Have you ever wondered why swimmers do some of the weird things they do before starting a race?
If you've been watching The 2018 Commonwealth Games, you've probably got a few questions about some of the interesting rituals the swimmers — and other athletes — practise pre-race. In particular, we've been curious to find out why all the pro swimmers seem to be slapping their muscles before diving in. Are we missing out on something here?
After further investigation, there doesn't seem to be a definitive answer as to why a lot of swimmers opt to muscle slap. Most professional athletes do get into the habit of forming a specific pre-race ritual, even if just for the psychological benefits. Technically muscle slapping could assist in "waking" up the muscles, by improving blood flow, however most swimmers will have already participated in a through warm-up before they get to the starting blocks, so this can't be the only reason.
According to Row2K, "slapping, hitting, or self-induced pain may be a pre-adrenaline physiological pump." Additionally, personal trainer Marc Nowak made comment that this sharp stimulus "may increase muscle tone and heighten sensation for a brief period of time, but most likely has no significant carry over for the start of the race, or while racing . . . it may simply shake his awareness and heighten his sensation at the starting line."
All in all, we'd say this case of muscle slapping is more ritualistic than directly performance enhancing. However, when all eyes are on your performance, you've got to do whatever works.