Shoulder Exercises For A Stronger Swim

Four shoulder exercises aimed at preventing injury and improving your swim stroke.

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Recently I was invited to a presentation by Matt Rose, a former Canadian Olympic swimmer who is now a physiotherapist in Victoria. With experience both as an athlete and a therapist, Rose had a unique perspective on “prehabilitation.” Prehabilitation focuses on strengthening supporting muscles to facilitate proper biomechanics to avoid injury. In swimming we are constantly rotating the shoulder joint, which puts stress on the muscles of the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is made of four small muscles: the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis. Focused work on these muscles is more effective for maintaining shoulder health than weights for the larger prime mover muscles in the shoulders, since most triathletes’ limitation is not brute strength, but correct motor patterns.

Rose’s shoulder prehabilitation series does not take an overwhelming amount of time. With a daily core routine, the exercises allow you to prevent a future injury and might even improve your posture, leading to holding water more effectively and improving your swim stroke.

All the exercises on this page can be done with either rubber tubing or resistance bands. Attach one end of the tubing to a door or fixed object so that the band will be at approximately waist height.

Shoulder Extension

Stand with your back to the anchor point, the tubing in one hand out at a right angle. Push your arm straight our from your body. When extended, trace an “L” shape slowly and return to start.

Form tip: Keep shoulder blades low and tight to the back of your spine.

Reps: 12-20 times per side

External Rotations

Stand perpendicular to your anchor point. Pull the tubing directly across your body, keeping your elbow tight to your waist.

Form tip: Keep the scapula tight and your shoulder lowered to work the rotator cuff, not arm muscles.

Reps: One minute each side, working up to two minutes.

Internal Rotations

The opposite of the external rotation: Grasp the tubing in the hand closest to the anchor point and rotate the arm away from the anchor point across the body.

Form tip: Take one lateral step away to add resistance.

Reps: One minute each side, working up to two minutes.


Y and T Fly

Take an end of the band in each hand and step backward until the band becomes taut with your arms extended at shoulder level. Keeping your body upright and your abs contracted, pull your arms out and above your head in a “Y” shape, then return to start. Then pull your arms out into a “T” at your side. (That’s one rep.)

Form tip: This is meant to strengthen the muscles between the shoulder blades, so keep your shoulders down to focus on those muscles rather than your arms.

Reps: 12, building to more.

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