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Let's Get Straight to the Core

Updated: Sep 29

It’s just the arms and legs that propel you through the water, right? Well to a certain extent, but in fact the arm acts as an anchor that allows your body to pass it and move forward, and the legs are more about correcting body position, preventing drag and driving rotation. What many swimmers don’t realise is that it’s the core that is the body’s powerhouse; it directly affects your ability, strength and stability.

A strong core also allows you to rotate more powerfully; if it’s not strong you will not get the power transfer to drive those arms and legs. It's not just swimming, as with many sports, the driving force and power comes from the core - think of kicking a football, hitting the ball in golf, throwing a boxing punch, etc etc...


It’s not just building a strong core that is the reason to do strength training. Age-related muscle loss can begin as early as your 20's and the process accelerates each decade after that. Not only do you start to see postural change, your coordination is also affected by changes in muscle strength, your gait changes, your metabolic rate slows down and you lose stability and balance; weak muscles also make you feel tired and response times can be affected.


The good news is that exercise, especially strength training, can help to keep muscle loss at a minimum and improve bone health. It can even reverse age-related muscle loss – a study at the Center on Ageing at Tufts University, Boston, US revealed that people in their 70s, 80s and 90s managed to double their muscle strength during a 10-week training period.


To build lean muscle, aerobic exercise such as swimming, running or cycling isn’t enough, you need to do specific strength training exercises and using your own bodyweight is one of the safest and cheapest methods out there. You can easily do strength training at home or outdoors and you can effectively use your bodyweight as resistance to create a leaner more functional body.


Swimming is a whole-body exercise and your land training should be too. You can build strength using no equipment; doing squats, planks and push-ups for example will build strength. Alternatively, a suspension bodyweight trainer works the body in an unstable environment to improve strength, balance, coordination, endurance and agility all at the same time! Each exercise places stress on those core muscles to stabilise the body.


Strength training has multiple benefits:

  1. Helps speed up metabolism and keeps you lean

  2. Improves bone health and muscle mass

  3. Helps prevent injury and disease and is very effective for arthritis

  4. Helps menopausal women increase bone density

  5. Increases stability and flexibility

  6. Improves mood and energy levels


Combat age-related muscle loss with these strength training exercises:


For any exercise it is so important to get the technique right first, then consistently get it right, and only then increase intensity.


Bodyweight Exercises (no equipment), perform 12-15 reps, 1 to 3 sets:


SQUATS (strengthens the lower body) –


With the feet shoulder width apart, the action is just like sitting back into a chair as you keep your knees behind your toes.


Keep the head and chest up as you squat parallel to the chair, then push the heels into the floor as you return to the start.







PUSH-UPS, strengthens the upper body and core. Beginners can begin pushing up onto a wall, you can also begin with knees on the floor. Push-up is a plank variation whereby you want to keep the body as horizontal as possible throughout the exercise. For a wide push-up begin with hands wider than shoulders and fingers facing forward (a narrow push up targets the triceps more than the chest). Engage the core and squeeze your glutes as you lower the body to the floor. Ensure your chest touches the floor to do a full push-up, push the ground away as you return to the start.


PLANKS (strengthens the core as well as upper and lower body) – Place hands under shoulders with the arms straight, legs behind you with the feet together, engage your glutes and core and maintain a flat plank position throughout (from heels, hips, shoulders and head). Start with 10-15 second holds, repeat 5-10 times and increase this time gradually as you become stronger.



Suspension bodyweight training has been around for thousands of years and can safely be done at home, in the gym, indoors or outdoors, and you can perform hundreds of different exercises

using one piece of kit. Proponents say it can be used by all ages and all fitness abilities, and you will see benefits with just three short, 20 to 30-minute sessions a week.


Suspension bodyweight training:

1. Improves core strength and joint and muscular stability

2. Increases whole body strength, both larger and smaller stabilising muscles

3. Improves flexibility

4. Prevents Injuries

5. Uses muscle groups together as opposed to isolated muscles that fixed weight machines use. This way of working is more closely associated to everyday movements and sporting practices.


Suspension Bodyweight Trainer exercises:

For each exercise below do 12-15 reps of up to 3 sets. Ensure you have the

correct technique before increasing the intensity (this is done by increasing the angle or number of

reps/sets)

ROW (strengthens back, arms, core) Stand facing the straps, feet shoulder width apart, knuckles facing up. Engage your core as you pull your hands to your chest, squeeze shoulder blades together. Control the body back to the start.


BULGARIAN SPLIT SQUAT

(strengthens quads, glutes, hamstrings, lower back and lower core). Face away from straps with foot straps at knee level, place one foot in the strap, drive the foot backwards as you squat with the standing leg (keep knee behind toes), return to the start


SUPERMAN (strengthens core, chest, upper back, arms). With the straps over your shoulders engage core as one arm bends into a push-up, the other arm goes straight out in front. Keep the body flat and don’t twist. Return to start, alternate arms.


PIKES (strengthens core, legs, arms, chest, back) either do a bent or straight arm plank with feet in straps. Engage the core as you drive the glutes into the air, tuck head under and keep legs straight as you bring chest to the thighs, aim to get the glutes on top of your shoulder and then return to the start.


For videos of exercises and workout plans follow/subscribe to the 'Mark Foster Swim Academy' Youtube Channel


Please do post your comments below and/or share this valuable advice to other swimmers/athletes/parents/coaches


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