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Core strength: You can’t fire a cannon from a row boat

Core strength and stability is the key to any sport or activity. It’s the set of muscles that give you the nice firm platform to work off.

An old Kayaking coach used to say to me óìyou can’t fire a cannon from a row boat’ meaning without a firm base you can’t do what you need to.

The same analogy can be used when kicking a goal in any of the footy codes, or swinging a golf club and especially in swimming.

A strong core in swimming keeps our body flat in the water. It stops our hips dropping and then in turn keeps our legs up on the surface and not dragging on the bottom of the pool.

The Sausage Theory

The best way I describe this to swimmers who come and see me is I use the óìsausage theoryó. (I invented the sausage theory so it’s not a real theory but just something that visually can make core stability easy to explain and understand).

Imagine I have a raw sausage in my hand and I am holding it at one end. No matter how thick the sausage skin is, it will bend in the middle. This simulates a person with a poor core. The trunk muscles are not working and so the body bends in the middle.

If I now divide the sausage in to four segments. The first _ where I am holding the sausage is without tape, then the middle 2/4 I apply some strapping tape and the final _ without Tape.

If I now hold the raw sausage at one end it will still bend but it will be straighter than without the tape. This tape simulates what the core muscles are designed to do in swimming – they’ll stop you bending in the middle.

The stronger the core, the more straight you are in the water. What this means is when you have a stable base then you can use the arms and the legs to propel you predominately forward. If you have a poor core, you have this bend in the middle and therefore are using your muscles as much to stay afloat as you are to propel the body forward.

The Swim Suit Dilemma

When I use this analogy I also like to talk about the óìSwim Suit’só dilemma.

When a swimmer at elite level puts on a Polyurethane swim suit, it’s like getting our sausage and putting 10-12 sausage skins on it. It gives the sausage a firm outer case and therefore makes it easier to keep the sausage from bending. Effectively giving the sausage an artificial core.

For the swimmer wearing the Polyurethane swim suit they now have an ‘artificial core’ and this means the swimmer would fatigue far less in their Core muscles as they don’t rely on them as much for a stable base. They therefore have far more available energy to propel them forward and are able to do so from a stable base.

In swimming, the first thing to fail, or fatigue, is your Core, followed by your legs, and then your arms. If you have a polyurethane swim suit on, you are delaying that óìFailureó and the strong stable base is allowing you to swim faster.

So if we can’t wear a Polyurethane swim suit, what do we need to do?

Harries Core Fitness-2478-Plank with arm&legAWell first off we need to strengthen that core. More importantly we need to strengthen it in the functional position that we find ourselves in for swimming. The easiest way to do this is get started on the óìHoveró exercise.

Start off trying to hold the position for 1 minute. Then as you improve, progress the exercise by trying to hold the hover position for longer.

 

Nick Marshall

Nick Marshall

Nick co-owns Surf Life Physio (Gold Coast) and specialises in swimming injuries, he's also a bit of a surf swimming legend.

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