Posts tagged swimming
The Best Exercises to Prevent Injury in Swimmers

In our Boulder Physical Therapy practice we often see athletes who are dealing with a swimming related injury.  Some of these injuries can occur from training errors and poor stroke mechanics, but many are secondary to correctable changes in mobility and strength.  Many injured swimmers complain of shoulder pain including rotator cuff muscle or tendon pain, impingement, and osteoarthritis.  While the causes of these symptoms are usually multifactorial they can general be placed into two categories: thoracic mobility and weakness. 

It is rare to find a swimmer with adequate thoracic mobility, including both thoracic extension and rotation, required for each of the 4 strokes.  This loss of mobility leads to poor swimming mechanics and can overload the shoulder joint.  If the thoracic spine is not driving the arm movement, the total load is now placed onto the shoulder and arm.  Another common impairment we find in our practice is a loss of hip strength.  The majority of a swimmer's power is driven by their legs and without adequate strength in the hips the shoulders and upper body alone are asked to produce the forces necessary for propulsion through the water.  Decreased thoracic flexibility and hip and shoulder weakness are preventable impairments in swimming athletes.  The exercises below are designed to address these impairments to both reduce an athlete's injury risk as well as improve their swimming performance

Readers are advised to speak with a medical professional before initiating any exercise program.  

thoracic-foam roller-mobility-self mobilizaiton

Thoracic Foam Rolling - Support your neck and head with your hands and slowly roll through your thoracic spine (mid back) from approximately your shirt tag to the bottom of your shoulder blades.  Do not fulcrum over the foam roller but rather keep your spine parallel to the floor.

1-2 minutes before activity

shoulder-exercise-mobility-thoracic spine
shoulder sweep-exercise-thoracic-mobility

Shoulder Circles - lay on your side with your hips flexed to 90 degrees and both arms outstretched in front of you.  Initiate the movement through the middle back extending your top hand over your bottom hand and begin to move counterclockwise keeping your finger tips in contact with the floor.  The movement should come from the middle back and the shoulder should mainly come around for the ride.  Work both clockwise and counter clockwise on each shoulder

5 reps clockwise and 5 reps counterclockwise on each side. 

bridge-shoulder extension-exercise-strengthening

Bridge with shoulder extension - lay on your back, holding a resistance band safely and properly secured.  Lift your pelvis and hips using your glut muscles as you extend your shoulders pulling your hands toward the floor.  Keep your chin slightly tucked and your shoulder blades down and back.  

Perform 2 sets of 12-15 reps. 2-3  non consecutive days per week

swimming-strength training-injury-prevention

Low Pulley Row and Deadlift - Stand on one foot holding a low cable pulley in opposite hand.  Hinge forward at your hip with a straight spine to begin.  Extend your hip and knee to standing as you draw the handle towards your chest.  Keep your spine straight, shoulder blade down and back, and knee over foot.  

Perform 2 sets of 12-15 reps. 2-3  non consecutive days per week


Suspension Shoulder Flexion - Stand holding safely secured TRX or suspension trainer handles at shoulder height.  Slowly lower your body by raising your arms over head.   Keep your core muscles tight, utilize a neutral spine, and slowly lower back to start. 

Perform 2 sets of 12-15 reps. 2-3  non consecutive days per week

TRX-row-strengthening-external rotation

TRX high row with shoulder external rotation - Grasp safely secured TRX or suspension trainer handles at shoulder height.  Draw the handles toward you in a rowing motion then transition into shoulder external rotation rotating your palms from facing the floor into facing forward.  Slowly return to start. Keep a neutral spine, shoulder blades down and back, and your core engaged.  

The Impact of Fatigue on Swimming Mechanics

Our prior posts on swimming have focused on the benefits of strength training and race pacing during a swim event.  Conversely, fatigue is one of the factors shown to reduce swim performance and stroke mechanics.  This change in mechanics places a swimmer at a greater risk of shoulder overuse injuries including impingement and tendonitis.  A recent article highlighted the impact of fatigue on many performance variables including stroke mechanics.

Mathews and colleagues studied 17 national level swimmers (PT in Sport. 2016).  Athletes were tested before and after a fatiguing workout (8 x 100 m) in the pool.  The authors noted blood work values including glucose and lactate confirmed fatigue in the swimmers.  As the swimmers fatigued detrimental changes were noted in their stroke mechanics as well as joint position sense.  This article reinforces prior research on the impact of fatigue on stroke mechanics and the potential mechanisms of injury among swimmers. 

Swim Pacing's Impact on Triathlon Performance

Swimming is the opening leg of the triathlon race and many athletes utilize this leg to establish position for the upcoming bike and run events of the competition.  Swimming remains the hardest and often most dreaded of the 3 triathlon components for many competitors.  For this group of competitors, a race strategy for the swim should be considered improve their performance and place them in a stronger position to enter the cycling event. 

A recent experiment was conducted to determine the impact of pacing on triathletes' swim performance.  Wu and colleagues (Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2016) examined competitive, trained triathletes placing them first through a 750 meter swim time trial.  After the trial, athletes were placed in three pacing groups during 3 different sprint distance triathlon events.  Authors matched the swim time during each of the 3 triathlons but adjusted the pacing in three ways: even pacing, gradual increased speed (90 to 70% of swim trial times), or gradual decreased speed (70% to 90% of swim trial times).  

The authors reported improved performance and lower fatigue levels in athletes who started at 90% and moved to 70% of their swim trial time.  In addition, these athletes had better cycle times and overall triathlon performances than those in the other two groups.

Athletes should consider utilizing pacing during their opening swim legs to improve performance and decrease perceived exertion.  

Strength Training's Impact on Swim Performance

In the last couple of weeks we have posted on the impact of strength training on endurance performance.  Studies have shown resistance training improves both running and cycling economy leading to faster times.  These studies add to our existing knowledge on the importance of endurance athletes balancing their endurance training with strength exercises.  The pool is no exception with swimmers demonstrating improved sprint times using strength training.  Swimming requires energy contributions from both the aerobic and anaerobic systems and athletes should aim to train their bodies consistent with these demands.  

A recent study examined the impact of 30 second training bouts targeting the major muscle groups involved in swimming.  Belfry and colleagues studies 16 male swimmers and divided them into 3 groups, two training groups and one control group (J Strength Cond Res. 2016).  One training group completed 20 repetitions of strength training exercises within a 30 second time period (consistent with a sprint performance).   The authors tried to exhaust the athlete at the end of the 20 reps, if more could be completed in 30 seconds the weight was increased.  A second training group selected a weight they could lift 80 times in a 2 minute span (similar to a mid distance event) with adjustments made similar to the first group.  Both training groups lifted 3 days a week for 6 weeks.  

The authors reported improved swim times for the 50 and 200 yard distances in the 30 second group, but the 2 minute training group only improved their 200 yard time.  This study adds to the existing literature on the value of strength training for swimmers.  For more information on how strength training can improve your swim performance contact your local Physical Therapist.