The Top 7 Exercises for Swimmers

The swimmer 7 are 7 arm exercises that every swimmer needs to be doing as a part of their dry land program.  Any swimmer who competes recreationally, competitively, in USA swimming – any swimmer needs to be doing a comprehensive dryland program.

Dryland is imperative, not just for swimming but for all sports.  There is a component that is lacking when all you do is train in your sport and do no specific exercises to strengthen the muscles.

We see a lot of injuries from athletes that are doing improper dry land exercises.  Lifting too heavy of weight or doing dry land exercises that are well above what they need to be doing.  This causes overuse and pain. 

These exercises are designed to do 2 things:

  1. They are designed to depress the shoulder, push the shoulder down towards the ground.  Most swimmer’s shoulders are rounded forwarded and elevated.  Just look at your posture in the mirror, are you slumped forward?  If you tell yourself to relax your shoulders, do you feel them drop?

Everything you do overhead (freestyle, backstroke, butterfly) elevates your shoulders.  It brings your shoulders up towards your ears.  This can cause shoulder pain and headaches and neck pain.

Overhead motions can cause a lot of shoulder pain if there is nothing done to balance out the shoulder because as the shoulder goes overhead, the bones can come together and pinch the muscle that is running in between the bones causing shoulder pain.

2. The other thing that a swimmer’s dryland program must do is, it must be designed to withstand forces from all different directions.  The shoulder must be, what we technically refer to as dynamically stable.  It needs to be able to handle waves coming at it from all angles, while the shoulder itself can range in position from down at the side to overhead.

Your shoulder is NOT going to develop dynamic stability by swimming laps.

Therefore, the exercises that are done during dryland need to focus on the dynamic stability that is needed while in the water but cannot be gotten from just swimming in the water.

The swimmer 7 is going to address the stability component the shoulder desperately needs when swimming to not only make you a faster swimmer but also to make you less prone to injury.

The first exercise is going to be just a simple scapular depression.  It looks easy but guaranteed most swimmers are not able to do 30 of these.  And if they can, then have them do 2 and 3 sets.

Find a bench.  Put your hands flat on the bench on either side of you.  Lean forward.  Then push your butt and legs off the bench so that just your hands are touching the table.  Hold it for five seconds and then come down.  The hold is very important, so you are not just letting gravity do the work.  If you do this correctly you will feel it in your abs as well as your shoulders.

We’re doing this, so your shoulder can keep the shoulder in proper position while swimming.  So that when the shoulder goes overhead, the bones can stay in correct position and not be affected.

The second exercise is a plank with scapula squeezes.

Get on the floor in a push-up position. Hold it there.  If you can’t hold a push up position, then go to your knees and your elbows and hold it from there.     If you are doing it from your hands, make sure there is a slight bend in the elbows and they are not locked out straight.  But through this whole exercise the elbows should not move, they should stay in the same place.

You want to drop your shoulders down and bring them up.  You will feel your shoulder blades in the back get closer together as you drop down and then further apart as you push up.

This is a small movement but very effective.  Just make sure you are not doing pushups.  The arms and the elbows stay still the entire time.

You want to do at least one set of 45 repetitions.  If you can do one set without too much fatigue, then do 2 and 3 sets.  If you can do 3 sets without too much fatigue, then go to one leg and do one set of 45 with one leg lifted and do another set of 45 with the other leg lifted.

The third exercise is called thread the needle.

Get into a side plank.  (Lay on your side and push your midsection up so that the only thing touching the ground is your hand and your feet, which should be stacked.  If this is too hard drop to your forearm and drop to your knees.

Then with the arm that is free, slowly rotate your body and ‘thread’ your hand in between the ‘hole’ from you hand to your feet slowly.  Make sure your hand is directly underneath your shoulder.  People will cheat by having their hand move out from under directly underneath their shoulder.

The next exercise is a reverse plank.

Start by laying on your back.  Push yourself up onto your hands and your heels so that your butt, ribs and legs lift off the ground and the only thing touching the ground is your heels and your hands.

Hold this 1 minute and do 3 sets.  Make sure that your butt does not drop down.

Reverse Plank

The next exercise is mountain climbers.

You want to get into plank position.  Then bring one foot up to your chest.  Then switch and bring the other leg up to your chest.  You want to do this movement as quickly as you can.

Make sure you keep your butt down as you do the mountain climbers and keep the hands directly under the shoulder.

Do 3 sets of 1 minute for each of these.

The next exercise is a shoulder crossover.

Get into push up position.  Then take the right hand and cross it over to touch the left shoulder.  Place the right hand back down.  Then take the left hand and cross it over and touch the right shoulder.

Do 30 touches on each shoulder.  If you can do 3 sets, then perform 3 sets on each side.

Again, it is important that your shoulders are directly over your hands.  You don’t want your hands to be in front of the shoulders because then you are training the wrong muscle groups.

The final exercise is superman’s.

Start by lying face down on the ground.  Then lift your arms and legs off the ground.  Hold for 30 seconds and do 6 repetitions.  You can do as many as 20 repetitions if the 6 are easy for you to do.

If you are having problems with your shoulder and would like to schedule a complimentary consultation with a Doctor of Physical Therapy then click here to fill out your information and we will be in touch!

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