The swimmer's body

Paul Adamson
January 18, 2018

I've been a keen swimmer most of my life but still feel I've never mastered the sport. I swim most of the time in the middle lane, with occasional excursions into the fast lane when I've slept well and am feeling particularly energetic. Structurally I'm not built to be a professional swimmer but I've often wondered what it would take to get myself into a swimmer's body (apart from DNA and out of character self-discipline).

Top-class swimmers are unmistakable. For a start, they are nearly always tall. That gives them an edge when diving off into the pool and it means they can a cover a greater distance with each stroke using less energy than short people. As far as height goes, I have a top swimmer's body. That's the easy bit.

Look at any world-class swimmer from behind, and the first thing you notice is the V-shaped back. You're talking huge lats, massive shoulders, slim hips, large hands and feet – that act like flippers, muscular arms – swimmers use their triceps to finish the stroke, so that's many hundreds of tricep extensions every week. And there's the unmistakable high shoulder to waist ratio. But apart from strength, top swimmers excel in flexibility – the overhead movement required for fast swimming means swimmers have flexible lats, shoulders and back.

I remember one occasion at Highbury & Islington gym last year I got a bit fed up of watching these macho muscle guys showing off with their weights and when I got into discussion with them (I was wearing my Deep Tissue Massage t-shirt and they wanted to know more), I told them that in my opinion they didn't have very good bodies. They looked at me with a certain suspicion at that point and for a moment I thought they might use me as a punch bag. 'What do you mean?' one asked me. Well, I said, you've got big pecs and and huge biceps and massive serratus anterior muscles and mega thighs but you have no flexibility. You probably can't run, you certainly can't dance (why did I say that?!) and I could beat you all in a race in the pool.

This was too much of an insult to the pride they took in their bodies and they said after they'd finished pumping themselves, they were going to take me up on my challenge. Half an hour later we were in the pool and I added insult to injury by telling them I'd give them half a length head start. 'We don't need your charity, man,' one of them said. Up to you, I said. Off we went and of course I left them far behind, splashing about and clearly frustrated that they couldn't swim faster. I told them that when they were in their seventies and eighties their big muscles (assuming they still had them) wouldn't be of much use to them. But if they became flexible, that would serve them all their lives.

I've seen the guys in the gym since and they're still working out hard and getting even bigger. Still as stiff as the iron they pump.

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