By G. John Mullen//DPT, CSCS
Soreness is an essential consequence of elite training.
The body typically experiences soreness after a novel activity or an increase in training volume. In swimming, a novel activity can be as simple as a stroke correction and the training volume can differ from longer sets to faster speeds. Whichever the case, soreness occurs frequently in swimming.
Unfortunately, soreness results in altered biomechanics and impaired training. Everyone (including non-swimmers) understands this concept, as many even walk or move their arms differently during periods of soreness. These altered movement patterns will impair swimming skill and subsequent swimming velocity, as well as increase the risk of overuse injuries.
In swimming, the shoulders are the most commonly-used joint and rotate approximately 16,000 times per workout. This training volume, combined with improving biomechanics, will undoubtedly cause shoulder soreness.
Shoulder injuries are also a major concern in swimming, as shoulder injuries occur in approximately 50% of swimmers. Now, these numbers are not meant to scare one away from swimming, as every sport has its risk, and the shoulder is a mellow injury site compared to the head, but clearly this is an issue.
Shoulder Self-Myofascial Releases
Almost everyone enjoys having a massage, and many describe it as a “hurts so good” sensation. Unfortunately, frequent massages are expensive and impractical for most swimmers.
Luckily, there are tools which can mimic massages with items lying around the house. These tools are becoming more common on elite swimming pool decks, typically in the form of foam rolls, baseballs or tennis balls. It is believed using these tools can help improve range of motion and decrease soreness, both necessities during tiresome training.
Some of you may wonder why we’d want to improve range of motion in swimmers with inherently mobile shoulders. Well, it seems self-myofascial releases actually relax the muscle, opposed to altering the tendon length. Also, compared to static stretching, self-myofasical releases aren’t believed to impair force production and long-term strength gains.
There are multiple spots to use self-myofascial releases on the shoulders. Below are three common spots, but first understand the rules for SMR:
- Lie on the tennis balls with your knees bent, unless instructed otherwise.
- The more sensitive or tender the area, the slower you should go (vigorous rolling is rarely necessary). If extremely tender, just lie on the ball.
- Stop if the exercises cause excessive pain.
- Perform for 30 seconds – 3 minutes.
Foam Roll (FR) Thoracic Spine
Lie on your back with your knees bent and place a foam roll parallel to your spine. Make sure your head and tailbone are on the foam roll and your head is relaxed. Place your arms on the ground for support and roll back and forth at your desired speed and amplitude.
SMR Levator Scapulae
Lie on your back with your knees bent and place the tennis ball in between your shoulder blades, not on the spine, on the top side. Rolling is possible up and down to release the whole muscle.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and with the opposite arm place the tennis ball under the acromion, a bone on your shoulder blade. This muscle is small, but make sure to find the most tender trigger point.
If you have sore shoulders, try these self-myofascial releases. If you have shoulder pain, it is important to seek help from a Physical Therapist or other allied health professional.
As a Physical Therapist and Strength Coach, Dr. G. John Mullen works with swimmers at every level. He is currently the owner of COR Physical Therapy and Personal Training. Dr. John specializes in helping swimmers overcome their physical weaknesses, whether due to injury or other physical barriers. In addition, he is a regular contributor to Swimming World Magazine.
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