Preventing Shoulder Injury
While swimming is, in theory, a relatively injury-free sport, the one area of the body susceptible to swim issues is the shoulder. Prehab exercises strengthen the areas of the body that are the most vulnerable to stresses from everyday movement. By strengthening these muscles, posture and alignment can be improved and the stresses of repetitive exercise mitigated.
Physiotherapist and former national team swimmer Matt Rose has created a prehab program that targets the rotator cuff and bicep tendon to protect the shoulder from injury. Prehabilitation focuses on strengthening supporting muscles to facilitate proper biomechanics in movement to avoid the necessity of rehabilitation.
The constant rotation of the shoulder joint during swimming puts stress on the muscles of the rotator cuff which is comprised of four small muscles: the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis. Focused work on these muscles is more effective for maintaining shoulder health than heavier weights for the larger prime mover muscles in the shoulders as the limitation for most triathletes is not brute strength, but correct motor patterns and f lexibility. “Most shoulder injuries occur after a long break or during a build in volume (the steeper the build the more likely to injure),” explains Rose. “These exercises are key during the off season and build ups in training,” he continues.
The only equipment required is either rubber tubing or resistance bands. Attach one end of the tubing to a door or fixed object so that the band will be at approximately waist height. Rose advises athletes to “lock the shoulders gently down and back – about 90 per cent down and 10 per cent back.” This lock should happen with each repeat followed by an “unlock” of the blades to program the proper pattern.
Begin the exercise locking the shoulder blades down and back. The key is to not allow any movement in the shoulder blade when rowing with the arm. While holding the tubing or pulley in one hand, you will first lock your shoulder blade. While maintaining the lock, pull the arm back until the elbow is bent to 90 degrees and return forward to the starting position, followed by unlocking the blade (relax between each rep). The shoulder blade moves to position before the arm pulls back and remains locked when the arm returns forward.
Internal and External Rotation
With each rep of internal and external rotation you will lock the shoulder blade ( before) and unlock it (after). For external rotation, lock the elbow at your side, bent at 90 degrees, standing straight. Lock the shoulder blade down and back, pull the arm the furthest from the anchor point away from the body. Pull the tubing directly away from your body, keeping your elbow anchored to your side. The motion is like a gate opening and closing. Continue for one minute and work towards two minutes per side.
For internal rotation, stand perpendicular to the anchor point and grasp the tubing with the hand closest to the anchor. Take one lateral step away to put resistance on the band. With the elbow held close to the body, rotate the arm away from the anchor point towards the body then return to the starting point for internal rotation. Remember to lock and unlock the blade with each rep. Start with one minute. Work towards two minutes per side for each direction.
Rose suggests taking about three seconds to move in each direction for a slow controlled movement.
Begin in a plank position or the start of a push-up position. While keeping elbows locked straight, raise up as high as possible and lower down slowly in between your shoulder blades, all without bending the arms. Moving the hand position around can make this exercise more or less challenging. For instance, try staggering the arms forward and back or make them wider apart. Remember to keep the shoulders down, away from the ears and the arms straight for this exercise. Start with 20 repetitions.
Training the correct movement pattern is the key to prehab exercises. Focus most of your attention on quality over quantity.