How to Train Around Swimmer’s Shoulder

by Olivier Poirier-Leroy. Join his weekly motivational newsletter for swimmers by clicking here.

You never thought it would happen to you… Or at the very least, you thought you would never have to experience it again.

And yet… here we are.

Hunched over with feet dangling in the hot tub, an ice pack saddling your aggravated swimmer’s shoulder, watching your teammates from across the pool as they cruise through the main set without you.

It’s a crappy feeling, and something I have covered recently where we discussed the psychological toll that occurs from being a chronically injured swimmer.

But fear not.

There is hope.

Here are a few ways to you can train around swimmer’s shoulder:

1. Warm-up while wearing fins.

Swimmers log a lot of miles over the years. During some weeks likely more than you walk. It’s no wonder that we end up with swimmer’s shoulder.

An easy way to lessen the burden on your shoulders over the long term–and when you feel pain starting to seep in–is to implement fins into your warm-up.

Doing so helps lessen the work load your shoulders have to carry, and saves them for the critical sets. Swimming with fins is fun, gets your legs in shape, and allows you an opportunity to properly and thoroughly warm-up your shoulders before unleashing some main set fury on them.

2. Do more vertical kick and less paddles.

One of the common causes of shoulder pain aggravation was when using swim paddles or when using a kickboard according to research.

You can very easily substitute the board for kicking with a swimmer’s snorkel with arms at your side, or like I prefer to do, do some vertical kicking, which is endlessly versatile.

While you setting aside the board feel free to do the same thing with your paddles.

Although they are helpful in developing power, they also place a lot of stress on the ligaments in your arms, making an already injured area even more vulnerable for further injury.

3. Dial down the dryland.

As a swimmer you know how important it is to swim with proper technique. And yet, when it comes to doing dryland we don’t always have that same focus on technique and fundamentals.

While injured you should limit overhead movements like shoulder extensions and pull-ups, as you are already getting more than your fair share of shoulder-centric work in the pool.

As covered in this guide to fixing and preventing swimmer’s shoulder, steer your dryland work towards stabilizing your core and scaps.

4. Get back to basics.

One of the most overlooked aspects of dealing with the dreaded swimmer’s shoulder isn’t the physical symptoms, which are ever-present and impossible to ignore, but the technical issues in our swimming that got us into trouble in the first place.

Being injured is a great time to get back to the fundamentals of technically-proficient swimming.

After all, the pain that comes from swimmer’s shoulder isn’t just from overuse, it’s from overuse with bad form.

There are two massive upsides to cleaning up your technique: one, you will get injured much less frequently, and two, you will swim more efficiently and faster in the long run.

Win-wins don’t come any more winn-ey than that.

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AquaTiger

As an orthopaedic surgeon I see swimmer’s shoulder a lot, and I can’t stress #4 enough. Swimming tired or just cranking through too many yards leads to a flatter stroke, body roll decreases, and the shoulder takes the brunt of it. There is a bumper pad in your shoulder called a bursa that protects your rotator cuff from bumping into a bone in your shoulder called the acromion, and that’s what gets inflamed and damaged with bad technique. Don’t do dry land or weights before swimming a long workout, you just practice how NOT to swim because you are tired. Really focus on body roll and the recovery part of your stroke will put less stress on your shoulders. And… Read more »

baker2033

Thanks for the insight. Unfortunately there aren’t many doctors who “get it” when it comes to swimmers. We’ve had issues for YEARS trying to find someone that gets it. The only relief we’ve gotten has come from A.R.T. – which has broken up fascia tissue and concentrate on strengthening the shoulders/back (due to bad posture). You’re right about #4. There are simply too many clubs who have coaches at the senior level who don’t teach the proper technique. If you’re a big strong swimmer (Dressell, Murphy, Adrian) , then you can work the upper torso and just grind through the set – but for most swimmers – they simply keep swimming the same way – where their hands turn out… Read more »

SwimFL

Then you have coaches who do try to change swimmers’ strokes but because the kid’s previous coaches have taught them that swimming fast with poor technique is the right way to do it, the swimmer will not sacrifice speed for stroke changes. This is not a one dimensional problem. A lot of parents with just enough knowledge to be dangerous will switch clubs if the athlete’s coach pulls them back to slow them down to fix stroke flaws.

Neil fergie

This is great information as my daughter has it and she is still only 11 but swims 6 days out of 7 l and it’s doing her head in not swimming or racing.
How much rest does she need and do you think xray or mri would help ?

AquaTiger

I will throw in my 2 cents here. Without getting too technical, an X-ray looks only at the bones (we see the shadow cast on a film after X-rays are applied) and an MRI looks at fluid levels in all tissue, which would be for inflammation or soft tissue injuries in general. So I disagree with the other reply, because an MRI would show everything. That being said, the first option in this situation should always be some level of rest. The more I read this article the more I love it. It really speaks to the major issues, namely decreasing the load on the shoulders (fins), vertical kicking (so many coaches take shoulder injuries and put them on a… Read more »

racepaceswimming

At 11, even if she can’t raise her arm above her head, the MRI won’t show anything. The key to whether you should consider an xray (keep in mind I’m not a doctor, just a coach with experience with bad shoulders) is if there is a genetic or heredity issue with joints within the family. If not, it could simply be inflamed tendons and ligaments that rest, ibuprofen and maybe some massage and physical therapy could help mend. I know many coaches hear kids talk about ‘how their body hurts’, etc – and many take that as a gesture they don’t want to swim practice (sort of like getting out of the pool to go to the bathroom before the… Read more »

Thys Goosen

There may be another problem. Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS). May result in a seriuos condition. Treatable.

About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy has been involved in competitive swimming for most of his life. Starting off at the age of 6 he was thrown in the water at the local pool for swim lessons and since then has never wanted to get out. A nationally top ranked age grouper as both a …

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