Every sport is going to face challenges when lockdown ends and athletes around the world are once again allowed to practice and compete. None more so than swimmers. Stripped of their normal diet of 20+ hours in the pool (somewhere between 40,000 to 60,000 metres) their training during lockdown has had to widely differ from its normal course.

How this has looked has varied amongst athletes: some have bought makeshift outdoor pools and tied themselves to the wall using a bungee; some have attempted to replicate swimming through the use of swim cords and ‘race simulations’; whilst others have looked to maintain an aerobic base through running. Regardless of choice (some seem better than others), none of the above are, unfortunately, truly preparing a swimmer for the demands they will face when pools are back open and typical training resumes.

Shoulders and adductors

I have written before about what a swim strength and conditioning/land training programme should look like. If you haven’t already, please click here to read. In that article, I detailed the common injury risks for swimmers. It is worth repeating some of this now as these injury risks will only increase once normal training resumes and there is a dramatic spike in the demand placed on these muscles (through a dramatic increase in training volume). The extant literature draws our attention to two main sites of injury for swimmers – shoulders and adductors (inner thigh muscles). Shoulder pain has been reported as the most common injury in competitive swimming [1]. This is not surprising given that every swimmer completes significant volumes of freestyle metres each week. Additionally, breaststroke swimmers are particularly susceptible to adductor injuries, with Grote et. al. finding that breaststroke swimmers put extensive stress on the adductor muscles due to repeated adduction with peak adduction velocity of the thigh in breaststroke swimmers averaging 245° per second [2].

The third component

Alongside mitigating the risk of injury to the adductors and shoulders, the third component of a well-rounded swim robustness programme is focused work on the ability to maintain aquatic posture. The concept of aquatic posture is one that I have borrowed from USA Olympic swim S&C coach Keenan Robinson – ‘the ability of the swimmer to stabilise their spine in the element of extremity movement or perturbation’ [3]. This is where Mike Boyle’s view of core training – that the primary purpose of the core musculature is the prevention of motion, not motion creation – plays a significant role [4]. Through the implementation of exercise progressions, starting with intrinsic stability focused exercises and moving to dynamic stability focused exercises, we can gradually increase the complexity of core training with no equipment [5].

What to do?

So what are some exercises that address these needs that a swimmer should be performing at home during lockdown?

Shoulders: YTW variations, floor slides, snow angels

Adductors: lateral squats, lateral lunges, Copenhagen plank progressions

Aquatic posture: swiss ball variations, plank progressions, deadbug and birddog progressions

Resuming training

When pools re-open there will be the tendency to quickly dive (pun intended) back into ‘normal’ training in order to make up for lost time. This will result in a dramatic spike in training volume, leading to a dramatic increase in injury risk, particularly amongst muscles that are currently being neglected in high volume circuit type training, which is, unfortunately, typical of most swimmers training during lockdown. By including some of the above exercises (please message me if you would like further details on any of them) we can hope to reduce the risk of injury once swimming training resumes.

References

[1] Bishop et. al., ‘Strength and Conditioning for Sprint Swimming’, Strength and Conditioning Journal 35 (6), pp. 1-6, 2013.

[2] Grote K., Lincoln T.L., and Gamble J.G., ‘Hip adductor injury in competitive swimmers’, American Journal of Sports Medicine 32: pp. 104-8, 2004.

[3] Robinson, K., ‘Athletes, Adaptation, Availability’, presentation given at CVASPS 2017.

[4] Boyle M., New Functional Training for Sports 2nd ed., 2016.

[5] Landow, L., Progressions of Isometric Core Training’, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5kbGUMwsWw (accessed 03/05/2020).