Article image

by Sue Welker

January 16, 2015

One coach’s solution to a common swimmer complaint

“Oh, my aching shoulder! Coach, what can I do for this?”

How many of us coaches hear this on a daily basis? Adult swimmers are so crunched for time that most of them can’t properly take care of their shoulders, back, and core muscles. On average, I see my swimmers about 3 to 4 hours per week at the pool. For most men and women juggling a career, family, and the commute in and around the Chicagoland area, that’s about all the time they can manage to get to the gym. And we all know that no one wants to give up precious practice time, let alone post-practice hot tub time.

So, instead of giving up time in the pool, I encourage my athletes to get a light to medium resistance stretch cord and add some basic shoulder stability exercises at home. Swimmers can do these exercises in front of the TV on evenings when they’re not swimming and benefit tremendously. Adding strength to the small and overused shoulder stabilizers and back muscles will pay off in the pool with less discomfort and increased power.

Have your swimmers pick four or five of the exercises below to do two to three times a week and in three weeks, they’ll notice a drastic difference. This routine only takes about 15 minutes, so add a few planks, and Superman to strengthen the back, and your swimmers will be on their way to longer and stronger strokes in the pool.

Stretch Cord Exercises

For the following exercises, use only a light to medium resistance cord to avoid injury.

  • Full press: Anchor the stretch cord to a solid object in front of you. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees loose, and bend slightly forward. Pull cord in both hands back toward the hips. This move is similar to the arm stroke in butterfly. Complete three sets of 20 to 30 repetitions
  • Triceps press back: Using the same basic stance as in the full press, hinge forward with slightly bent knees and strong abs. Lock your elbows at your sides and press back with the cord. Your palms should be facing backward and extend past your hips at the completion of the press. Complete three sets of 20 to 30 repetitions.
  • Standing row: Still with the stretch cord anchored to a solid object in front of you at about waist height, stand tall with loose knees, feet shoulder-width apart. Pull the cord back at your waist, keeping your forearms parallel to the ground. Elbows should make a 90-degree angle at the completion of the row. Complete three sets of 20 to 30 repetitions.
  • Xs: Stand tall with one end of the cord in each hand about 6 to 8 inches wider than your body. Hold your shoulders and upper back firmly as you draw one hand diagonally up and away as your draw the other down and away from the other, forming a straight diagonal shape (half an X) with the cord across your body. Complete two sets of 20 repetitions and change the angle so that the opposite hand pulls up and away on the next two sets.
  • Squat overhead press: Stand on the stretch cord with one end in each hand. Start with your palms up at shoulder level. Squat; then press your arms overhead into a streamline position. Complete two sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.
  • External rotation: Hold the cord in both hands with hands 6 to 8 inches apart. Elbows should be bent to 90 degrees and tucked into your sides. Your palms should be facing the floor. Carefully pull the cord to shoulder width and hold for a few seconds before returning to the starting position. Complete 3 sets of 15 to 20 repetitions on each side.
  • Internal rotation: As the name would suggest, the internal rotation exercise is the opposite of the external rotation exercise. Anchor one end of the stretch cord to a solid object and stand tall with your side facing the anchor point. Grasp the end of the cord in one hand with the arm open wide, hand away from the body but keeping your elbow tucked into your side. Pull on the cord and close the arm until it comes perpendicular to your hip. Complete three sets of 15 to 20 repetitions on each side.

Stabilization Exercises

The following stabilization exercises do not require the use of a stretch cord and can be completed just prior to swimming. Complete 30 repetitions of each exercise as a preswim warm-up. Shake your arms out after each set.

  • Shoulder rotation: Stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart, knees loose. Position your arms so that the upper arms are parallel to the floor and elbows are bent at 90 degrees with your hands up, in a surrender position. Gently lower the hands, keeping the 90-degree bend in the elbow until the palms are facing the floor. Return the hands to the upright position.
  • Forward rotation: Standing in the same position as the shoulder rotation with arms out and bent at 90 degrees, close your arms across your body, as though using a press machine. This will bring your forearms together with your hands in front of your face. Maintain the 90-degree bend in the elbow so that your upper arms are parallel to the floor at shoulder height.
  • Streamline stretch: Stand tall, knees loose and bring your arms into the streamline position. Hold your belly and back strong, and try not to arch your back. Stretch your arms up over your ears and squeeze. Hold for a count of 30.
  • Forward roll: Stand tall, knees loose, and slowly roll forward from the hips and lengthen through the spine. Let your arms dangle or drop to the floor (bend your knees as necessary to facilitate this drop) and let your neck go so that your head relaxes down toward the floor. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds


  • Technique and Training
  • Coaches Only


  • Drylands
  • Strength Training