When it comes to upper-body endurance, competitive swimmers tend to be in better shape than most.
Where most land athletes use the ground to help generate force for the upper body, swimmers do not have this luxury. They must continually pull their entire body through the water using their arms. The shoulders are the focal points of this action. With this being said, it is not a surprise that many swimmers end up with chronic shoulder pain.
The pain can be caused by overuse and over-training, or it could be a biomechanical issue relating to posture. The biomechanical issues can be the hardest to overcome without the proper education. If you are a swimmer with shoulder pain, learning how to improve your posture can be a worthy investment. Posture should be looked at even if you don’t have any shoulder pain.
For the last few years, I have been adamant about posture, as have many others in my field. Swimming posture is no different.
Upper-cross syndrome is one of the most common postural problems that can plague a swimmer. Upper-cross syndrome occurs when the muscles around the upper chest and back become unbalanced, causing the shoulders to rise and slump forward. Over time, this can become a permanent problem as the body adapts to this position.
While in this position, your shoulders will not work at full capacity. They cannot obtain full range of motion, which is essential when swimming. Someone with upper-cross syndrome is “stuck” in this position, and they will have trouble reaching overhead, or in the case of a swimmer, reaching for each stroke. Attempting to reach this way while having upper-cross syndrome can cause irritation and eventually inflammation around the shoulder joint.
To help prevent this postural problem, it is a good idea to learn how to open up the chest and strengthen the upper-back muscles, as they squeeze the shoulder blades back and together. You can begin to accomplish this task just by standing with your back against a wall and squeezing your shoulder blades together. While against the wall, raise your arms into the “hold up” position, keeping your elbows at 90 degrees, your palms facing forward and your forearms parallel to the wall behind you.