5 Ways to Protect Shoulders After a Break

I know many swimmers have been off for the last 2 weeks. It is a much deserved and needed recovery period in the training season, however there is a problem. When the swimmers get back to the pool the coaches try to whip them back into shape with workouts and lots of swimming.

So what is the problem with that approach? It’s the swimmers shoulders!!!

In the last 2 weeks my guess is swimmers have put their arms above their heads a minimal amount of times. Think about yourself. How many times have you put your arm(s) above your head today? I can honestly say I have done it zero times. When our swimmer get to the pool after their break we get them to front crawl, back crawl, overhead scull, thrust, spin. . . This amounts to the swimmers putting their arm(s) up over their heads hundreds of times in one session.


At that rate it could take only one session for your swimmers to have over-trained shoulders.


In one lap of front crawl one arm does 10 revolutions (I am being conservative and trying to make the math easy). Look at the chart below. In 100m of front crawl, a swimmer does 40 revolutions with one arm. That is a lot, especially after a break.


Distance Revolutions Per Arm
25m 10
50m 20
75m 30
100m 40
200m 80
400m 160
2000m 800


After a week of training your swimmers may have completed over a 1000 or even 10,000 revolutions per arm depending on how much you train! To go from less than hundred arm revolutions (I bet even less) a day over the break to hundreds in just one practice is asking for injuries.

I believe there are some ways to help alleviate this issue.

Here are 5 ways to help protect swimmers shoulders:


  1. Do an active warm-up for the shoulders. Get the shoulders ready to workout. It is never a good idea to go cold turkey into practice. Some of my favorite active exercises are:
    • Controlled shoulder circles- one arm does one controlled circle for one count at a metronome speed of 60BPM. Pull the shoulders done and away from the ears. Do circles in both directions.
    • Fly’s- leaning forward with a flat spine, bring the arms up inline with shoulders and back down and repeat.                                                                                                
    • Thumb Internal/external rotation- from a standing position with arms by side point thumbs up to sky and move arms to inline with shoulders then thumbs down and point thumbs to floor. Repeat.                                                                                                              


If you are searching for more exercises or repetition suggestions for shoulder exercises check out the 2 week maintenance program.


  1. Periodize your first week of training after the break paying special attention to the amount of time your swimmers spend with their arms above their head. The tendency will be to have swimmers do a 30 minute to 60 minute workout on the first day back. Reconsider this approach.  Instead increase front crawl over the week. Do other strokes like breast stroke and back crawl to lesson the impact on one muscle group. You could also do more kick sets or even eggbeater. Perhaps you could use dry land to work on fitness.
  2. Schedule maintenance days. Make sure that swimmers that are susceptible to recurring shoulder injuries have appointments throughout the first few weeks of training back after the break to help mitigate the increased training load. Swimmers need to see a massage therapist, chiropractor or physiotherapist as needed. I would suggest it is good practice to see these support staff prior to injuries.
  3. Stretch after practice or sets that require lots of shoulder work. Body parts that need stretching are the pecs, deltoids and scapula area.
    • Pecs- this could be done by laying on a foam roller and allowing the arms to drop to the floor.
    • Deltoids- pull the arm across the body holding with the opposite hand under the elbow.
    • Scapula- lace your fingers together and flip your hands to face out, then lift your arms out in front of your chest and stretch forward with your scapula. Your hands should get further away from your body.
  4. Periodize your figure plan. Strategically spread out your figures that require overhead sculls. On the first practice back I would avoid spins, thrusts and walkouts. Instead do drills that work the skill, but do not require the full strength needed to perform the actual skill.


This weekend take some time to periodize your first week back at training keeping in mind the amount of time your swimmers spend in positions with their arms above there head. Remember that shoulder injuries are very common place in synchro and there are steps you can take to help protect your swimmers.


If you are looking for ideas for shoulder exercises check out the 2 week maintenance program. There are three different levels as well as repetition suggestions.


Remember once a swimmer has injured their shoulders it is too late to do injury prevention exercises. They need to start much further back in the process and build up to injury prevention.


I would greatly appreciate it if you would share this post with other coaches and swimmers.


Yours in synchro,

Leave a Comment

Top 4 Olympic Qualifier Tech Teams 2016

Get your FREE DOWNLOAD today!

Includes all pattern changes and swimmer positions.