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“For me, shoulder stability is key,” says George Vafiades, head of strength and conditioning with Tailwind Endurance, a New York City-based endurance sports training studio. “The shoulder definitely has a lot of moving parts and is one of the most injured joints, but there are some exercises that will challenge and improve that stability.” When putting together shoulder exercises for swimmers and triathletes, Vafiades, who has completed six Ironmans and countless other tris, says he looks for a routine that’s low key with a lot of rest included.
“This strength work is not about getting a burn or getting the heart rate up; it’s more about functionality,” he says.
While the upper body is the focus for the swim shoulder exercises, Vafiades still incorporates the entire system. For these moves he recommends 7-12 repetitions, but give yourself a minute to complete them before taking a minute rest.
Ideally, Vafiades recommends performing this set three times and following with 15 minutes of a compound movement like a dumbbell, kettlebell, or barbell deadlift—one minute on and one minute off—to continue working the upper back and the small of the back with the hamstrings.
“If you’re able to do this set once a week in season, that’s great,” Vafiades adds. “It shouldn’t feel like ‘a traditional workout.’ The simpler the better—these moves will balance you out.”
4 Shoulder Exercises for Swimmers
TRX Isometric Hold Row
Taking straps in your hands, lower to a diagonal position with feet placed firmly on the floor and your arms outstretched. When you get to that low point, hold for one second and squeeze your shoulder blades together before “rowing” yourself up—elbows close to your rib-cage. For a more advanced challenge, perform with one leg raised.
Step-Back Lunge with Kettlebell
Take a light kettlebell and hold it around eye-level with your arm outstretched and bent at a 90-degree angle. Step back to lunge, lowering your knee toward the floor; prevent the kettlebell from swaying by engaging your bicep, tricep, and upper-back muscles.
Place a resistance band around either your palms or your elbows and remain in a plank position with hands shoulder-width apart. Aim to hold for 60 seconds.
Pushup with Resistance Band
Place a resistance band around palms, and place both hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Lower slowly into a push- up, keeping your elbows tight to your ribs. The resistance band helps stop elbows from flaring out and pulls shoulder blades down the back. Keeping shoulders engaged will help with shoulder stability.