Simple Shoulder Movements To Help The Competitive Swimmer

Simple Shoulder Movements To Help The Competitive Swimmer


By Al McDonagh, Founder of Captain Jacked

Training methods used by swimmers to prepare for their seasons vary. It is often dependent on the trainer they hire or that is officially linked to their team.  Sometimes trainers are “territorial” on the methods they use believing “their way” is the best way.  However, a good mixture of training is what will optimize your athletic performance. 

One of the training areas that may be lacking for many athletes, is not in the physical movements, but rather, in the transmission of knowledge from trainer to athlete.  So, your trainer tells you to do a certain movement, but do you know why you are doing that particular movement?  Has your trainer explained to you how doing a particular movement connects to the sport of swimming? Or is your trainer simply handing you a sheet of paper and telling you to go down the checklist?

In military tactics, it has been said the most important thing is not whether you go left or right but WHY you go left or right.  Trainers who are educating their athletes on the “why” are setting their athletes up for greater success.

For this article, let’s concentrate on the shoulders and what role the shoulders play in the sport of swimming.  The shoulder girdle’s primary function is to give strength and range of motion to the arm.  The shoulder girdle is made up of three different bones: (1) the scapula; (2) the clavicle; and (3) the humerus. 

The shoulder girdle is the main rotation point about which all the arm movements take place during each of the four strokes. Keeping your shoulders strong and healthy should be a priority for all swimmers. 

In conjunction with a proper warm-up, here are two very simple movements that will help to strengthen different areas of your deltoids. 

Front Deltoid Raises.

You do not need to use a lot of weight to do this movement.  This movement really targets the anterior deltoid. However, the secondary muscles that are targeted with this movement are the middle deltoid, traps, and pecs.  The anterior deltoid plays a major role in the recovery process of the butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke.

Within the butterfly stroke, the anterior deltoid is active during the second half of the recovery.  During the breaststroke, the anterior deltoid guides the movements of the arm and hand from underneath the athlete’s chest to a fully extended and elongated position which will help to maximize efficiency of the stroke.  The entire recovery phase of the backstroke from water exit until reentry relies on the anterior deltoid.

Here is a video that demonstrates how to properly do a front deltoid raise. (Front Deltoid Raises).

Side Lateral Deltoid Raises.

Once again, you do not need to use “heavy weight” to do this movement. This movement concentrates on the middle deltoid, which is one of the key muscles in the recovery phase of the freestyle and the butterfly.  The secondary muscles that are trained with this movement are the anterior deltoids, posterior deltoids, and the traps.

With the butterfly, there is a lack of body roll to aid in arm recovery, so there is heavy reliance on the entire deltoid muscle group to reposition the arm.  Therefore, it is important to strengthen your deltoid muscles for purposes of recovery in the butterfly and to prevent shoulder injuries caused by not having strong deltoids to utilize in the recovery phase of the butterfly.

Here is a video that demonstrates how to properly do the side lateral raise. (Side Lateral Deltoid Raises).

The key to both of these movements is to use the appropriate amount of weight and to utilize good technique.  Invest time into these two movements and you will see positive strength returns as it relates to swimming.

Finally, remember, confidence and trust are essential elements in any sport.  Put your confidence and trust in trainers that not only strengthen your bodies but educate you on the “why” related to each movement.

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  • Al McDonagh