This is one thing I struggled with as a swimmer. I learned how to surf at the age of six. My first organized swimming experience didn’t come until closer to my high school years. I learned the pull with a board under my feet. As you can probably guess, I didn’t rotate very much. My rotation was so limited.
On the flip side, some swimmers struggle with rotation that is too much and covers an unnecessary range of motion. There can also be a difference in rotation between the left and right sides of the body (Oh…. that’s why coach wants me to be able to do rotary breathing).
Has a coach ever told you to rotate more or to stop rotating so much?
How do you fix it? How can you train yourself to control rotation?
Lack of Rotation
If you lack the necessary range of motion when it comes to rotation, start by mobilizing the area. You might be tight in areas like the shoulders, thoracic spine, and hips. Start with completing this simple routine daily. This will only take you 10-15 minutes. Complete 10-15 reps of each exercise.
Complete two rounds of the following exercises
The focus for this segment is unlocking rotational potential in the body. A lack of rotation can be caused by many lifestyle factors (ex. sitting). Also, past injury can play a role in rotation. Each time the body experiences injury, it tries to find another way to complete a movement or task. There is also an avoidance of the affected area. Getting the mind and body to trust rotation can be a struggle after experiencing injuries throughout a swimming career.
The biggest focus with the above exercises is to take your time. Do not rush the movements. Try to keep the low back firm and avoid pushing the rotation that far down the spine. The thoracic spine is supposed to be your rotational friend.
Pending on how long you have been avoiding rotation, these exercises might seem near impossible at first. Resist the urge to rush ahead with your progress. Go as far as you can with the movements without forcing the issue. You didn’t get to your current state overnight. It will take some time to reverse the trend.
Too Much Rotation
If you’re over-rotating during your stroke, you might also wiggle down the lane. Unfortunately, many swimmers forget how to naturally activate the core without deeper thought. Getting back to a normal state of core activation solves rotational issues almost instantly. Control rotation and you can control your stroke. It is as simple as that.
Where should you start?
Remember How to Brace
The simples way to go about this is to just put some thought into it. When you’re sitting at your chair at work, take a minute to think about engaging the abs, sitting up tall, and breathing without losing your brace. Start with smaller holds of 15-20 seconds and then progress up to a whole minute. I like to think about what it would be like if I were to absorb a punch. This usually elicits a larger muscle contraction and automatically cues a person into engaging the core.
If you want to go with something a little more structured, start with your basic plank.
The biggest thing I see with swimmers is a lack of control in the hips and low back. This is a foundational piece to controlling rotation. Instead of keeping an arch in the low back during a plank, focus on engaging the glutes and tucking the tailbone.
This accomplishes a few things.
- The tucked tailbone positioning is similar to the streamline positioning in the water.
- This position will also take pressure off of the lower back.
Stop with the arched low back plank and start optimizing your performance, while reducing pain.
The next step is to make the movement more dynamic without losing the form of the low back and hips. You can take the plank and add rotation.
Remember, no arch in the low back! Do not let the movement pick up speed as you lower to the ground. Try to control your pace throughout the movement. This is also going to help maintain your rotational range of motion while teaching rotational control.
Now that we have a foundation to work with, let’s take it a step further. It is time to control your rotation. You can do this in your dryland sessions by adding in anti-rotation exercises.
The focus is simple, keep your body still outside of the joints needed for the movement.
This one looks simple, but it solves a lot of problems with the wiggly hip syndrome and over-rotation. To get the most value out of it, bring the focus!
Keep your hips stacked evenly and focus on keeping the hips from moving side to side as you lower into the lunge.
If you find this exercise to be easy, move further away from the band anchor point.
Let’s take this anti-rotation work to a similar position to swimming. Keep the hips completely still while rowing the band in towards your chest. If you’re a swim coach, this is an easy one to do with a handful of athletes and it will be easy to spot the athletes that are struggling to control rotation. Remember to engage the glutes and keep the rest of the body still.
This last exercise is one of my favorites. Why? If you’re even a little out of sync, you will rock all over the place and probably end up with your head resting on the wall. It is also a great way to focus on head positioning that you want to replicate in the water.
Move slowly with the knee drive and focus on keeping the tailbone tucked. You’ll know if you’re doing it right by the amount of movement in the straps.
Master these movements and you’ll be on your way to controlling rotation in the water.
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