The pull is where you get your power from as a swimmer, the second part of the swimming stroke, known as the pull through. I see a lot of overload injuries in swimmers caused by technique flaws stemming from this part of the stroke. The shoulder must move from an overhead position through the water down into an extended position essentially pulling you through the water. Improving your technique in this area usually means improving your swimming speed as well as reducing your risk of injury this year and next!
- An S-shaped pull through. The quickest way to get from point to pint is in a straight line. If you are weaving your way through the water you will not only be losing power but also increasing the load on soft tissue structures in the shoulder.
- Lack of hip rotation. This increases the load on the shoulder due to lack of contribution from trunk muscles as well as increasing the movement the shoulder is required to perform.
- Hand crossing the midline. This is often a compensation for a lack of hip rotation or lack of strength.
- A dropped elbow. This is when the elbow is below the level of the hand (when viewed from the side). Your muscles are placed at a mechanical disadvantage in this position and you will lose power and increase drag.
- Tight or overactive pecs (chest muscle). The shoulder will sit in a slightly more forward and downwards facing position if this is the case. It will need to be corrected by strengthening the opposing muscles and a few stretches.
- Reduced neck range of movement. Sometimes this problem causes a swimmer to roll the body excessively or occasionally it will cause unilateral breathing which can contribute to technique errors above.
- Poor scapula position. This is a very common cause of reduced power and pain and takes specific exercises to address each individual’s level of dysfunction.
- Poor strength ratios of internal rotators to external rotators. This measure has recently been proven to be very important in reducing shoulder pain. If the internal rotators are much stronger than the opposing external rotators the risk of injury is markedly increased. Swimmers need to be careful to balance out their strength work with external rotator exercises in a pain free manner.