Why do Olympic swimmers have such developed necks?

Few Olympic physiques intrigue (and awe) me more than the male swimmers. While I can understand how each particular stroke (fly, freestyle, back and breast)develops a somewhat different physique, I’m not sure I understand why these guys have such thick, muscled necks.

Strong backs and shoulders I understand. Why necks?

Because the neck muscles aren’t isolated from the shoulder muscles.The way to develop neck muscles if you’re weight lifting is by exercises like the military press, a shoulder exercise, not a specific neck exercise (although they do sell head straps (near the bottom of the page) to work the neck muscles…that probably a heck of a way to seriously injure your back, though, and it looks really stupid).

Also, for the freestyle crawl, a swimmer has to constantly turn his/her head to breathe. Repeat this for the hours an Olympic-class athlete spends in the pool, and you develop strong neck muscles.

(I’m not too familiar with training routines for fly, back, and breast Olympic-class swimmers, but at least at the high school level, even swimmers specializing in fly, back, and breast swam freestyle [crawl] for part of their workout.)

I understand where you’re coming from, but when these guys are turning their heads–over and over and over–they’re not hefting heavy weights.

Any kind of sprint (track or pool) is going to call for explosive power and therefore bulk up fast-twitch muscles. Fine, I understand that.

But I thought repetitive motion involving light weights does not bulk up muscles, but rather tones them instead.

How would neck muscles help with sprinting? (Or are we arguing that the neck muscles and traps are basically interconnected, and that the bulking up of the latter also bulks up the former.)

You are talking about the assistance of neck muscles in swimming sprints, right? In that case, the neck muscles are developed because the shoulder muscles are developed - the two are closely linked.

I’m not sure what your point is about exercises with light weights. Olympic swimmers (and runners for that matter) do a lot of workouts in the gym with heavy weights and fairly low reps. Both swimmers and runners do a lot of work on their shoulders. Therefore, both swimmers and runners have strong necks.

You are pretty much on the right track although you have touched on my pet hate: The phrases Bulk-Up and Tone. These are utterly meaningless phrases. Your muscles can either ‘grow’ (Hypertrophy) or ‘shrink’ (Atrophy). They cannot bulk up, neither can they be ‘toned’.

Back to the question :wink:

Hypertrophy is almost universally accepted as the result of repetitive movement against substantial resistance. As you point out I doubt that the breathing head turn would fall into this category.

As Atticus Finch points out, these atheletes train hard outside the pool with weights to increase their strength, and the shoulder exercises which would translate into stroke power in the pool will definitely include the major muscles of the neck.

Finally, it is worth noting that not all physiological attributes are a result of training or performing in a specific sport or activity. For example does playing professional basketball make you tall? No, obviously the people with innate or genetic predispositions will flourish and be able to perform better.

I would guess that the ‘strong necks in swimming’ is a combination of the 2 processes above.

Ok. I got it. Your point, then, is that these particular physiological attributes are important to winning in world-class swimming, otherwise they would be “selected out” through intense competition?

IMHO yes - whilst height in basketball and weight on the NFL offensive line are obvious traits swimming is a little less ‘physique specific’.

On a slightly different topic, am I the only person who failed to notice that all male Olympic swimmers seem to now be 6’5 and 230lbs?

You don’t really turn your head when you swim, you rotate your entire body. As for specialists, everyone generally swims every stroke at least a bit, otherwise you are more apt to get injuries.

Can’t say for Olympic swimmers, but everything I have read about swimming says to do more reps with a lighter weight. Maybe the sprinters do the heavy weights, but I’m not one of those.

Depends on who you talk to on this one, and of course how you define ‘more’ and ‘lighter’.

My personal view (borne out of years of strength training and martial arts) is that if you are able to perform a weight resistance excercise (with the intention of increasing functional strength) for more than 20reps* then you are simply making an aerobic exercise slighter harder.

Increasing your strength (especially upper body) must translate into a faster time in the pool. Therefore you should find a strength increasing regime to complement your other training.

As for long distance endurance and stamina this is something that I have never really trained for, but my gut feel is the standard aerobic stuff is far more efficient at increasing CV capacity than waving 2lb dumbells around for 50reps!

As I said it all depends upon how you define the parameters!

*One caveat to this huge generalisation are the brutal 20+ rep heavy squats. These are done at a weight where you would normally fail at 10, and very few lifters ever have the ‘guts’ to do this more than once :wink:

It seems really obvious to me that max strength would be important to swimming for time–after all, the more force you can generate, the faster you can propel yourself through the water. And two of the best force-production exercises, the power clean and the power snatch, have very high trapezius involvement (that’s the muscle we’re talking about).

Swimmers probably do a lot of military presses and chin-ups, as those movements very closely mimic what they do in the water. Those also have high trapezius involvement.

But yeah, even a very large number of reps with light weights will cause hypertrophy, although it’s not hypertrophy of the contractile tissue. Rather, it’s hypertrophy of the energy systems for the muscle.

Except being strong is not the best thing in the water. The shortest race is the 50 free, around 21 seconds, I would say, based on me but I’m sure I’m close, they will do around 24-30 strokes. Pure power is not going to help out as technique is much more important. This is why Thorpe is such a good swimmer.

Here is a list of exercises that I tend to do out of the pool. I know very little about weightlifting though, and I’m not very strong at all. The lats and the traps are the most important groups in swimming, then probably the abs.

Most swimmers, at least the faster ones, work out. Though Phelps from what I’m told does not. I can say that when I started working out last October til now my times have come down a lot and I am not all that strong, but the lifting did help my endurance.

While your body certainly rotates, your head rotates as well with repect to your torso. (Or at least mine does.)

And I know there’s not much resistance involved, but shouldn’t there be some hypertrophy from the sheer number of reps?

Yes your head does rotate as well, but the majority of the time the head should move little. I’m not sure why the top swimmers seem to have a large neck, I don’t see it and it might just be the way they look. I can’t imagine it to be the turning of the head as a lot of the swimmers breath to one side. I think if that were the case I’d have a freakishly large neck on my left and nothing on my right.

I’ve been thinking of all the swimmers I know and have swam with and none seem to have large necks. Maybe it’s either that they have thinner faces and it makes thier necks look big, or it’s the camera.