Strength Training for Swimmers Shoulder Pain

Strength Training for Shoulder Pain

It's been said that exercise is the closest thing there is to a miracle cure. (1) One of the most beneficial forms of exercise - strength training, is often forgotten about in our attempt to get enough 'cardio' exercise.  From the age of thirty, our bone mass begins to decrease; strength training can delay this deterioration, along with aiding weight loss, improve mobility and balance, and increase flexibility - a miracle drug indeed!

Swimming is an aerobic based 'cardio' exercise; it works the muscles, heart and lungs, but it does not place the required load on the joints to maintain or increase bone mass. This has an implication as we age, in particular, increasing our risk of osteoporosis and falls.  Including a couple of weight-bearing exercise sessions, such as strength training is highly recommended.  

The good news about strength training is you don't need a fully equipped gym, using your body weight, a resistance band or a few dumbbells is ample.  When it comes to strength training for swimming, a general program covering back, shoulders, hips and legs is ideal. Swimming does not just use the shoulders so strengthening the legs for your kick and trunk for rotation all helps.  

Types of strength exercises

Isometric exercises for pain reduction: the length of the muscle stays the same during this type of contraction; it does not shorten or lengthen; it's a static hold. Isometric strength exercises are superior in their pain reducing capacity compared with other types of strength training. They do not fatigue the muscle so are great to do before a training session, or as part of your warm-up, but they will still strengthen the muscle.  Due to their static type contraction, isometric exercises do not flare up the tendon/s, which are often involved in overuse type injuries like swimmer’s shoulder, therefore, are ideal as a first stage exercise during rehabilitation. Examples of isometric exercises include pushing against a fixed resistance, such as a wall, holding a weight or dumb bell in a static hold, squeezing a ball.

Eccentric exercises for tendon injuries: the important phase of these exercises is the muscle lengthening phase, like when you are lowering a dumbbell after a bicep curl. Eccentric strength exercises have had great success in the treatment of tendon injuries.  Although the majority of research into this area has been on the lower limbs, researchers still advocate their use in treating rotator cuff injuries.  Examples of eccentric exercises include the lowering phase of a bicep curl and lowering your leg from a calf raise.

Isotonic exercises for strength: Once the shoulder is relatively pain free, you can move to isotonic exercises, these are ones we all know, exercises in this category include bicep curls, lat pull ,downs, squats etc.  They are great for building and maintaining overall strength.