S-t-r-e-t-c-h, by Tom Drum

fraid nots exercise 4At the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Long Beach, CA, it was fascinating to watch the swimmers go through their warm-up routines. In fact, this part of Trials was almost more educational than the races themselves. I’d show up early to observe warm-ups, and to see how all these world-class swimmers dealt with the pre-race jitters. Everyone looked fantastic; these are, after all, great swimmers, and you’d expect to see nothing less than FLOW at a meet like this. It wasn’t until warm-ups for semi-finals and finals that subtle differences began to show up and here’s what struck me. The cream of the cream of the crop had one thing in common: incredible flexibility. We’ve all seen Michael Phelps do his famous behind-the-back arm slap prior to his races. At the semis and finals of Trials, however, it seemed like EVERYONE could get pretty close to matching Michael. The flexibility of these swimmers — across the board — was amazing to see. And inspiring. When I got home, I shook the cobwebs out of my ‘Fraid Not, and got back in touch with my friend Tom Drum, the stretching master. Tom, who has developed a super-simple, 5-minute stretch routine, and sells it along with a nifty, braided stretch rope (the ‘Fraid Not), graciously offered to share one of his stretches with GoSwim. I can highly recommend Tom’s program and products (as can Barbara, who’s used Tom’s ‘Fraid Not and BackIt Ball for both running and swimming stretchs), Tom wrote the following article. You can order your own ‘Fraid Not (plus doorstrap, manual, and laminated card describing all the stretches) at tomdrum.com. Team discounts are available by calling Tom at 888-565-9559. – Glenn

Why Stretch
Effective stretching is one of the most important aspects of a swimmer’s training regimen. Total-body flexibility is a key element in both stroke dynamics and reduction of drag. Yet a lot of us just hop in the pool to warm-up, practice, then exit the pool to a warm shower and food. There is a better way to start and end practice, and it involves stretching with a rope.

stretching sequence Why a rope? There are several reasons. When you do upper-body stretches, a rope allows you to position yourself AWAY from whatever structure you’ve used to anchor the rope. This distance enables you to gain a greater range of motion and a more effective stretch by utilizing your own body weight. When you do lower-body stretches, the rope allows you to perform stretches that otherwise would require a partner to gain the enhanced flexibility pattern. Plus, the rope serves as a visible reminder that it is up to YOU to stretch — before and after practice. Before practice, you are stretching, loosening, and temporarily elongating the muscle fibers, preparing them for battle. After practice, when your muscles are warm and tired, you can truly gain flexibility.

How you leave your muscles after a training session has a direct impact on how they will perform the NEXT time you ask them to do some work. If you make them tired and tight, and do nothing to help them rest and relax, e.g., STRETCH, I have found that they don’t get any looser on their own. That is why a proper warm down and stretching are so important after practice.

Due to time constraints caused by two-a-day practices, school assignments, and family commitments, a stretching program must be easy to learn, easy to remember, and easy to practice or you won’t do it. I know because I’ve been there! When I designed my ‘FRAID NOTS "Rope-Assisted Stretching Program" I tried to eliminate all the roadblocks for not performing a daily stretching routine. The instruction manual is SHORT and easy to follow, and it comes with a laminated sequence card that can be used on the pool deck until you remember the order of the stretches. The order is very important, since I want you not only to stretch, but also to become more flexible. The stretches progress from easy to more advanced, with some extreme stretches at the conclusion. Doing them in the suggested sequence greatly enhances your ability to increase your joint range of motion and muscular/tendon flexibility, with particular emphasis on the shoulder. The program is performed with a colorful, durable, soft-to-the-hands ‘FRAID NOT. A doorstrap is included so that you can perform the upper-body hanging stretches at home, or anywhere a doorjam is present.

How To Do It
Stretch #6 in the program is helpful in gaining extension in all of your strokes, and is particularly helpful in opening up the hip area along with your entire back and shoulder for freestyle and backstroke.
1. Attach the rope to a stable structure, such as a door handle or (outside) to a stable vertical post.
2. Standing, grasp one end of the rope in each hand, bend at the waist, and lean back.
3. Alternate one leg stiff, the other leg bent at the knee.
4. Twist slightly at the waist.
5. Drop your head between your shoulders.
6. Turn both wrists in, then out.

How To Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
As you hold the position, add deep, relaxing breaths for up to a minute. Allow yourself to sink into the stretch.