The core makes up nearly half of the human body and includes all of the muscles that attach to the spine and pelvis. Swim any stroke, or body whip off a wall, and these muscles will respond in unison. The leading muscles of the core include:
- The trapezius (“traps”), a primary muscle of the back, is responsible for moving, rotating, and stabilizing the shoulder blade when swimming. A weak trapezius is a major cause of shoulder-related injuries.
- The latissimus dorsi (“lats”), the broadest muscle in the body, links the shoulder blades, upper arms, spine, and pelvis making it a critical core stabilizer. It’s also the primary muscle used in pull- ups and swimming.
- The gluteus (“glutes”) are a significant muscle group found in the butt and are the primary ex- tensor muscles of the hips. Among other things, they power all of the starts and turns.
- The rectus abdominis (“abs”) and the obliques, which span the entire side of the torso, are the muscles responsible for any swimming action that involves bending or twisting.
- The transversus abdominis found beneath the rectus abdominus compresses the abdomen and stabilizes the lower spine. This thick muscle wraps around the torso and acts like a girdle, keeping the core tight and aligned.
- The hip adductors consist of seven muscles which attach to the inside of the pelvis and help to keep the body more stable and aligned when swimming.
- The hip abductors also consist of seven muscles which attach to the outside of the pelvis and help to move the thigh away from the body’s midline when performing the breaststroke kick.
- The spinal erectors consist of bundles of muscles and tendons that run along the spine from the “glutes” to the neck. They allow the body to achieve a straighter line in the water and rotate better from side-to-side.
Strengthening the muscles of the core is paramount to your future in swimming. I happen to believe that regular core work should begin the moment you start swimming and never stop. Core exercises can be very challenging and uncomfortable at first, and many swimmers avoid them like the plague. Unfortunately, this results in a physical condition known as “jelly belly” or a weak core. If this sounds like you, it’s time to make a change for the better. Pick a half-dozen core-strength exercises that will challenge you to the max and perform them on a regular basis. It won’t be long before you begin to notice a positive change in your body and self-worth. After a month or so, freshen-up your routine by adding a new series of core exercises. Continue the process month-to-month, and you’ll be thrilled with the results.