Swim Magazine

Four great ways to prevent swimmer’s shoulder

If you suffer from any shoulder pain or soreness during or after swimming, or even if you have a full-blown injury, then it’s worth checking your stroke. Expert swimming coach Paul Newsome identifies the four classic causes of shoulder pain and injury in swimming – and how to avoid them.

WORDS: Paul Newsome
PICTURE: Shutterstock

Research shows that as many as eight out of 10 swimmers suffer from some level of shoulder pain or injury during their swimming careers, and many think that living with this is ‘normal’ and just a fact of life. Fortunately, with modern understanding of biomechanics, we know that’s not the case. With a good stroke technique, any swimmer should be able to remain pain- and injury-free, even when training at their limit.  

Why you should avoid thumb-first entry into the water

This technique causes internal rotation of the shoulder and places a lot of stress on the joint. This action, repeated thousands of times in training, is the most common cause of shoulder injury in swimmers and should be avoided. 

Instead of entering thumb first, you should be entering with a near horizontal hand, with the fingertips angled slightly down to spear smoothly into the water. This keeps the shoulder neutral and sets you up perfectly for a great catch and pull.

Improving your crossover to stay safe

Crossing your arm across the centre line in front of your head places stress on the shoulder joint, often causing pain along the outside or the back of the shoulder. Work on improving your posture and awareness of your lead hand (even when breathing) to remove this common stroke flaw, which can sometimes be the result of using an S-shaped pull. 

Such a crossover combined with a thumb-first hand entry is particularly dangerous, and a full shoulder injury surely lies in wait.

Develop your catch so you press water backwards

A classic stroke flaw involves pushing downwards powerfully on the water at full reach with a very straight arm.   

This can feel deceptively like a good catch because of the feeling of force on the palm of your hand, but unfortunately it only lifts you up at the front and sinks your legs downwards. It also places a large stress on your shoulder joint, which can easily lead to pain and inflammation.  

Work on developing your catch so you press the water backwards, not downwards.

Avoid pulling through with a straight arm

A straight pull through places a lot of load on your shoulder joint, especially if you pull wide or cross the centre line under your body. Pulling wide tends to cause pain on the inside of the shoulder while crossing under the body with the arm over-stretches the outside and rear of the shoulder. Work on bending the elbow as you pull through, bringing the hand directly under the shoulder.

Next steps for improving your stroke

We recommend consulting a qualified coach trained in video analysis and stroke correction, like www.swimsmooth.guru/coaches and also consider downloading the Swim Smooth Guru, if you have an Apple watch. Its clever Stroke Insights feature can also help you identify these errors and show you how to correct them.