The shoulder is the most commonly compromised area for all aquatic sports. The shoulder joint is a shallow ball and socket joint that possesses the most range of motion in the body however the drawback is, it is also exposed to the highest chance of injury. Surprisingly, strengthening the shoulder itself will not adequately protect the swimming athlete from developing an injury. The key areas which require strengthening to prevent swimming shoulder injuries are the upper back and abdominal muscles. Most importantly however, swimming athletes should not wait until the shoulder is sore to begin injury prevention exercises.
Side plank – The athlete will prop themselves up onto their elbow and form an ‘L shape’ with their body. The aim of this exercise is to hold it for 3 sets of 30 seconds on each side.
Bird dog – The athlete will begin by placing their hands below their shoulder and their knees below their hips. This will allow them to maintain a straight spine and engage the abdominal muscles. To begin the exercise, they will extend their opposite arm and leg and hold this position. The aim of this exercise is to hold the position for 30 seconds and perform 3 repetitions of this on each side.
Chair crunch – For this exercise, the athlete will begin with their back flat against the ground and their leg placed on a chair or couch at an approximately 90-degree angle. Slowly raise your upper back and shoulders off the floor. Hold this position for 10 seconds before returning to the ground. Perform this for 3 sets of 3 repetitions.
Scapular muscle exercises:
Hitch hiker – Position yourself on the floor or on an exercise ball for this exercise. The arms will remain completely straight with the thumb facing up. The goal of this exercise is to maintain this arm and wrist position as you raise the upper limb as high as you can. Perform this exercise for 3 sets of 20 reps.
Scapular push-ups – Begin in a push up position with the elbows slightly bent. This exercise can be performed on the toes or the knees. Squeeze and push the shoulder blades as far as you can. Perform this exercise for 3 sets of 15 reps.
The skier – Lean forward with a flat back over an exercise ball or chair. The chin and head are positioned down and inwards towards the floor. A light weight will be swung behind the body and upwards towards the sky. Perform this exercise for 3 sets of 10 reps.
Rotator cuff exercises:
The ball on the wall – Have a ball set up at shoulder height, perpendicular to your body. The ball is rolled in all directions back and forth. Perform this exercise for 3 sets of 30 seconds on each side of the body.
External rotation – You may perform this exercise with a cable machine or an exercise band. Rotate your arm out from your stomach to a position 90 degrees away from the body. Perform this exercise for 3 sets of 20 reps.
Internal rotation – This exercise is the opposite of the external rotation movement from above. Rotate your arm from a position that is approximately 90 degrees from your body to your stomach. Perform this exercise for 3 sets of 20 reps.
These exercises will not only prevent injury, they will also increase performance to reduce time loss due to injury and increase success in competition. The exercises suggested are easy, beginner variations which can act as the foundations for an injury prevention routine. It is important that swimming athletes seek help from a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist for more advanced exercise options.