By Thomas Martinho, PT, DPT
Swimming is a full body sport, however upper body mobility is especially important for both swimming efficiently and avoiding injury. Swimmers typically struggle the most with the mobility and control in the recovery portion of the stroke. The recovery portion is when the athlete brings the hand out of the water and enters it back above head. This movement requires a combination of thoracic rotation, scapular retraction, shoulder extension and internal rotation, followed by scapular upward rotation and shoulder flexion/abduction. If a swimmer does not have the mobility required, compensation will occur. These compensatory patterns may lead to decreased efficiency or even worse, pain and injury with repetitive use. Including the following controlled mobility exercises can help improve your efficiency of stroke and reduce pain with longer distances.
(5-10 reps each side)
Start with your arm straight, raising it forward as far as possible. Next, rotate your arm away from the body as you reach behind as far as possible. Keeping the arm rotated, bring your hand down next to your side. Perform the motion in reverse. This exercise focuses on glenohumeral (shoulder) range of motion and emphasizes transition and smooth movement through these ranges. Do not push through pain but attempt to bring your arm through its full mobility.
Thoracic Spine Extension/Rotation
(2 sets x 15 reps)
Begin on your hands and elbows, sitting into your heels. Place your hand on your lower back. If this is uncomfortable you may also place your hand on the back of your head. Without moving your hips, rotate through the middle and upper back to point your elbow toward the ceiling. Avoid excessive leaning. This exercise focuses on thoracic spine rotation. This motion is vital to ensure you are able to rotate and stroke without excessive rolling at the hips.
(2 sets x 15 reps)
With back and head flat against the wall, squeeze shoulder blades and bring arms and hands as close to the wall as possible. Slide arms up and down without letting them move further from the wall. This exercise focuses on scapular control and mobility especially when reaching overhead. This will help prevent excessive strain on the shoulder joint during longer swims.
Quadruped Rockback With Upper Extremity Resistance
Start on your hands and knees with a band around your hands at shoulder width. Pull out against the band, keeping shoulders tight as you sit back into your heels. A stretch should be felt along the side of the shoulder and into shoulder blades. This will help with shoulder elevation to make sure you can get fully overhead during the reach portion of swimming.
(5-10 reps per side)
Maintain chest flat to the ground throughout the motion. Start by pulling your shoulder blade down and back. Lift hand off head and extend your elbow. Start to hover your arm to the side while keeping as much height as possible and rotating through the shoulder until your hand is by your hip. Bend elbow and place hand as high up our back as possible. Then reverse the motion until you get back to your start position. Focus on maintaining slow controlled motion. This exercise focuses on maintaining scapular retraction and control as you move through required shoulder motion for swimming.
If you are having trouble performing these exercises, experiencing pain or simply want to further develop your training program, please reach out for a comprehensive evaluation with a physical therapist! For more videos and helpful exercises for swimmers, check out more exercises specifically for the shoulder region with Myofascial Release Techniques for Swimmers, or read more here about the shoulder complex for insight during training and rehab.