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Technique and Training

Strengthen Your Shoulders to Reduce Injury

Vertical pushing progressions

Chris Ritter | November 5, 2015

One of the reasons swimmers experience shoulder problems is because they often don’t target their shoulders with appropriate exercises to increase overall strength and mobility. If you have more durable shoulders, you’ll be a more durable swimmer.

Improper stroke technique also contributes to shoulder problems in swimmers. In addition to strengthening the shoulders, be sure a qualified coach has reviewed your technique.

Review

If you’re unfamiliar with the different categories that your strength program should cover be sure to review, Strength Training: A Balanced Approach.

Here are the categories that you should train consistently for a balanced program with a focus on injury reduction and performance enhancement:

In this article we’ll review the first bullet point, specifically, pushing movements done in the vertical plane. I’ll explain how to safely and effectively strengthen your shoulders while increasing mobility.

Important: Before you begin, review the videos of all of the exercises and progressions so you can be sure you understand all of the movements and variations.

Important: If you’re new to training with weights, consult a qualified trainer or strength and conditioning coach to help you determine if these exercises are appropriate for you. Always start with the lowest weight possible and increase as you get stronger.

Assessment

Standing upright, twist your right arm so that your right hand is on your low back. Try to raise that hand as high as you can along your back while keeping a fist. Simultaneously raise your left hand, in a fist, up in the air and lower it behind your head traveling towards your right hand. Try to get your fists as close together as possible. Have a friend note how close they are and switch hand positions. If your fists are touching or within a fist distance of touching each other, score whatever side had the lower hand position as a “3.” If you were about a fist or two fists distance apart from touching, score it as a “2.” And if you were more than two fists apart, score it as a “1.”

If your final score has a “1” in it, you’ll begin at Level 1 exercises. If you had a 2/2 or better than you can being at Level 2 but you will still gain from doing Level 1 exercises.

Level 1

These exercises are appropriate beginning exercises to help increase shoulder strength and mobility and will help you access more intense training levels over time.

  • Waiter Carry + Dumbbell. Stand tall and take a weight in your right hand. Place it directly overhead without letting your low back arch. Keep your elbow straight but have your shoulder “sunk” into your socket as opposed to pushed up and out while carrying the weight. Walk about 10 to 30 yards at a very slow pace keeping the weight steady the whole time. Then switch hands.
  • Around the World + Sandbag. Begin in a “tall” kneeling position with both knees on the ground but keeping the knee angle at about 90 degrees. While holding a sandbag (weighted appropriately for you) above your head, rotate it in a controlled manner around your head as if drawing a halo. After you’ve performed about four to six circles, switch directions. The bigger and smoother the range of motion, the better.

Level 2

Once you have proven you have the prerequisite mobility and strength for your shoulder with Level 1 exercises, you can progress to a higher level of intensity.

  • Kneeling Single-arm Press + Kettlebell. With your right foot flat on the ground, get into a kneeling lunge position with your left knee on the ground. Line up your right foot and left knee so that they are in line while keeping both knee angles at 90 degrees. With the kettlebell in your left hand, start pressing it straight up from your shoulder and back down in a controlled manner. Perform 4 to 8 reps and then switch hands as well as leg positions.
  • Overhead Press + Dumbbell. Standing tall, begin with dumbbells in both hands at your shoulders and press directly up. Stay tight in your core and hips and push through the ground as you’re pressing the weights up. Perform 4 to 8 reps at an appropriate weight.
  • Single-arm Overhead Press + Kettlebell. Standing tall, begin with a kettlebell at shoulder height on one side and press directly up. Stay tight in your core and hips and push through the ground as you’re pressing the weights up. Perform 4 to 8 reps at an appropriate weight and switch hands.

Remember to watch the videos of all of these exercises to ensure that you’re performing them correctly.

USMS Wave Seperator

About the Author—Chris Ritter

Chris Ritter is the founder of RITTER Sports Performance online training programs and the author of the e-book, SURGE STRENGTH, which details how to strength train specifically for swimming performance. Ritter, a swimmer himself, has a degree in kinesiology and exercise science and he specializes in training athletes of diverse abilities, ranging from beginners to Olympians. Follow him on Twitter @RITTERSP or like his Facebook page for updates and training tips.

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