January 10, 2023

Alex Ewart

Three Exercises You Need to Do For Swimmers Shoulder

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Three Exercises You Need to Do For Swimmers Shoulder


You are getting closer to your big meet, you are feeling fast, strong, and ready to perform at your highest level. All of a sudden one day at practice, you start to feel a twinge in your shoulder when you are pulling. You shrug it off because your shoulder isn’t really impacting your swimming and it doesn’t really hurt that bad. Over the next week, the twinge doesn’t go away, and all of a sudden you start to worry if you are damaging something in your shoulder. You try some exercises for what you think is swimmers shoulder, but they aren’t really doing the trick. At this point, you are worried about not being able to perform at your upcoming meet.

This is an incredibly common situation. The good news is we have you covered. This blog will cover some of the best exercises to combat swimmers shoulder and get you back in the pool. But first, let’s talk about what swimmers shoulder is.


What is Swimmers Shoulder?


This is a complex question. Why? Because swimmers shoulder can mean so many different things. For one swimmer, swimmers shoulder could be rotator cuff tendonitis, while another swimmer may have anterior shoulder instability, or a labral tear, etc. While swimmers shoulder is different for every swimmer, there are usually similar muscular dysfunctions that are present regardless of the specific medial diagnosis. When these muscular dysfunctions are addressed, your shoulder will start to feel less painful, your swimming will feel better, and you will be able to feel confident again going into your big meet.


What Muscular Dysfunctions Am I Talking About?


There are two big ones that are common in swimmers. The first is inhibition of the serratus anterior. It is known that when you develop shoulder pain, the serrates anterior is one of the first muscles to become inhibited, or looses its ability to fully activate. While muscular inhibition is your bodies attempt to try and protect your shoulder, proper serratus anterior function is critical for shoulder rehab and injury prevention.


The second main muscular dysfunction I see in swimmers is poor neuromuscular control of their shoulders. Neuromuscular control is the ability of your rotator cuff and scapular muscles to keep the humeral head centered in your glenoid. This is a fancy way of saying the muscles around your shoulder work to keep its ball (your humerus) in its socket (your shoulder blade). This requires the muscles around the shoulder to be strong, but also requires the muscles to work together to keep the shoulder stable.


While you may have strong rotator cuff and scapular muscles, a lack of control leads to instability, which can lead to your rotator cuff over working, leading to rotator tendinopathy, biceps tendinopathy, instability, etc. The three exercises below work on both your shoulder strength and control, which will help your bulletproof your shoulder to get you back on track.


The Three Exercises To Fix your Swimmers Shoulder


#1 Push up plus



The push-up plus is one of my go-to exercises for swimmers. It elicits one of the highest levels of serratus anterior activation and promotes shoulder stability at the same time. The key in this movement is the “plus” at the end. If this is too difficult, try doing this movement on a countertop or on your knees!


Common faults:

  • Not doing the “plus” at the end
  • Compensating with your low back during the “plus” portion of the movement
  • Allowing excessive neck movement
  • Allowing your hips to either sag or be too high during the pushup


Sets and reps:

Start with 3 sets of 8 reps, then adjust accordingly based on how difficult the exercise is for you. The difficulty of this exercise varies for each swimmer, I find best results if you leave 2 reps left in the tank when finishing.


#2 Three-Way Banded Pull Aparts




Three-way banded pull aparts are a must-do exercise for swimmers, regardless if you have swimmers shoulder or not. Why? Because it is highly effective at strengthening the trapezius, rhomboids, infrapsinatus, supraspinatus, and teres minor all at once. All of these muscles play a major role not only in shoulder stability, but also help to put your lats and pecs in the optimal position to propel yourself through the water.


Common faults:

  • Allowing your hands to go past your trunk
  • Not initiating the movement with your shoulder blades
  • Allowing your shoulder to translate forward
  • Bending your elbows
  • Arching your back to help finish the movement.


Sets and reps:

I like to do 7 reps, for 21 total pull aparts. Progressing the number of reps is the next step for this exercise.


#3 Upright Rows

Most of the time, a swimmer has shoulder pain when their arm is elevated above their head. Not only do the rotator cuff muscles need to work in this scenario, but the shoulder blade also needs to upwardly rotate. Without upward rotation of the scapula, your shoulder no longer has a solid base to move from. This decreases stability of your shoulder, increasing the risk of injury.


The upright row is a great exercise for this reason. It promotes scapular upward rotation by using the right muscles, the trapezius and serrates anterior. I find it beneficial to imagine you are bringing the tip of your shoulder to your ear as a cue to maximize the benefits of this exercise.


Common faults:


  • Holding the weight to far from your body
  • Bringing the weight to high
  • Dropping your elbows


Sets and Reps:


I like to start swimmers with 2 sets of 15-20 reps to help ingrain the pattern. Once comfortable, increasing the weight and lowering the reps is what I will typically do next.


Do You Want a PDF with 5 of My Favorite Exercises For Swimmers Shoulder? Click here.


Conclusion:


The internet is full of stretches and exercises for swimmers shoulder, but many of them do not address the key impairments that swimmers often present with. While these exercises discussed here will be helpful in addressing your swimmers shoulder, doing the same exercises, with the same sets and reps forever will not get you back to 100%.

Progressing or increasing the intensity of the exercises is necessary in order to get your shoulder better than it was before. For many this can mean following a specific and targeted shoulder program. Sign up for my newsletter if you are interested in a bulletproof shoulders program that will help keep you healthy this season.


Originally appeared on theswimmingpt.com.


References:

Wilk, K. E., Reinold, M. M., & Andrews, J. R. (2009). The athlete’s shoulder. Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier.

Nichols AW. Medical Care of the Aquatics Athlete. Curr Sports Med Rep.2015 Sep-Oct; 14(5): 389- 96. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000194. PMID: 26359841.

McMaster, W.C. SwimmingInjuries. SportsMed 22, 332–336 (1996). https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-199622050-00006

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