In last week’s post, I mentioned that strength is a helpful tool for injury prevention. This sent off a chain of responses from swimmers wanting more information on how strength aids in injury prevention. Let’s dive more into this topic.
Let’s start with the catch of your swimming stroke. The catch generally puts you in an overhead position. There are two issues that pop up a bit more with the catch point, overreaching and crossing over. Strength plays a role in both of these issues.
- Overreaching: This can occur for a multitude of reasons, but the issue often stems from lack of thoracic spine mobility and the inability to keep the shoulder girdle compacted. Initiating proper row and pulling sequences with the body helps both of these pieces. Imagine walking around in a shoulder shrugged position all day. Would this be comfortable? Over time you’re going to build tension and reduce range of motion. Strengthening the scapular (shoulder blade) region allows you to keep the shoulders within an optimal range for movement. Then, how many times has a coach said “pull with your lats?” Well, by overreaching in the shoulder, you make it a lot harder (near impossible for some people) to initiate lat engagement. Now you’re putting more pressure on smaller shoulder muscles to get you through the pull versus your big lat! What happens if this continues for too long? “Coach my shoulder hurts!”
- Crossing Over: This usually comes down to a lack of rotational control. We know that rotation is a very important part of swimming. However, even more important, is the ability to control rotation. How? This comes down to proper core stabilization, body awareness, and muscle activation. If you’re lacking equality in the amount of your crossover, you’re loading sides of the body differently. This leads to unequal stress on the body. Keep it up long enough, this leads to tension points and pain as well!
Also, when you’re on a pool deck, look at how many swimmers have rounded upper backs and shoulders. This positioning is getting into that shrugged pattern. No wonder it is causing pain! From a posture standpoint we have to balance out the shoulders and keep the musculature strong. The rounded position won’t be pain-free forever.
Do these strength drills for overreaching and crossing over!
The active hang is a great tool to feel out what it is like to have shoulder engagement at your catch point. This will teach you what it feels like to have the lats turned on.
After the active hang, mastering pull up position, and being able to keep a proper brace in your core, add in speed skiers. This is going to simulate race speed in the water. We often practice technique at a slow pace and forget to master it at higher speeds.
The plank + vertical pull will challenge you to keep your hips still while completing a pulling motion. Feel like your hips swing all over the place while swimming? This one is for you! Focus on not overreaching with the shoulder!
The Hinge W + Press is great at pointing out where you might be losing your shoulder engagement. If the shoulder stays compacted, you can glide through the “W” motion more continuously. If you initiate a shrug, then things become a lot more challenging.
Life Tip: Take a few moments each day to assess your shoulder positioning. I’ll have athletes set reminders in their phone 3-5x a day. You’d be surprised how often you’re shrugging. This is teaching you to turn off the lats.
Now that we talked about why shoulder strength is needed, let’s look at body positioning. I don’t think there’s any argument that good body positioning is needed for swimming success. However, how do we achieve better body positioning? What do we do when we stop progressing in technique ability?
The proper strength training gives swimmers the platform to achieve technique mastery. When you see a swimmer that just gets it, you see a body with proper stability, strength, and mobility in motion. What happens if you can’t hold body positioning. Simple!
How many of you have experienced back pain?
Being able to improperly stabilize results in all sorts of aches and pains. Aches and pains lead to time out of the water. Let’s talk back pain really quick.
Many swimmers leave their hips behind in the water. Another way to think of this is that there is an arch in the low back. Now let’s say you swim three times a week for 1.5 hours with that arched back. What do you think happens when you get to month #3? What do you think happens when you get to a year? Pain. Not only are you in a slower position but you’re in a position that will gradually cause discomfort. Layer in a desk-bound job, school, or a long commute and you’re in for some not very fun days of pain!
The supine wall press is one of my favorite ways to teach what a true tucked tailbone streamline position feels like. You might also realize from this exercises that you didn’t realize how much goes in to core stability versus just engaging your abs.
Take a basic plank or front bridge. Many athletes will not engage their glutes and will leave small arch in the low back. By tucking the tailbone with some glute engagement, you’re put in a much more powerful streamline position. Training this positioning instead of the plank with the glutes lacking engagement is superior for swimmers (and other athletes).
Now let’s see how the body reacts when external forces are in play. The deadlift allows for major muscle group recruitment while a high level of stabilization is present. The push back I get here is that many have been injured by the deadlift.
However, was it the actual deadlift or did the deadlift point out where you are lacking in your training?
When you do a flip turn, do you go from a compact position to extended streamline? The deadlift is going to work your hips through the similar range of a flip turn! Also, how many of you flip without the knees being stacked over the foot? Do your knees touch or dive in towards each other during your turns?
Imagine walking around like this all day. Do you think you’d be pain free? Let’s go back to 5th grade science class. Do you remember equal and opposite reactions?
When you push off the wall, the wall is also pushing back to you. If the knee is over the foot, that force is able to travel in a straight line. This will help with your walls and also your starts. However, if the knee is diving inward, that force is going to follow the path of the knee. Failure to keep the joints stacked properly is going to result in some achy knees. The deadlift is a good tool to see what happens when external force is added. If your knees dive in we need to strengthen the musculature around it to ensure long-term health!
Masters Athletes: Next time you bend down to pick up a bag, suitcase, child, etc. take note of your positioning. Are you rounded over? Do your knees go all different directions? If you want to continue your pain-free swimming career, apply the deadlift principles to your daily life.
These are just a few example of how proper strength leads to injury prevention. The examples are endless.
How do you know if you’re strong enough for swimming? Well, you’re in luck! Next week we are releasing a free swimming combine resource for you to use. Get ready to take our strength challenges and see how you perform! Proper strength will lead to easier advances in technique and joint health for years to come.
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