Swimming is a unique sport that requires a great deal of range of motion and strength in the upper body. The shoulders, chest, and arms all work together to help swimmers propel themselves through the water efficiently. However, many swimmers experience pain and discomfort in their shoulders, which can be caused by a lack of mobility in the upper back.
Posture and mobility
Poor posture can cause stress and tension in the muscles and joints, leading to pain and injury. In addition, when the upper back is mobile, the shoulders can move more freely, allowing for a greater range of motion, which results in improved swim stroke efficiency and overall performance. Swimmers with poor upper back mobility may struggle to maintain proper alignment of the shoulder blades and may experience pain and discomfort in the shoulders.
Overuse injuries are the most common
One of the primary reasons swimmers experience shoulder pain is due to overuse injuries. Swimming puts significant stress on the shoulders, leading to inflammation and damage to the rotator cuff muscles. This type of injury is common among swimmers and can lead to severe pain and even surgery.
Best exercises for swimmers
Rehabilitation exercises can help improve shoulder pain in swimmers by strengthening the muscles around the shoulder joint and promoting mobility in the upper back. The following exercises can help swimmers improve their mobility while simultaneously rehabilitating their shoulder injuries.
- The foam roller thoracic extension is an excellent exercise that promotes mobility in the upper back. Lay on your back with your knees bent and the foam roller perpendicular to your spine. Slowly roll the foam roller up and down from the base of your neck to the middle of your back, pausing at any stiff or painful areas. Repeat this exercise for 10-12 repetitions.
- The cat/cow stretch is another exercise that can improve mobility in the thoracic spine. Start on your hands and knees with your hands directly below your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Inhale as you arch your back, bringing your head up toward the ceiling. Exhale as you round your spine, bringing your head down toward the floor. Repeat this cycle for 10-12 repetitions, focusing on moving through each vertebra in your spine.
- Band pull-aparts are an excellent way to strengthen the upper back muscles and improve shoulder mobility. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a resistance band with your hands shoulder-width apart. With your arms straight, pull the band toward your chest, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Slowly release the band back to the starting position. Repeat this exercise for 10-12 repetitions, focusing on using your upper back muscles to initiate the movement.
- The bird dog exercise is an excellent way to improve core stability and upper back mobility. Start on your hands and knees with your hands directly below your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Reach your right arm forward, maintaining a straight line from your hand to your shoulder. At the same time, lift your left leg off the ground, maintaining a straight line from your foot to your hip. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side. Complete 10-12 repetitions on each side.
- The Y-T-W-L shoulder exercise is an excellent way to activate the muscles around the shoulder blade and promote proper alignment. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a light dumbbell in each hand. With your arms straight, raise the dumbbells above your head to form a Y shape, then slowly lower them back down to your sides. Next, raise the dumbbells out to your sides to form a T shape, then lower them back down to your sides. Next, raise the dumbbells in front of you to form a W shape, then lower them back down to your sides. Finally, raise the dumbbells straight out in front of you to form an L shape, then lower them back down to your sides. Repeat this series for 10-12 repetitions.
Incorporating these exercises into your training routine can improve your upper back mobility, reduce the risk of injury, and improve your performance in the water. Swimmers should perform these exercises at least once or twice a week to receive the maximum benefit.
Posture and warm-up
In addition to rehabilitation exercises, it is essential for swimmers to maintain proper posture in and out of the pool. Swimmers should sit up straight and avoid slouching, which can lead to poor posture and muscle tension. Swimmers should also avoid sleeping on their stomachs, which can cause the head and neck to turn to one side, leading to muscle strain and tension.
Swimmers should also warm up properly before swimming to reduce the risk of injury. A proper warm-up should include dynamic stretching, such as arm circles and torso twists, to promote mobility in the upper back and shoulders. Swimmers should also start with lighter strokes and gradually increase the intensity as they warm up.
Upper back mobility is essential for swimmers as it promotes proper posture, improves shoulder mobility, and reduces pain and injury. Rehabilitation exercises such as foam roller thoracic extension, cat/cow stretch, band pull-aparts, bird dog, and the T-W-L shoulder exercise can help swimmers improve their mobility while rehabilitating their shoulder injuries. However, it is important to note that these exercises should be performed under the guidance of a qualified professional, such as a physical therapist or a certified personal trainer, to ensure proper form and prevent further injury.
Swimmers should also consider incorporating other exercises and activities that promote upper back mobility, such as yoga and Pilates. These activities can improve flexibility and strengthen the muscles in the upper back and shoulders, leading to improved performance in the water.
Finally, swimmers should pay attention to their bodies and seek medical attention if they experience persistent pain or discomfort in their shoulders. Ignoring pain can lead to further injury and longer recovery times. With proper rehabilitation exercises, proper posture, and a well-rounded training routine that promotes upper back mobility, swimmers can enjoy a pain-free and successful swimming career.