I went for a swim yesterday for the first time since the summer. My son goes to a class at the community centre and yesterday- excitement here- he went willingly on his own to play with the other kids so I had a glorious hour and a half all to myself! If you are a parent you will understand that feeling. Oh, the potential- what to do? Be productive? Chill out? Read a book? What I decided to do was go for a swim. I love swimming and was a lifeguard and swim teacher as a teenager. I don’t get the chance to go much anymore but every time is amazing. Now that I am a pilates teacher I really notice a lot of things about my body while swimming. It really benefits from pilates principles! I’ll break down a few of them here for you:
You are probably tired of hearing about core strength. Sometimes I am tired of talking about it! But it’s so important and offers so much scope for fitness and life in general. In swimming, a strong core means your arms and legs are powered by your torso rather than trying to move using your arm and leg strength alone. Your core is stronger than your arms and legs and allows you to propel yourself more efficiently. Think of it like this: a crane has a base and an arm. If the base of the crane moves around or is weak, the arm will flail around and be pretty ineffective. Same thing when swimming!
Lengthening makes kicking better
If you’ve ever used flippers this will make a lot of sense to you. Have you ever used flippers with a bent knee? That makes it pretty difficult to get anywhere and is utterly exhausting. With a straight leg it’s so much easier and so much stronger and faster. The lengthening aspect of pilates exercises is exactly the same- hold yourself in a long position and you have way more power and efficiency in your movements.
In the front crawl or freestyle stroke you create a windmill with your arms. I used to get pain in my right shoulder and neck after swimming a lot (when I was a teenager) and now I don’t. The simple reason why is that I keep my right shoulder squeezing back and down when I turn my head rather than letting my shoulder creep towards my ear. I didn’t consciously change this, I just started noticing that I could do this stroke for a lot longer than before- I used to change it up when it started bugging me- and I don’t have to anymore. Yes!
I also used to get out of breath when doing the front crawl/freestyle stroke for very long. I could have been in worse shape (as a teenager?!?) but I don’t think so. My breaths are just much deeper and longer. I now turn my head on every 4th stroke. I used to do every 2, and I was out of breath even then. That’s an amazing change! I swim so much faster because of this... and it’s definitely due to the lateral breathing practice that pilates has given me. I’d hyperventilate if I tried to breathe the way I did before.
I only noticed this when I really got going with my swim yesterday. When I was thinking about the breath, or my shoulder, or my legs, all of a sudden I was controlling my movements... while swimming. It used to be a mechanical, repetitive activity for me. I’d get in and just rush along to the other side, and drag my body along with me. This time, I was adjusting myself and pausing for a microsecond while moving in order to make slight alterations- such as the timing of my stroke, my breath, or my positioning. What a glorious thing to feel in control of your body!
Needless to say, this is why Pilates is known for assisting athletes in every sport. The principles apply to everything we do- in sport and in everyday movements. I wish my teenaged self could see me now!
If you have experience of how pilates helped in another sport, please tell me about it in the comments below!
Diane Archer, Pilates Instructor from the UK now living back in Canada. Blog of tips, thoughts, home challenges.