The Recovery Phase
In this third article where we have broken down the swim stroke, we are talking about the final phase, known as the recovery phase. As the swimming season and triathlon season are now in full swing it is important to remember that your recovery sessions are also vitally important at this stage. I see a lot of athletes around this time of year who are fatigued and may be letting their technique slip as a result of not recovering properly after that last race pace intensity session or letting muscles get too tight and dysfunctional.
Any little niggles you may have been carrying through the season will surely come to the fore at this time of year. So with this in mind let’s think about what we can do to help you stay in the water come event time!
The recovery phase of a swimming stroke should look like this;
· the shoulder comes out to the side of the body with an internally rotated arm as it exits the water
· the elbow should be high if possible as the shoulder is externally rotated and the wrist in front of the elbow as soon as possible as the hand reaches forward for the catch phase
I encourage swimmers to have their internal and external rotation range of movement as well as the motor patterns which control the movement of the shoulder assessed by a physiotherapist. These are the most important movements during the recovery phase. If these movements are tight purely due to muscles becoming tight with increased use then the physio will easily be able to fix this with manual techniques and stretching. Many athletes will have their movement assessed and monitored as opposed to changed if there is no current pain. This regular screening is used to guide training programs and address issues before they become injuries or affect your race. Remember any poor shoulder mechanics and muscle tightness does tend to worsen with fatigue so it is important that athletes are not increasing training volumes when these issues exist.
Good core strength and control is vital in the recovery phase so that adequate body roll is achieved and controlled. Ideally body roll should be 45 degrees. Excessive body roll can lead to hand crossover at entry or the shoulder having to crossover on the opposite side during the pull through phase as discussed in last month’s article. Alternately a lack of body roll may also cause problems as the load on the rotator cuff tendons is increased dramatically. If the body position does not allow for a high elbow this may mean that the elbow may enter the water before the wrist does. This error in technique results in a very inefficient early pull through phase. If you have a unilateral breathing pattern it may be hard to switch to bilateral at this time of the year. Stick with what you have for upcoming events but it might be worth thinking about training and potentially changing this for next season. A unilateral breathing pattern will cause asymmetrical stroke and body roll which places one shoulder at higher risk than the other.
Also remember that it is likely that training volume plays a role in injury risk. Current research suggests that spikes in training load or high variability of training load may be more important as a risk factor than overall load. A safe increase in load is considered approximately 10%. Anything beyond this correlates with an increased risk of injury. If your program looks like it takes big jumps in volume to allow you to reach race distances at this time of year have a chat to your coach or physio about more gentle progressions.
This time of year it is important to work really closely with your physio on a regular basis to keep you in peak condition, get you through the rest of the season and ensure that any injuries aren’t going to be made worse by participating in competitions. After competition season winds down you may find you have a few things to work on over the off season to ensure this doesn’t happen again!