Coach Chrissy & Winter Swimming

For most triathletes, January marks the beginning of training. Whether it’s short course or long course, most triathletes are starting to increase volume and time in the pool. Many athletes are coming off of off-season where volume is lower. Likely this means the shoulders (and body) feel pretty good. And, as Coach Kaitlyn noted in her off-season blog (https://teamamazingday.com/blog/) this is the time triathletes should be working on drills to improve stroke form and efficiency while slowly increasing volume.

Have you ever focused on drills but feel they are not helping (or they are so hard)? Do you ever feel that no matter how much you try to correct swim stroke techniques from your coach, you just cannot seem to correct them?  Do you ever have shoulder pain in the front or top of your shoulder, or into the side of your shoulder or biceps? If so, mobility, stability and strength in your shoulder, back/core and hips may be to blame!

This series of articles will discuss mobility, stability and strength issues commonly seen in triathletes and swimmers and provide some mobility, stability and strength exercises you can do to correct these impairments, decrease the risk of injury and become a more efficient swimmer.

Do you have any of the following?

    • Shoulders that are rolled forward
    • Increased thoracic kyphosis (like a hunchback)
    • Shoulder pain
    • Difficulty breathing to your non-dominant side
    • Trouble flattening your back against the floor
    • Low back pain
    • Tight hip flexors
    • Swim faster with pull buoy than without

Any and all of the above can be hindering your swim stroke, speed and efficiency!

This series of articles is not about HOW TO swim, but how to make sure you have the proper mobility and stability throughout the kinetic chain (read feet to your head) to make sure you can properly perform a free-style stroke. This article will address the common impairments most triathletes (and swimmers in general) have in mobility, stability and strength and provide exercises to both correct these impairments and/or prevent them as training load increases to keep your shoulders happy throughout the season!

Shoulder Mobility:

During the entry phase of the front crawl/freestyle, you need to be able to reach your arm fully overhead.  The ability to perform this motion is dependent on your shoulder joint, shoulder blade and your thoracic (between the bottom of your neck and low back) spine. When your arm reaches overhead, your shoulder blade needs to be able to rotate upward and tilt backwards.   If your shoulder blade is unable to achieve these motions, you may have limited mobility as well as create an impingement (and pain) in the front of the shoulder.

What causes these mobility restrictions? It is usually a combination of two things: decreased thoracic extension and tight pec (specifically pectoralis minor) muscles.  Due to spending a lot of time sitting in front of a computer for work, as well as time in aerobars when cycling, triathletes tend to have decreased thoracic extension, which is necessary for the shoulder blade to properly move along the rib cage. Additionally, for the same reasons, the pec (chest muscles) are often shortened, especially with increased swimming volume.   If these muscles are tight (in addition to the lats), they keep the shoulder blade forward and do not let the shoulder blade rotate backwards and can impinge on the rotator cuff muscles.

Here are a couple of mobility exercises you can do to ensure you achieve/maintain proper thoracic mobility and pec muscle length to ensure proper biomechanics at the shoulder to achieve full range of motion and decrease risk of shoulder injury:

Thoracic extension over Foam Roller

https://www.msn.com/en-us/health/wellness/thoracic-extension-on-foam-roller-for-neck-pain/vi-BBPdbbS

Tips:

    • Make sure head is resting in clasped hands to decrease any cervical stress
    • Bring elbows together to really get into the thoracic spine in between the shoulder blades
    • Keeping your butt on the ground, reach upper spine/shoulders/neck towards the ground
    • Do 10 repetitions in a nice controlled fashion in one spot and move along the thoracic spine
    • From ribs to bottom of neck

With Trigger Point ball:

https://www.shannonstephensyoga.com/blog/2018/3/19/6-yin-poses-and-myofascial-release-techniques-that-free-tension-in-the-upper-body

Tips:

    • Put 2 tennis balls in a long tube sock and tie a knot at the end; place each ball on either side of the spine
    • Arms straight up toward the ceiling
    • You can bring both arms overhead together, or one arm at a time
    • Pay attention to how each side feels compared to each other
    • Exhale as you bring arm(s) overhead

Thoracic Rotation:

SAS T-Spine

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uj4hvPXJC9o

Tips:

    • Hips and knees are both at 90 degrees
    • Keep knees and hips stacked
    • Inhale and reach top arm out in front of you
    • Exhale, rotate to bring top arm/shoulder down to other side without moving your hips
    • Let your head follow your top arm

Pectoralis Minor Release:

https://breakingmuscle.com/fitness/how-to-erase-shoulder-pain-with-self-myofascial-release

Tips:

    • Place tennis ball (lacrosse ball, trigger point release ball) under your collar bone toward your shoulder
    • Lean up against a door, on the floor, on the floor with the ball on a yoga block)
    • Move your arm overhead and/or into external and internal rotation
    • Breathe

Try out some of these exercises and see if you feel limited in any of your mobility. Let me know how it goes!!! Please feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns.

Next article will address mobility deficits in the back and hips and how they affect your freestyle!

Coach Chrissy is a triathlon coach with Team Amazing Day who works with all levels of triathletes from beginners to athletes with a goal of qualifying for Kona. As a Doctor of Physical Therapy, Coach Chrissy is focused on injury prevention of her athletes through movement analysis and corrective exercise prescription to improve limiters in all 3 disciplines in triathlon. Note this information is general information. If you have pain or any issues, please contact a local physical therapist for evaluation and treatment. Feel free to contact coachchrissy17@gmail with any questions.

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