Swimming, the Near-Perfect Exercise – Except for the Shoulders

I can’t think of a better way to beat the heat of a hot summer day than a dip in a pool or the ocean.

I even deigned to dive through the waves at Atlantic Beach in East Hampton last Saturday.

The water was warm enough and I was hot enough.

A cool way to stay cool.

Swimming is probably the most nearly perfect form of exercise.

And you don’t have to put in thousands of hours in the pool like Olympic champion Michael Phelps to get a good workout.

• It’s non-weight-bearing and so imposes no stress on the bones and joints.

Even people with bad backs can exercise in the water without fear of injury.

• It exercises and strengthens the upper and lower body.

• It’s an exercise in which it’s easy to reach your training range (which exercises your heart) and maintain it.

• It’s an effective weight-control exercise.

An hour of vigorous swimming burns about as many calories as running 6 miles in an hour.

• It’s a form of meditation.

It calms your nerves in addition to providing a good workout.

• It’s a good exercise for people with exercise-induced bronchospasm.

People with this condition are unable to warm and moisten the air to the lungs when they breathe hard.

Although swimming isn’t considered a sport that leads to injuries, serious swimmers often have problems with their shoulders.

The most common injury is referred to as “swimmer’s shoulder” and can affect up to 70% of competitive swimmers.

Swimmer’s shoulder is basically a rotator cuff sports injury.

The rotator cuff muscles, which hold the head of the shoulder in the joint, are not meant to be overstressed with the arm at an angle above parallel to the ground.

All swimming strokes (except the breaststroke) place the arm in this over-the-head position and stress these muscles as the arm is pulled through the water.

The small rotator cuff muscles become stretched, allowing the head to slip around in the shallow socket.

As it slips, it catches the bicep tendons, pinching them and causing pain.

If you feel shoulder pain after swimming, rest for several weeks and then modify your training program by using a kickboard or doing the breaststroke to maintain conditioning.

Combine this with a shoulder-strengthening program using light weights.

Here are some more tips on how to minimize the risk of a shoulder injury from John Cavanaugh, PT, a physical therapist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City:

• Do not attempt to swim if you are too tired, too cold, or overheated.

• Make sure to warm up properly.

• Focus on swimming technique. Poor technique can leave you more prone to injury.

• Engage in a general exercise program on land to develop muscle strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility. This includes strengthening the core abdominal muscles.

• Do not swim vigorously if you have a fever, upper respiratory infection, or ear infection.

• If you are training for a triathlon, note that the swim is completely different from pool swimming.

Generally, in open water, you can’t see where you’re going and there are people all around you.

Be aware of the bodies and avoid them as much as you can.

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