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More than 20% of adults in the United States suffer from some sort of chronic pain, according to the CDC. Whether it’s your shoulder, knees, back or neck, it’s discouraging to have to scale back your training or to feel like you have to swim through the pain!
If you’re struggling with pain right now – or want to prevent pain from coming up in the future – read on for our tips to rehab existing injuries or prevent them altogether so you can stay fit and do what you love.
Why Do Injuries Happen?
Sometimes injuries seem to come out of nowhere. But in reality, there are numerous signs that you could be heading toward pain and, eventually, an injury. Keep an eye out for these five things:
1. Quick Increase in Volume, Intensity or Frequency
We have seen so many swimmers end up with shoulder injuries because they tried to do too much too soon. When you don’t allow your body adequate time to adapt to your training volume, you run the risk of sustaining painful overuse injuries.
Any swimmer is susceptible to this. Whether you’re a beginner swimmer who is totally new to the sport or an experienced athlete who is coming back after a break, be wary of pushing your workouts too hard.
We recommend following the 10% rule for increasing swimming distance: Increase your total swimming volume by no more than 10% per week. This will keep you in a safe range to continue challenging yourself without doing too much.
Patience is key. We know you’re excited to get out there and crush it in the pool, but you won’t be able to do that at all if you hurt yourself! Stick to your routine, increase your volume incrementally over time, and soon enough you’ll get to where you want to be.
2. New Activity
Adding something new to your routine can also increase your potential for injury. Whether you’re adding a new piece of equipment to your workouts (like paddles or fins), training a new stroke, or starting a totally new sport (like swimming or weight lifting), don’t assume your body is ready to perform at 100% with a new stimulus.
Ease yourself into this new aspect of training slowly, like you would with increasing swimming distance. If you’re new to using paddles, try swimming with them for 100 meters to start. Over time, increase the distance and intensity of your sets using paddles to give your shoulders enough time to adapt.
3. Muscle Imbalances
In an ideal world, all of our muscles would work in perfect synergy with each other. But due to a variety of factors including lifestyle, posture, and yes, even swimming technique, many people live with muscle imbalances that cause certain muscles to be more under- or over developed than others. These imbalances in strength, endurance or stability can be a contributor to pain.
In swimming, many people struggle with shoulder and lower back pain. The shoulder pain can be due in part to a weak rotator cuff. Back pain, on the other hand, is likely due to a weak core.
When we train hard with muscle imbalances, the body will find ways to compensate to complete the workout. Over time, these imbalances can become more pronounced and cause more pain.
Someone may have shredded six pack abs, but that doesn’t mean they have a strong, stable core.
4. Improper Technique
Muscle imbalances aren’t the only way to cause yourself pain in the pool…your technique plays a role, too.
Swimming is all about efficiency, and when your technique is lacking, you increase the amount of resistance your body has to work against in the water.
Even small imperfections in your stroke create excess drag, which will cause you to get tired more quickly. And when you’re fatigued, your stroke starts to fall apart. It’s a perfect storm for potential injuries.
Refining your technique reduces your chances of getting hurt, and also helps you swim faster with less effort.
5. Not Listening to Your Body
Last but certainly not least, it’s essential to listen to your body.
Many people get injured because they push themselves too hard. They get impatient, or want to train like they did years ago when they were at a different fitness level. And, well, you can guess what happens!
Your body is smart, and sends you clear messages when something is wrong. Tune into that, listen to it, and don’t let your ego get the best of you!
If your body is telling you that it’s run down and exhausted, scale back or take a break altogether. Prioritize rest, recovery and eating right to give your body what it needs to perform.
That said, it’s important to understand the difference between discomfort and pain. It’s ok if some workouts are tough, but it’s up to you to know when you’ve crossed the line. If you are feeling sharp, searing pain during or after exercise, stop and reevaluate. Your body is sending you a message!
Instead of brushing it off and hoping your pain resolves on its own, take initiative to figure out what’s wrong, and make a plan to fix it.
Pre- & Post-Injury Rehabilitation for Swimmers
Whether you’re dealing with an injury now or want to make sure you stay pain-free in the long term, try these three steps as a starting point.
We also recommend getting evaluated by a physical therapist or doctor if you are feeling pain or have been injured. A professional can provide you with a tailored rehab program to help address muscle imbalances and get back to swimming.
1. Protect Your Shoulders
Swimming puts a lot of stress on the shoulders. Add these strengthening exercises to your dryland routine or swimming warm up to build shoulder stability and ensure all of the muscles are firing appropriately while you swim.
2. Develop Core Strength, Stability & Endurance
You might feel like your core is strong, but do you have true, 360-degree core strength, stability and endurance? Make sure you’re covering all of your bases. Some examples include:
- Strength: You can do 10 sit-ups while holding a 45-pound plate.
- Stability: You can hold a plank with your hands on a physio ball, and one foot lifted off of the ground.
- Endurance: You can hold a plank for four minutes.
Finding balance between all three aspects of the core comes down to strengthening all the core muscles. Your core is more than just your stomach:
- Front of Core: Abs & obliques, hip flexors, quads
- Back of Core: Lower back, glutes, hamstrings
Try these exercises to build mobility and strength in your core. And remember that general strength training will also challenge your core a bit, too.
Mobility: Cat Cow Tilts
3. Build Total Body Awareness
Ultimately, rehabbing an injury (or preventing one) comes down to finding balance.
Balance the strength of all of your muscles so one muscle group isn’t dominating your movement patterns. Hit the gym for two to three dryland sessions per week, making sure to work your full body.
Balance your swim training program with a variety of strokes, intensities, distances and equipment. Check out the MySwimPro app for personalized Training Plans and workouts that do the planning for you. Just show up to the pool and hop in!
You need to listen to your body and know how it best adapts to training stimulus. Follow the 10% rule to build up your intensity and volume.
Consistency is Key
In injury prevention and rehab, and swimming in general, staying consistent with your training program is the key to success.
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Set the current to your preferred pace and swim your workouts as usual. Swim all four strokes, do drills and work on speed – some Master Spas models have currents that go as fast as 54 seconds per 100 meters!
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Injuries are frustrating and painful, but it’s important to know that you have control over your reaction. Focus on your goals, make a plan and do everything you can to rebuild your body so you can get back in the water feeling good.
Drop a comment with your injury story, or share your tips for keeping yourself injury free.