In The Gym | Swimmers’ Shoulders

Posted on August 12, 2013


Here we go…my start at writing about what I’m doing with clients day-to-day in my gym. It proved challenging to get down on paper what comes so naturally in my head! I hope I made this easy-enough to follow, and that it helps someone out there dealing with a similar issue.

Ok, first up, two young swimmers (age 18 & 20). There’s so much to cover with both of these clients that I’ll break it down into 1 item per blog post..cuz long blog posts just don’t work for ya’ll in this super-short attention-span world. 🙂

First up, a national-level high school swimmer who is staring down a D1 collegiate career. He & the other swimmer are seeing me for a few key reasons:

– to find out if its possible for them to perform without all the aches & pains that are cropping up (it is)

– to help correct some less-than-optimal movement patterns they’re expressing, with the goal that fixing those helps them increase their speed & power in the pool (it will)

– to help them tighten up their lifting technique so that when they are back with their swim coach hitting the weight room, they can lift better, safer, and with more positive effect

**I REALLY hate reading articles that are full of Latin terminology & directionals that I have to stop and picture in my head before I can continue reading; and while there is a time and place for that (in academia), it’s not appropriate here, where 99% of my readers are regular folks who just want to know where we’re talking about in the body, and what happened. I’m not dumbing it down, I’m just trying to keep this info accessible. I’ll use a few anatomical words that are more commonly known, but because I hate writing it just as much as you likely hate reading it, you won’t find “medial head of the greater tuberosity” here (that’s the ‘top-of-the-closer-to-the-torso part of the arm bone that connects the elbow to the shoulder’ for those playing along at home.) Ok, let’s dive in (aHA! a pun! dive…swimmer…get it?)

Swimmer #1 –

The Issue:
– upper body is severely rounded (like a hunchback) due to extreme tightness of the chest, lats (back muscles that start under the armpit, triceps, fronts of shoulders, and a variety of neck muscles
– having major shoulder and upper back pain

Today’s Goal:
– release the overly tight/shortened muscles and strengthen the overly lengthened/weak muscles so that the scapula (shoulder blade) starts to sit in in a better/safer/less risky position.

Take a look at the pic below – happy shoulder blades sit in a sort of pocket on the back of your ribcage. It’s not an actual pocket, but if you took your hand and stuffed it down into your back pocket, the same concept is happening when your shoulders are sitting in a good position. See how the pic below shows a set of “wings” on the guy’s back? Those wings are the shoulder blades and they should be resting on the ribcage, not floating up and away as they are here. When you see shoulder blades sticking out like this, there’s a higher risk of problems cropping up in body. Shoulder blades, when in their “pockets”, are hardly visible on the back.

The Action:
1) release the overly tight muscles & fascia (the stuff that sits over your muscle but under your skin…it’s like cling-wrap and has 10x the nerve endings that muscle does, and it glues to your muscles and skin over weeks/months/years of misuse/dis-use…it’s not supposed to glue down to the muscles or skin, so, yah possible problem)
– use lacrosse ball & hand pressure to do trigger point release and cross-friction massage
– released pecs, lats and triceps to a 50% improvement level
– released scalenes at insertion point

2) use gentle assisted stretching to mobilize the areas we just released trigger points & adhesions from
– assisted client through stretching of the pecs, lats, and triceps
– performed passive (relaxed) extremely gentle neck stretches by tipping ear to shoulder to stretch opposite side of neck
*Did both sides at same time for pecs & lats, but did all one side first for triceps and neck*

He stood up to grab a drink of water in between when we did the L side and the R side. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a change in the side we had just worked. Before I could say anything, he commented “weird, I feel longer and like I’m in a totally different position on the side we just worked.” I asked him to face me full on and the difference from L to R side was nothing short of remarkable. Take a look! Both shoulders looked like his R one when he walked in. That R side is just crying out for some TLC like the L side got!!
Will shoulder MOB

And yes, we did even him out and get that R side dropped down too. 😉

Now let’s not think that we can wipe our hands off and consider that issue solved, nope, this is going to be an ongoing thing. What I’ve found though is that, over time, the body starts to respond and can reset itself to some degree so that the body positions of the past are no longer the positions the body goes to in the future. We’ll start to notice his posture improving, he’ll start to feel looser all the time, and when he does his release & stretch work, it will take less total time to undo the tension and adhesions.

Next Step:
– begin strengthening the opposing muscles that have become over-stretched because of the excessive tightness along the front line of the body

*Next In the Gym post will cover swimmer #2 and her interesting lower-body issue that was hampering her swim.*

Posted in: fitness