With the summer in full swing, many people start exercising in the pool again. Whether you are a triathlete looking to better your training or an athlete just looking to mix up your workouts for the season, working on your swim form can improve your efficiency/speed, reduce your risk of overuse injuries and improve your overall work out. 

Here are a few tips to consider for your upper body when swimming in a freestyle stoke form:

1. Improve your shoulder position.

Improve your shoulder position when your arm enters the water by aiming for a pinky first entry into the water.  In other words, take note of how your hand comes over your head and into the water.  Entering the water pinky first keeps your shoulder in a more neutral and outwardly rotated position.  This can put much less stress on the rotator cuff because it isn’t getting caught under the joint like it would with reaching overhead with your shoulder turned inward. 

This reduces repetitive strain on the rotator cuff each time that you bring the arm overhead and into the water. That can add up over time. Many of us tend to round our shoulders throughout the day with poor postural habits so it may seem like this pinky first technique is foreign at first.  Experiment with it. It can also help your neck from feeling strained as well because it puts your upper back in a less flexed position when you swim.  

2. Keep your arm closer to the midline.

Watch where your arm is entering the water relative to the midline of your body.  Is it touching the water in the plane of your shoulder or closer to the plane of your head?  The closer it is to the midline of your body, the easier it will be to use the muscles of your trunk to help you generate force. The force of your trunk doing the work is important to help avoid overuse of your shoulder.  

3. Pull your body to your arm.

Think about pulling the body to your arm like you were climbing a ladder.  Often with swimming, we do the opposite. We pull the arm to the body. If we reverse our thinking, this helps rotate the trunk so that we use more muscles in the trunk and shoulder to generate force.   Your trunk and core muscles help to do the work, reducing wear and tear on the shoulder.

Think about a rotisserie chicken spinning in an oven. When the rib cage and upper back rotate on the axis of the middle of the body, the strain of the force moves away from the shoulder. 

Try this to understand better:

This should feel easier on the shoulder and save the rotator cuff from impingement. It also spares your neck from doing too much when you turn as well. If the trunk is moving more, it requires us to move the neck and shoulders a little less into the end range of available motion avoiding nerve impingement in the neck.  

4. Check your head and neck position.

Your chin and head position are important when you swim.  Your head and gaze should be about 45 degrees forward. If your head is buried down, then it only serves as a resistance to work against. 

Your head position also dictates the position of the rest of your body. Looking forward or just a little ahead of your body can help you to maintain a better position for the rest of your core and body.  Looking forward without overextending your neck can help you avoid unnecessary movement and streamline your form.

If you are still unsure imagine your hairline cresting the surface of the water in front of you.  Relax your neck and back muscles with your body parallel to the bottom of the pool. When turning your head, think 90 degrees. Some swimmers overturn the neck to 100 degrees or lift the head and turn. Think one eye above the water and one submerged.  

5. The angle your body floats is important.

The angle at which your body floats in the water is important.  Are your hips up in line with your trunk or do your legs sink below your trunk and shoulders? 

There should be a slight incline from your hips to your upper body but not a large one. The more your hips sink, the harder your upper body has to work to keep the force and momentum going.  It also makes it more difficult for your legs to create drive from your hips.  

6. Generate force from your hips.

Generate force from your hips when you are swimming.  Keep your feet in alignment with the rest of your body but keep them submerged when kicking. 

Many times we use the lower legs and kick only from the knees and feet. While you are working on keeping the hips up, consider the drive from your hips.  Your position and the focus will feed each other.

7. Finish the stroke

Sometimes swimmers pull their hands out of the water prematurely at the waist rather than at the thigh.  This will cause you to take more strokes per lap and because you are shortening your stroke.  

8. Work on symmetry.

Do you breathe only to one side when you swim?  Consider the impact that this can have on your trunk strength and limb strength as well as overall mobility. 

You may find this difficult but practice it in small doses at first then you can add more time and distance in slowly.  It may be challenging but overtime it can make big differences in the way that your overall body moves not just in the water but also out of the pool. 

Applying these tips to your workout

There are a lot of recommendations here.  Try to pick one and work on it for a few minutes while you are doing laps.  Work on one tip per week or for a few weeks. This way it won’t be too overwhelming and you can refine each one a little better. 

Remember that each of these recommendations can help the other but it can seem like there are a lot at once.  If you add one at a time then you can refine them and they will begin to blend nicely together.  

Physical Therapy Can Improve Your Swimming Form

It is valuable information to have a physical therapist check your form when you are swimming. Even a few minutes of  assessment can be very important feedback. If you can have someone video you as you swim for a lap or two, that can help a physical therapist to pin point the most important recommendation for you.  Seeing your own form can help you reeducate your body to change as well.  

If you have more specific questions about this or if you are experiencing pain with your swimming routine, physical therapy can help get you back on track. Click here to schedule a complimentary phone consultation with one of our physical therapists. 


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