How Swimmers Can Prevent Injuries From the Start

Many swimmers complain of injuries such as shoulder instability and pain at the top of their stroke, also known as “impingement,” that get in the way of their training.  How do these injuries happen and what can you do to prevent them?  Here is a bit of advice to keep you injury-free for years to come.

Inherently, if you are a good swimmer, you probably already have more shoulder range of motion compared to a non-swimmer.  Increased shoulder mobility (laxity) leads to a more efficient stroke, which allows swimmers to train for a longer period of time.  In addition to shoulder joint laxity, swimmers also have strong chest musculature.  While these traits are beneficial in the water, weakness of the shoulder blade stabilizing muscles and other imbalances are common due to the repetitive nature of swimming.

One of the best ways to prevent shoulder injures caused by muscle imbalances is to include supplemental training exercises that support not only your shoulder joint, but also your shoulder blades.  This will ensure a higher degree of dynamic stability when you are in the water.

To see if you have shoulder blade weakness, try this strength test: Lie on your stomach and place your arm straight out to the side with your thumb pointing down to the floor.  Have a friend push on your forearm in a downward direction toward the floor.  Second, turn your thumb up towards the ceiling and repeat.  If you are unable to resist against them using a moderate force, you have some strengthening to do.

To get started, here are some exercises to make sure that your shoulders are ocean-ready.

With these exercises, it’s important to focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together and avoid hiking up your shoulders towards your ears.

1. Shoulder “Y”


While lying face down on an exercise ball or bench at the gym, raise both arms up at about a 45* angle while keeping your elbows straight and squeezing the bottom of your shoulder blades together. Hold 3 times for 30 seconds.

2. Side Plank


Support your body weight on your left forearm as you push yourself up on your left side, keeping your legs zipped closely together and your abdominal muscles pulled in tight.  Don’t let your weight collapse onto your left shoulder.  Push your forearm into the ground and reach the tip of your right shoulder up toward the cieling, keeping your trunk in a straight line. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times on each side.

3. Push Up Plus


Get into a plank position and push your body up using only your shoulder blades while keeping your elbows straight. You should feel your upper back sinking down and together during the rest phase and rounding out as you push your body up during the work phase. Do 3 sets of 10.


Performing these 3 simple exercises every morning, in addition to your stretching and cardio routine will help you build the important muscles surrounding your shoulder blades that are needed to propel you through the water injury-free!  Happy swimming!

Check out more shoulder exercises for swimmers on our YouTube Channel HERE

Article by Catherine Culver, PT, DPT at Jaco Rehabilitation

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