 4 October 2013

Swimming is good for you

... just not for me (apparently).

Obviously we all know that swimming is good for us. Right? It's excellent aerobic exercise that improves cardiopulmonary capacity. Swimming works over two thirds of the bodies musculature.  It burns fat, improves breathing, balances blood pressure and normalises the pulse. The benefits of swimming appear to be endless. However, I've been going to see a Chiropractor recently - I've had a lot of neck and back pain over the last 10 years+ - and he told me that the root of a lot of my problems is... swimming.

I did a lot of swimming when I was younger. By the age of 6 I could swim 32 lengths without stopping, by 8 I was in swimming club and by 10 I was swimming 5 times a week. By the time I was 15 all of this had stopped and I no longer did any swimming - apart from a bit of splashing about on holiday - for the best part of a decade. But by the time I had stopped swimming at 15 I was already having problems with my neck - quite possibly caused by the way swimming had had affected muscle development in my upper body.

Over the years the stiffness and discomfort in my neck has been ever present but the back pain has been different - intermittent - and would appear to coincide with times of stopping or starting exercise. The pain in my back was at it's peak around 18months but has been much better for the last 12 months. That was until recently when I started swimming again (something that is meant to be good for a back back & in most cases I'm sure that it is).

So course swimming is very good exercise for you I'm not saying that it isn't but I'm not talking about doing 10 lengths of breaststroke with your head out of the water. I'm talking about swimming 72 lengths plus of frontcrawl as hard as I can so that I feel, hot, tired and potentially slightly nauseous when I get out (5 times a week).

Basically all that swimming has caused an imbalance in my muscles. My shoulder, Latissimus dorsi and chest muscles are strong and very tight compared to my upper back (which is very weak). This tightness is pulling my body forward - hunching me over slightly - putting pressure on my upper back and neck which are trying to keep me up right (causing pain). On top of this, the stiffness in my neck can - at least in part - be attributed to the fact that I only ever turn one way to breath while swimming, making one side stronger and more flexible than the other. I've never thought about it before but it makes complete sense. I always look right to breath and for as long as I can rememberI've had difficulty in looking left. Not just while swimming but in general. E.g when studying for my BA and MA degrees I always sat face on or to the right of the board so that I didn't have to turn to the left to see it.

So far I've only had a couple of sessions but it's going really well. The chiropractor has given me stretches to loosen up the tight muscles, has started working on my back and neck - "popping" them - to try to remove the stiffness and in a couple of sessions time we will start to look at ways to start strengthening the upper back area.

So keep your fingers crossed. That if I listen to him, follow his instructions on stretches and exercises to loosen tight muscles and strengthen weak muscles, as well as adding some backstroke into my training - only doing freestyle has been a massive contributor towards developing some muscles and not overs - and training myself to breath on both sides while doing freestyle, I will hopefully - in a few months - finally be pain and stiffness free in my neck and back. FINGERS CROSSED!

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