Swimming requires repetitive movements which over time may cause stress injuries to the joints specifically the shoulders.
Three out of four swim strokes utilize internal shoulder rotation
which frequently results in rounding of the shoulders and subacromial impingement (often referred to also as painful arc syndrome, supraspinatus syndrome, swimmer's shoulder, or thrower's shoulder).
Specifically the front crawl, breast stroke and butterfly swimming
strokes all involve internal rotation of the shoulder to either pull or
recover for the next stroke. These repetitive strokes cause the upper
body muscles to tighten and over-strengthen involving the internal
shoulder rotator muscles (anterior deltoid, teres major). This presents
the problem of an over-tightening of muscles in the chest and front of
the shoulders and arms (pectorals, biceps). Conversely, the posterior
musculature of the upper back is overstretched (posterior deltoid,
Like many sports people, swimmers often do not know how to prevent
injuries i.e. how to stretch and strengthen their muscles to balance the
musculature to support the integrity of the joints. Most high volume
swimmers would benefit from vertical water fitness training (in addition
to their regular swimming regimen) because vertical water exercise is
designed to balance the muscles for better posture and shoulder
alignment. Additionally, there are many other cross training benefits.
Anyone with a shoulder problem, or forward rounding of their
shoulders should spend more time stretching the tight muscles of the
pectorals ( chest) , anterior deltoid (front of the shoulder) and
biceps (front of the arm) and strengthening the posterior deltoids (rear shoulder ), triceps ( back of upper arm), rhomboids and middle
trapezius (muscles between the shoulder blades) and Latissimus Dorsi (the big V shaped muscles in the back).
Another joint action that needs to be incorporated for injury
prevention is shoulder extension exercises which involve (reaching down
and back through the water like a cross country ski movement ( with the
Anyone with shoulder pain planning to begin an exercise regimen
should be cautioned against using dense foam dumbbells, (or water
weights) or Super Noodles for first time upper body strengthening
exercises . Instead, for safety they should first learn to do each
exercise correctly, through the correct ROM and in good body alignment
without equipment. Once this is accomplished they can progress by slowly
introducing more resistance in easy stages. For example: start with
aquatic mitts (small resistive area) then progress to flex paddles (a
larger area with options for resistive progressions and lever lengths).
Only when and if the client is completely out of pain should the buoyant
resistance of water weights be introduced.
Note: Be sure to always submerge the shoulders under the water for protection when targeting all upper body muscles.
Here are some exercises that can be incorporated into a group exercise or specialized program for people with shoulder problems
1) Backwards Shoulder Rolls
Technique is to move from the shoulder. Lift the shoulders up (
elevate) then pull down and relax back ( retract). Try to feel that the
shoulders are lifting up towards the ears and then completely relaxing
and releasing neck and shoulder tension as the scapulae (shoulder
blades) are lowered and re-centered.
2) Upright Row & Squeeze
Reach forward with the hands slightly below chest height in a prayer
position. Pull the elbows back and squeeze the shoulder blades together.
Feel the middle back retracting like you are squeezing a orange between
your shoulder blades. Keep the elbows low and the palms should be
facing up when you pull. Focus on the arms first and then add lower body
movement to the arms motion. A rock of the lower body may nicely
coordinate the movement in water (reach forward weight on the front leg
then fall back and squeeze the shoulder blades together). Be sure to
utilize both legs to lead the movement or change legs and perform
another set of muscular endurance exercises after the stretch below.
3) Stretching the Pectorals, Anterior Deltoids and Biceps
Allow one arm to stretch out and down in the water. If the right arm
is extended down on a diagonal then turn the body to the left , allowing
the body to drag the arm gently or follow the body.
Exercise design should focus on stretching the tight muscles at least
twice as many times to stretching the already lax muscles. Strengthen
the weak upper back muscles with at least twice as many repetitions as
those used for the front of the chest.
i.e. stretch front of shoulders and strengthen back of shoulders
The only exception to this rule of thumb would be for someone who has
dislocated their shoulder. This person may need more anterior
stability and strength. However, in this case they probably would be in
a more rehabilitative program and should be receiving treatment for
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DVD021 -Finning,The Ultimate Butt Burner & Program for Swimmers (ED)
DVD040 - Resistive Paddle Program (ED)
DVD056 - Deep Water Running Workout (WO)
DVD060 - Advanced Dumbbells and Shoulder Impingement (WO)
DVD042 - Advanced Buoyancy Cuffs (ED)