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A minority of swimmers, and this is often the case for elite swimmers, are however endowed with an additional quality: hypermobility.
Hypermobility is a feature that can present many disadvantages in life, but in swimming more than anywhere else, it is an undeniable asset.
Do not worry, Nabaiji is bending over backwards to explain!
Hypermobility is characterised by high elasticity of joints, muscles and other tissues. People with hypermobility are sometimes able to contort parts of their body more than "normal" individuals.
Some "double-jointed" people can twist certain parts of their bodies while remaining within the "normal" range, others with particularly developed joint flexibility could be mistaken for rubber men!
Hypermobility in everyday life unfortunately has many bad sides. Hypermobile people are often more prone to sprains, tendonitis, joint disorders and pain.
Fortunately for hypermobile swimmers, we are going to find out that there are not only disadvantages!
It is important to note that swimming does not make you hypermobile. It is simply a sport often chosen by people with hypermobility to avoid the impact on the joints caused by other sports (running, combat sports, etc.). Indeed, for the double-jointed, a twisted ankle or wrist is easy to come by.
Hypermobile swimmers are also often motivated by their ease in the water and their ability to perform quickly against their competitors. This morphological predisposition is conducive to swimming and generally lets them stand out more easily and thus choose the path of competitive swimming.
The question now running through our heads is: how is hypermobility an advantage for swimmers?
Keep reading to find out...
Hypermobility allows some swimmers to be more "flexible" in their joints and use this flexibility to their advantage.
Flexibility in the shoulders does not necessarily make it possible to swim faster but to swim less slowly (a subtle difference). Indeed, this mobility will help the swimmer to lift their shoulders out of the watermore easily and ensure a more "aligned" rotation that will cause little water resistance. Thanks to the flexibility of their arms, the amplitude of their stroke will also be increased.
In addition, during undulatory underwater swimming, the legs are not the only active part of the body, the undulation originates from the chest. This technique is much easier to perform (or even instinctive) for a hypermobile person, where their torso, back, pelvis and knees will perform a smooth undulation, reducing drag and increasing propulsion.
Finally, ankle flexibility is a key asset when swimming. The most striking example can be seen when watching the champion Michael Phelps swim (one of the first body shapes to have been studied in detail). In addition to his size 14 feet, his ankles can bend 15 degrees further than other people's. This allows him to whip the water as if he had real natural flippers. This might not seem like much but it increases his thrust by more than 10%.
For persons naturally predisposed to swimming, hypermobility is a common feature. Combined with this, a slender physique will give them more ample undulation and a dynamic and powerful stroke.
So if you feel flexible and being a contortionist is not your cup of tea, try your hand at swimming!
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