Healthy Shoulders for Swimming and Triathlon
The Importance of Strength Based Training.
The shoulder in swimming requires excellent mobility of the shoulder girdle and upper back coupled with strength and stability in the muscles required to control the shoulder blades movements on the chest wall and the rotator cuff’s role in keeping the ball of the humerus in good alignment in the socket.
We regularly see clients who present with various shoulder injuries and on assessment we may find some of the deficits listed below:
Reduction in shoulder blade stabilizer strength/control. The shoulder blade needs to fix itself securely to the chest wall to allow optimal force transmission from your arm to catch the water and propel you forwards.
Reduction in mobility upper back (Thoracic Spine), Rotation of Shoulder itself leading to restrictions in required range of motion for optimal shoulder swim mechanics.
Poor / Uncoordinated trunk and pelvic control. Pretty much all sports require a good connection between your trunk and shoulders to facilitate effective force transmission but swimming especially so and deficits here will overload shoulder complex and lead to injury.
“I do load’s of core work”, well unless it is individualized to your sport, and YOU, and transfers to the movement patterns involved in your sport it’s probably not helping. We frequently see people who carry out significant amounts of gym but with inappropriate Movement, Load or control to facilitate the benefits of strength and conditioning to their training and injury prevention programmes.
Why do I need to do land based training/Strength training?
Strength training for swimming is a bit more complex if you’re looking for direct performance improvement as you are pushing through fluid but I’ll save this for another piece. Here we will look at role of strength training on injury rehab and prevention.
Appropriate strength training through full range of motion incorporating dynamic warm ups will improve upper back mobility and coordination of trunk/Shoulder girdle timing appropriate to swimming. Movements should include patterns specific to swim mechanics which are typically in reverse to Run /Bike patterns since we push /pull using our arms in the water.
S+C can be used to appropriatly load tendon/bone and cartilage to strengthen tissues progressively and help healing process in event of injury and improve injury resistance in event of planned increases in training load. Control of OVERLOAD is essential as excess load may INJURE the tissues and inadequate load wont make any difference to tissue strength. Sorry but that’s why you need a physiotherapist to properly assess joint mobility/strength/pathology and prescribe appropriate training.
Your S+C programme should begin at the end of each season with a review and needs analysis. Planning on making a breakthrough for the following year with increased training load? Then assess for mobility/strength deficits and improve shoulder function and work capacity in the off season in preparation for this increased demand. During the competitive season it’s typical for athletes to drop their strength /mobility work without thinking of the consequences. Detraining will result with progressive weakening of tendon (Rotator Cuff etc) and mobility loss due to excessive overload in internal rotation patterns common to swimming. Detraining will likely increase the risk of injury to the shoulder complex at the time of year you want peak performance! NOT GOOD! However an in-season maintenance programme typically only takes a fraction of the time devoted during the off season and prep periods.
Mark McCabe MISCP MSc (SportsMed) CSCS