Why are swimmers so clumsy out of water?

I think most swimmers accept the claim that they are not as gifted out of water. Most of us swimmers feel somewhat uncomfortable or uncoordinated with physical activity that occurs outside the pool.

The very fact that we call our out of pool workouts “dryland” suggests our discomfort with the idea of being outside our native aquatic element. We don’t call it circuit training, core training, crossfit, or any of the other terms out there. Instead we dub the term “dryland” for its obvious lack of water.

So why are swimmers typically “fish out of water” when we are outside the pool? Is swimming simply appealing to those of us who are naturally clumsy in other sports? Possibly, but from my personal experience, I think swimming itself contributes to our woes outside the water.

Swimming uses a very different muscle set and requires distinctive flexibility as compared to any land activity. During my own competitive career, I found myself tripping over my ankles constantly. In fact, I often would bend my ankles in ways that would sprain a normal person’s ankles. Now 2 years out from my last competitive competition, I hardly find my ankles giving out from under me. So what was going on with my ankles? My ankles had become very flexible as a result of swimming. Breaststroke was my primary stroke and it helped me substantially to improve the flexibility of my ankles. Every time I finished my breaststroke kick by touching my heels together, I was working on improving my ankle flexibility. But it turns out that this also made me that much more clumsy outside the water.

This is just one experience, but I think it illustrates why swimmers tend to not always be the most coordinated athletes out of the water. A swimmer’s body ultimately develops for peak performance in the water, which can sometimes create a little bit of clumsiness while on land.

-Paul


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