Swimming builds strength, balance, flexibility, and endurance. That said, repeating overhead movements hundreds of times in a single workout can be especially hard on muscles around the shoulder.
“Anyone who takes up swimming for exercise should focus on honing good stroke technique before attempting to swim fast,” says orthopedics expert Robert G. Marx, M.D., of New York City’s Hospital for Special Surgery who started hitting the pool (instead of the pavement) a couple of years ago. Robert Gillanders, doctor of physical therapy (DPT) and certified orthopedic clinical specialist, recommends four easy exercises for strong shoulders and pain-free swimming:
- Full Can. Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, lift chest, and squeeze shoulder blades together as you raise arms straight out to your sides. Move hands forward about 2 feet and turn thumbs toward ceiling. Lower hands to sides, then lift again until hands are level with top of your head. Do one repetition every 2 seconds until fatigued. Aim for 3 sets of 2 minutes each, resting 30 seconds between sets.
Benefit: Develops proper stroke technique and works the rotator cuff.
- Doorway stretch. Bend arms 90 degrees at elbows (the “high-five” position) and place forearms against an open door frame. Lean forward slightly and hold as long as comfortable.
Benefit: Releases tension in the front of shoulder from hunching over a computer all day.
- Taffy pull. Tie a resistance band into a loop that can slip over hands held 8 inches apart. Keep elbows at sides, forearms parallel to floor, and palms facing each other. Standing straight, squeeze shoulder blades together as you pull hands apart. Return to start position. Do one repetition every 2 seconds until fatigued. Aim for 3 sets of 2 minutes each, resting 30 seconds between sets.
Benefit: Strengthens the posterior (back of) shoulder. It is often weaker than the front, an imbalance that leads to faulty movement patterns in the water.
- Rows. Loop resistance band around doorknob and sit on edge of chair, positioned so arms are extended and band is just taut. Sitting straight, squeeze shoulder blades together and pull hands toward a point between belly button and rib cage, with elbows in and palms facing upward. Return to start position. Do one repetition every 2 seconds until fatigued. Aim for 3 sets of 2 minutes each, resting 30 seconds between sets.
Benefit: Strong shoulder blade muscles are key for efficient overhead movement.