Stretching before any physical activity is a commonplace recommendation. Without sufficient range of motion, muscles are subject to stress, strains, and even being torn. Probably a light bit of activity to warm up tissues might make stretching easier.
However, for swimming, it is problematic to get into the water (hardest part of any workout) and then out again for stretching any muscles or movements below shoulder level.
Therefore, it is recommended that stretches be static and isometric, certainly only mildly active at first. Athletes can transition later to more ballistic movements, if desired. You can use a doorframe for static shoulder stretches to the side or above to start out, and stairs for static lower body stretching.
I used to finish my stretching poolside, but with the pandemic, I now do all my stretching at home. It only takes a few minutes, regardless. The most important stretch every day is to hang from a doorframe for 20 to 30 seconds to let the weight of my lower body stretch my spine. It keeps the spinal discs from compressing.
Calf muscles can be stretched on a stair step by heel drops, gentle at first. Hamstring stretches using stairs at “hurdle” height can isometrically prepare for more rigorous activity. These can be done for 20 seconds, too.
Dynamic shoulder movement to the sides, front and above can be done with gradually increasing range of motion that is slow enough not to overstretch. Gradual bending at the waist and letting hands down to toes is also effective.
Choose a routine with a group of exercises that each take less than a couple of minutes. The resulting 5 or 10 minutes of stretching will make your swimming much easier.
Most swimmers and other athletes are aware that pre-activity stretching is essential, but so is post-activity. The simplest way is to do the same pre-activity stretches with half the reps. Believe me, your body will thank you.
Despite stretching, I have a tendency toward leg cramps, in bed or in the pool, possibly caused by dehydration. One solution: Theraworx both cures and prevents, and really works for me as advertised. There might be others from which to choose, but I highly recommend it for your swim bag.
Dr. Bob Colyer of Bluffton is an actively retired college professor, coach and author of “Swim Better: A Guide to Greater Efficiency for Swimmers & Instructors,” directed primarily to non-competitors. firstname.lastname@example.org