Like many of you out there I truly believe that chlorine is my perfume. I am happier, calmer, and more centered when I have gotten my time/laps in in the pool. Swimming is a lifelong sport, one we can all participate in whether we are young or old, a competitive swimmer or a recreational swimmer, or someone who likes to just relax in the water. It is easier on our joints and allows for participants of all abilities and speeds. Like most competitive swimmers I always want to be stronger and faster in the water, and as always prevent injuries.
I often get asked what muscles I should strengthen for swimming to protect my shoulder or just to be better in the water. The answer might surprise you. It is not just your shoulder muscles, but also includes your core muscles and your lower extremities. It is a combination of both strength and mobility that helps a swimmer excel and prevent injury. Swimming may be an overhead repetitive sport but just like football, baseball, gymnastics, golf, any many other sports, it is actually a whole body sport. The stronger we are as a whole, the better we respond and perform.
Here are some key areas of your body to focus/pay attention to in order to improve your overall swimming abilities and protect your body from injury:
- Neck mobility: Many of us swimmers only breathe on one side. This can lead to adaptive shortening of the muscles on one side of your neck and discomfort. Therefore it is important to work in alternate breathing with swimming and or use of a snorkel to decrease stress on our cervical spine.
- Shoulders: It is important to maintain flexibility and strength. Swimming involves a lot of internal rotation and when we develop pain in our shoulders we often fall back to “just strengthen your rotator cuff with internal and external rotation Thera-band exercises”. However it is more than that. While these exercises are important, our rotator cuff muscles are small and respond better to shorter repetitions and focusing on endurance. We also need to strengthen our periscapular muscles (the muscles between our shoulder blades and thoracic spine (You may have heard the terms: Y’s, T’s, W’s, L’s etc) and improve our thoracic spine mobility (hello foam rollers!)
- Forearms and Wrists: Strength and mobility of our forearm muscles and our wrists help with the all important catch in the water
- Core: Swimming is a rotational sport (as is baseball, golf, soccer, football, gymnastics and so much more!). A strong core / foundation helps us rotate in the water, stay balanced, reach farther, and makes us more efficient increasing our speed and protecting our shoulders. Front and side planks are great, but don’t forget to add in such cross core exercises as dead bug and bird dog. You need to stay balanced in the water and when a swimmer has pain in the shoulder often part of the cause is a core weakness causing one of their shoulders or hips to drop during the reach and catch phase of freestyle and back stroke.
- Glutes/Hips: A foundation for a strong core includes strengthening of our Gluteus Maximus (hip extensors) and our Gluteus Medius and Minimus (Hip Abductors and Hip Rotation). The strength of the muscles help with our overall body rotation and our kicking for all four strokes. We also need flexibility of our hip muscles in order to achieve good kicking motion and protect our backs.
- Ankle flexibility: Leg for a good kick for all of the four strokes
So what does this all add up to? An overall healthy balance of stretching and strengthening out of the water helps us be better swimmers and prevent injury in the water. And as all of our swimming coaches would say, good technique makes all the difference.
Dealing with a swimming injury? Trying to prevent one? Trying to develop a good balance of strengthening and stretching to improve your swimming and overall health and well being? Come see us here at Iron Horse Physical Therapy and Pilates for a full body assessment and concrete plan for building a bullet proof body and getting back in the water whether it is a pool, the lake, or the ocean.
- Dr. Ongerth