Swimmers’ Health – Conditioning, Stretching, and Other Preseason Considerations

NOTE: The information included in the following articles is intended to promote the health, safety, and knowledge of our swimmers, parents, coaches, and other participants. Prior to implementing any new routine into your athletic performance, consult a physician.  Sovereign Rehabilitation cannot be held responsible for any personal injury resulting from misuse of the information listed in the site.

Swimming is a low-impact sport in which both strength and endurance are essential components. Strengthening outside of the pool can improve skill as well as prevent injury, and stretching integrated within a comprehensive program can increase an athletes’ range of motion and flexibility. Both strengthening and stretching are appropriate for youth swimmers when a well-designed strength training program is safely implemented and supervised. The information to follow reviews the basics of shoulder strengthening and basic stretching that can be included into a summer swim team routine.

Training with weights outside of the pool should focus on developing strong muscles with high endurance. Workouts designed to be high in repetitions (15-20) that use low to medium weights repeated for 1-2 sets target the muscle fibers that can sustain greater strength for longer periods of time. Weight training can be beneficial when completed 2-3 times per week (leaving a minimum of 1 day between workouts) focusing on different muscle groups each day (eg. 2 days upper body 1 day lower body). Listed below are a few considerations to keep in mind in regards to weight training that are specific for younger athletes.

As parents and coaches, it is your responsibility to provide a safe environment for training which is not limited to the pool. Athletes under the age of 17 should never “max out” or lift weights at or approaching their maximum effort. Children should be emotionally mature enough to accept the responsibility of following a safe routine, and the strength training program should be designed, supervised, and progressed by a qualified trainer or physical therapist.

One of the most important principles for training is to work your body in a way that is specific to the sport in which you compete. For soccer, you might focus on long bouts of running intermixed with explosive sprints.. This training technique would not benefit the swimmer as much as a well-designed swimming-specific program.

A main focus for a swimmer should be to target the shoulder rotator-cuff muscles for strengthening. The rotator cuff muscles are a group of four small muscles that form a cuff around the shoulder joint. These muscles are extremely important to control shoulder rotation and stabilize the shoulder joint during all swimming strokes.  Muscle imbalances of the rotator cuff muscles are a common problem in swimmers that can lead to overuse injury. For example, due to the nature of the swimming stroke, shoulder external rotation is often weak in swimmers and internal rotators are naturally strengthened in the act of swimming itself. Therefore, strengthening exercises to target the rotator cuff muscles, particularly the external rotators, are extremely important.

Exercises for strengthening external rotation:
1.) TYI’s
2.) Standing External Rotation
3.) Sidelying External Rotation
4.) Prone External Rotation

Exercises for Shoulder Stabilization:
1.) Decline Push-ups
2.) Walk-outs over swiss ball
3.) Floor Step-ups
4.) Ball Taps

Exercises for Scapular Stabilization:
1.) Prone Abduction, Extension, and Rows
2.) Superman & Prone Lower Trapezius
3.) Serratus Push-ups

It is extremely important to consult your physician &/or a qualified trainer/specialist (eg. Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Athletic Trainer (ATC), Physical Therapist (PT)) before beginning any exercise program. Emphasis on the wrong muscle groups can cause an imbalance between the muscles possibly resulting in injuries.

Prevention of injuries is key to a successful season. During preseason, athletes should gradually increase distance and training intensity. Within a practice session, difficult sets of aquatic training should be performed towards the beginning of practice before fatigue sets in to keep from over-stressing fatigued muscles.

Stretching is one way to prevent injuries in swimmers while also increasing an individual’s range of motion and flexibility having potentially positive effects on swimming technique. Proper stretching should be incorporated in pre- and post- session routines. Before swimming, stretching can be helpful to prepare your body to train while also having a relaxing effect when proper breathing is incorporated. Stretches should be done slowly without bouncing, and should be held for 20-30 seconds. Swimmers should continue to stretch throughout the meet to stay loose. Coaches: Stretching before meets can be an effective team building technique to mentally prepare your team, and a well-orchestrated team-stretch can intimidate the opposing team before the meet ever begins.

Stretching Strategies:
1.) Posterior Capsule Stretch
2.) Standing Inferior Capsule Stretch
3.) Pectoralis Stretch

Though strength training and stretching are only 2 areas used to improve swimming, incorporating these into training routine results in a stronger more enjoyable swim season .

Site information reviewed by: 
Dr. Bruce Greenfield, PT, Ph.D PT, OCS

Additional Resources:
ACSM Report: Preseason Conditioning for Young Athletes
ACSM Current Comment: Youth Strength Training  (see page 5)

References:
1. http://www.active.com/story.cfm?story_id=12397&sidebar=14&category=swimming
2. http://www.campuschamps.com/performance_help/technique_improvement/proper_conditioning.shtml
3. http://gymkhana.iitb.ac.in/~swimclub/swimmers.html
4. http://www.choa.org/default.aspx?id=1042