A few friends and I have all had shoulder problems while training and I’ve put together a few different ways to protect your shoulders or let them have time to heal. Getting nocked out by shoulder injuries is one of the great frustrations for swimmers – just like knee or foot problems for runners.
The truth is that swimming is tough on shoulders. There are plenty of swimmers that have truly damaged their shoulders and need to stop for a season or even have surgery. I cannot tell you that here, but if you continue to have pain, do the smart thing and head to the doctors.
Three things you can do to strengthen your shoulders:
1. Stretch – It’s a toss up whether you do dynamic or static stretches. I think dynamic shoulder shrugs or shoulder rotations are better before swimming and static stretches are better after. The stretch all of us used to love was having someone pull our arms back to stretch our pecks – the more I read about this stretch the more I think it’s actually hard on the shoulders.
2. Weights – Dunbell Press, Lawn Mower Pulls, Interior Shoulder Rotations, Medicine Ball Throws… There are tons of exercises that work the small muscles inside your shoulders that keep you from getting hurt. Over training any one muscle leaves you vulnerable to injury from over use.
3. Warm Up – Some of the best club swim teams in the country warm up for at least 800 meters with fins. That’s half a mile of swimming with fins to take the pressure off your shoulders and allow your blood and fluids to circulate in the joints. It takes time to let your shoulders really get going, and while 800 meters is probably right for a club team that swims the 800 m in just over 10 minutes or so, adjust the distance for you to take 8-12 minutes.
After You’re Hurt… Ways to Heal Up:
1. Shorter Workouts – Drop the yardage or meters down. Most endurance athletes can easily over do their bodies capacity for taking punishment, cut the yardage down and let your shoulders heal. Depending on how it makes your shoulders feel, work on speed work or cut the speed work out. If you can hack speed work, make it really fast and cut the distance.
2. Stroke Work – Add in other strokes if freestyle is giving you trouble. Backstroke and butterfly both compliment freestyle well, and breaststroke offers your muscles an entirely different work out while keeping your cardio up. Individual medley work really strengthen endurance and the small muscles.
3. Snorkel Work – The snorkel allows you to keep your head steady during freestyle which puts less stress on your shoulders. Add the fins in and cruise for a while keeping your head in a relaxed neutral position. This wont work for some shoulder problems, but I have found it takes a huge pressure off of mine.
4. Ice Baths – Ice your shoulders or take really cold showers focusing on the shoulders. Let them get nice and cold down to the core. Along with shortening the yardage and adding the snorkel work, this has been a huge help for me in the past. Some of the research I have read suggests that cold works better than heat depending on your injury – in general the majority of injuries seem to prefer cold, but that maybe something you have to decide for yourself.
Some injuries though cannot be helped through these methods, but they have all worked for me when I’ve struggled through shoulder trouble. As I have added in the methods to protect my shoulders, I have had far fewer problems with my shoulders. In fact only 1 time over the last year did I have problems with my shoulders was when I did a 10700 yard work out (a new years work out) after not being in the water for a month. After icing and using the snorkel for a week and a half, I was able to step it back up.