Maybe it’s happened to you: After a bout of tough training sessions, your shoulders start to ache every time you get in the pool, and no amount of rest seems to fix it. You might have a case of swimmer’s shoulder!
Whether you’re currently suffering from swimmer’s shoulder or you’re looking for tips to keep your shoulders injury-free, read on for the best ways to prevent swimmer’s shoulder and keep your joints moving properly.
What is Swimmer’s Shoulder?
Sometimes called impingement syndrome, swimmer’s shoulder is a fairly common injury to the tendons of the shoulder caused by overuse. If left untreated, a mild case of swimmer’s shoulder can lead to ongoing irritation, inflammation, pain, scarring and even tears in the tendons!
People with swimmer’s shoulder often have limited range of motion in the affected shoulder as well.
If you think about how many times your shoulders rotate during just one swim workout, it becomes clear why so many swimmers suffer from this condition!
If you take 20 arm strokes per length, and you swim 5,000-meter workouts five times per week, you are doing:
- 4,000 arm rotations per workout
- 20,000 arm rotations per week
- 1,000,000 arm rotations per year
Many swimmers will experience some sort of shoulder pain throughout their careers, so even if you haven’t experienced swimmer’s shoulder, it’s important to understand how to keep your shoulders healthy, and how improper technique can make you more prone to injury.
What to Do if You Have Swimmer’s Shoulder
Depending on the severity of your injury, one (or multiple) of the following treatment modalities may be helpful for you:
- Rest: Take two or more weeks off of swimming completely to let your shoulder heal.
- Physical Therapy: Work on building strength and mobility to get your shoulder back to full health, under supervision by a medical professional.
- Steroid Injections: Reduce inflammation and promote healing with specialized injections from a doctor.
- Surgery: If you end up tearing something in your shoulder, your doctor may recommend surgery.
Here at MySwimPro we aren’t doctors, so be sure to consult your doctor before trying any of these treatment options if you are experiencing shoulder pain. This is just a guideline to help get you started!
Aside from treatment outside the pool, you can also make adjustments to your technique and training plan to go easier on your shoulders.
Make sure to prioritize proper technique so your body is using the right muscle groups to pull your body through the water, instead of relying on your rotator cuff too much. Think about engaging your lats and back muscles as you pull!
Add drills and technique-focused sets to each workout to help build muscle memory and proper form.
If you’re experiencing shoulder pain while swimming, modify your training so you don’t make your pain worse.
This may mean doing less volume during each workout, or cutting out one or two workouts each week to add some extra rest to your schedule.
When building your training plan, avoid progressing too quickly. If you increase your workout distance too fast, you risk pushing your shoulders to the limit. We recommend increasing your swimming distance by no more than 10% each week. For more guidance and personalized training plans designed for your goals, check out the MySwimPro app!
How to Prevent Swimmer’s Shoulder
If left untreated, swimmer’s shoulder can cause painful tears in the labrum or rotator cuff, which can keep you out of the water for months. Instead, put in the work now to bulletproof your shoulders and build a good foundation of proper technique.
The best way to prevent swimmer’s shoulder, swim faster and continue to train for decades to come is to:
- Swim with proper technique
- Increase your training load gradually (no more than 10% distance increase per week!)
- Do dryland training
Dryland Exercises for Swimming Shoulder Health
Speaking of dryland training, these are a few of our favorite dryland exercises for healthy shoulders. These moves will help open up your shoulder joint, strengthen your rotator cuff and challenge your muscles in different planes of motion. If you like these, try out one of the hundreds of dryland workouts in the MySwimPro app!
Standing I, T, Y, W
External Rotations (With & Without Bands)
Dynamic & Static Stretches
We recommend doing a short dynamic warmup before your workout to warm up your shoulders and get your blood flowing before you hop in. Check out this guided warmup on our YouTube channel for inspiration!
After your workouts, try a few minutes of static stretching. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds to one minute, and breathe deeply. These stretches will help kick-start your recovery and help cool your muscles down after your workout. Try these stretches:
Swim Workout for Shoulder Health
Add this swim workout to your routine to keep your shoulders feeling good. Feel free to adjust the intervals to better fit your skill level, or find this workout in the MySwimPro Workout Library to get a fully personalized version made just for you!
- Distance: 2,300 yards/meters
- Duration: 45 minutes
- 1×300 Freestyle @ 4:40 Easy
- 6×50 Backstroke @ :50 Moderate
- 1×300 Kick with Fins @ 5:50 Endurance, Build
Main Set (3x)
- 4×50 Drill @ :55 Moderate (your choice of drill, focus on hand position)
- 1×200 Backstroke/Freestyle by 25 @ 3:10 Endurance
4×50 Freestyle @ :45 Easy
If you’re struggling with shoulder pain, don’t let yourself get too discouraged. Swimmer’s shoulder happens to the vast majority of swimmers, and it is possible to get back to training pain-free again.
What’s your favorite way to keep swimming shoulder injuries at bay? Share in the comments!
For more swim workouts like the one above, plus personalized Training Plans and virtual coaching, download the MySwimPro app! Sign up for MySwimPro Coach to unlock hundreds of customized swim workouts, dryland training, analytics and more.