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When I watch elite swimmers, I’m always amazed at how high and relaxed their shoulders and elbows appear during the recovery phase of freestyle, and how gracefully their hands pierce the water upon entry. I’m also struck by the symmetry of their swimming — how balanced they are left to right.
Most of us have a dominant arm in swimming and, given that the majority of the population is right-handed, our form is often better on the right side than on the left. While the right arm may have near perfect form and control, the left sometimes is less than perfect, swinging out to the side at times rather than up and in. This seems to be especially prevalent in people who took up swimming at a later stage in life, and often times beginning triathletes can be included in this group.
Why Do It:
The High-Elbow Stretch is designed to enhance the harmony and balance of flexibility in your shoulder and back muscles. By stretching and improving your flexibility in this area, the elbow recovers higher, the hand entry becomes more properly aligned, and hip rotation is increased. Less energy is wasted on the recovery, since a relaxed muscle operates more efficiently.
How To Do It:
1. Stand erect with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend one arm and lift the elbow above your shoulder, as if you were doing a freestyle recovery.
2. Allow your forearm and wrist to relax and to simply dangle from the elbow. The thumb of the hand should be somewhere near your ear.
3. Grasp the high elbow with your other hand and gently pull the elbow toward the centerline of your body. The side of the thumb and wrist of the relaxed hand should be next to the middle of your ear. Stand straight as you do this, and hold the stretch for 10 to15 seconds, concentrating on relaxing the area being stretched. This stretch will yield the best results if you stretch one arm, then the other, and repeat the process a second time. The second attempt usually results in an increased stretch.
How To Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
Follow the same directions as above and, while stretching your elbow toward the centerline, bend sideways at the waist in the direction that you are pulling your elbow.