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Wetsuit Swimming and Low Back Ache

With the first of the open water swim lakes now open, I would like to share some tips on how to avoid backache during your first few swims.

Buoyancy and of course the obvious thermal properties of neoprene that prevail at this time of year may come with a potential cost to some triathletes/swimmers in the form of low back ache/pain.  Reading the blogs on 220, Tri24/7 the top two remedies for alleviating such symptoms are:

⁃cutting the legs off to decrease buoyancy in the feet and there for releasing the tension in the low back

⁃increasing strength & stability within the core

reading down the threads, there are many instances where this has either helped a little or not at all.

So let’s explore the potential reason behind these symptoms.  On the whole we live in this “World of Flexion”, even on the bike we spend hours turning the cranks in this position.

Swimming Pic 1

The implications of this make the front of the body very tight especially through the hips, abdominals and shoulders. Imagine that you had a tight elastic band from your knees to your shoulders (see photo below) and then you stand up, the increased pull on the band to the front of the body (aka tight and short muscles) makes the back muscles work harder to hold you upright, as a result of this we create a dynamic compensation and tug of war with the muscles of the front and back of the body.

swimming Pic 2

Now lets look at the implications of this upon the swimmers body….

In basic terms, during the swim stroke, extension of the body is gained by stretching from toe to finger tip, couple this with a high leg carriage we create a streamline position to minimise unwanting drag.  Now this position is as far removed from the flexed position that we find ourselves is on a daily basis.

With both the increased bouncy of the legs and torso, a large stress/compression is placed on the low back, creating a bow shape in the low back.  Tightness and stiffness in the low back may develop which in some instances may develop into a significant problem.

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 12.08.23

Issues relating to this may list like this…

⁃Low back ache/pain

⁃Glute ache

⁃Hamstring tightness

⁃Calf pain

⁃Inability to achieve an optimal riding position

⁃Reduction in power on the bike⁃Reaction in ability to run off the bike

To prepare the back to minimise this tightening response, we must look at a way to release the front of the body.  A good way to achieve this is by mobilising the body by means of foam rolling and specific exercises.

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 12.11.26


Foam Roller to the:   

⁃Front outside of the shin bone (tibialis anterior)

⁃Fronts of the thigh (quadriceps)

Tennis Ball release to the:


⁃Chest (pectorals

Stretches to the:

  • Hip Flexors
  • Quads
  • Triceps/Lats
  • McKenzie Stretch

If the back is tight when leaving the water

If your back is tight when leaving the water, don’t despair.  Get yourself warm and dry and try the following:

Lay on your back and

  • pull single knee to chest
  • repeat for the opposite leg
  • double knees to chest
  • keeping both knees bent (above hips) roll the knees side to side

So here are a few things to work on to change from living in a whole world of flexion.  If you have any questions regarding this topic, then please feel free to call one of the team to chat things through.  Happy swimming and training. Enjoy the Summer.

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