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What is Swimmer’s Shoulder? (And How to Fix It)

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.

Related: How I Fight Shoulder Injuries to Become a Better Swimmer

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:

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:

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.

Technique

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!

Related: How to Swim Freestyle with Perfect Technique

Add drills and technique-focused sets to each workout to help build muscle memory and proper form.

Training

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. 

Related: How to Prevent Shoulder Injury While Swimming

The best way to prevent swimmer’s shoulder, swim faster and continue to train for decades to come is to:

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

Related: Try This 30-Minute Shoulder Health Dryland Workout!

Scapula Pushups

Alphabet

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:

Shoulder Stretch

Child’s Pose

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!

Warmup

Main Set (3x)

Cool Down

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.