How do I swim faster? This is the number one question I am asked almost on a daily basis by my patients who come in with shoulder injuries related to repetitive overhead activities, such as swimming. Now not all my patients that come into the clinic have shoulder injuries due to swimming, most are coming in for some fine tuning prior to a triathlon or an ocean swim. This week I have been in the pool myself working on achieving my goal of competing in my first sprint triathlon. So without giving all my secrets away, I am going to share with you my top 3 tips that I have learnt from over two decades of competitive swimming and coaching swimming so that you can swim faster this summer.

  1. Thoracic spine mobility is just as important as shoulder mobility
The thoracic spine is one of the most important, yet quite often it is the most neglected region of the body. The thoracic spine connects directly to the major joint systems in the upper body – glenohumeral joint (shoulder), scapulae (shoulder blades), lumbar spine and cervical spine. Muscles that affect respiration, stroke propulsion and shoulder stabilisers are all affected by the thoracic spine function. Virtually every stroke that is performed within the water must flow through the thoracic spine, whether its rotation whilst breathing in freestyle or shoulder elevation and protraction in the arm stroke of breaststroke, and thus if the thoracic spine does not function properly, other areas must compensate. Even though thoracic spine limitations can have widespread negative effects in the shoulder, cervical and lumbar spine, simple corrections can have an equally significant positive impact on swimming performance, stroke strength and prevention of injury. Furthermore, every breath we take during our stroke in the water, directly affects the thoracic spine, as such, any limitation can be magnified when breathing is stressed (either by fatigue or pain). Tip: one simple way to help your thoracic spine can be using a tennis ball (preferably two). Place the tennis balls in between your shoulders blades whilst you rest on the floor. Spend a few minutes rolling out the muscles in this area by moving your arms in all directions, prior to swimming and then again after swimming.
  1. Faster arm speed does not equate to faster time overall but rather leads to increased likelihood of injury
We have all seen James Magnusson race in the 100m freestyle. Its quick, its powerful but most importantly it is very controlled. A few months ago, whilst I was at a swimming carnival, the 100m freestyle race came around and whilst I was watching the swimmers race I noticed that one swimmer was very different to the others. He wasn’t in control of his arm speed and at the 40m mark he was already significantly behind the other swimmers. So in order for him to pick up his speed he made the number one mistake of a swimmer in his position, he increased his arm speed! By the 60m mark his race turned from bad to catastrophic as his uncontrolled arm speed resulted in him dislocating his shoulder and requiring to be rushed to hospital to relocate it. When I teach arm speed to my students I like to show them mathematically why faster arm speed isn’t necessarily going to equate to a faster time but rather leads to an increased likelihood of injury. Imagine you have two swimmers, both swimming a 1km time trial in a 25m pool. Swimmer A is using 16 arm strokes per lap, whilst Swimmer B is using 24 arm strokes per lap. At the 400m mark both swimmers are matching each other on speed but at this stage Swimmer B has already used his arms 128 more times than Swimmer A. At the 800m mark Swimmer A is well ahead of Swimmer B and by the end of the 1km time trial Swimmer A has finished for at least a minute before Swimmer B has finished. By the end, Swimmer B has performed 360 more arm strokes than Swimmer A and is now complaining of shoulder pain. Tip: be smart and purposeful with your strokes and don’t let yourself get out of control over your arm speed.
  1. Propulsion comes from behind you, not in front.
If you have a look at the difference between long distance swimmers of the 1970s and 1980s compared to the long distance swimmers of today you will notice one thing, they kick more. Kicking is your body’s natural propulsive motor and is often underestimated by novice and recreational swimmers. One patient this week was telling me about his swimming training for the week. On his first session he used fins and felt quite quick through the water and not as tired in his shoulders following the session. A few days later, during his second session, he didn’t use fins and felt as if he was sinking. After a few direct questions about his kicking, he suggested that he “wasn’t a very good kicker” and was using the fins to help prevent him from sinking. I asked him whether given the option if he would use a paddle or a motor to move a boat through the ocean, to which he responded a motor. This is the very logical answer to the question, so I made the analogy of the paddles being his arms and the motor being his legs. After this he continued to suggest he “wasn’t a very good kicker” but after some good reasons for kicking he set himself a goal of practicing his kicking. Tip: kicking is the body’s natural propulsive motor and needs to be practiced to get better at. To make it easier to begin with practice kicking with some fins on as they will help position the body well in the pool. After a few laps, take the fins off and practice maintaining that position with the same speed kick. Kicking should be a main part of your swimming set as it will offload the stress on the shoulders and make you a better swimmer. Finally, if you are looking to improve your swimming technique and do not know where to start, give the clinic a call on 02 8090 8150 or email me at da***@up*********.au and we can set up an appointment focusing on identifying your technique faults in the pool, screening your body for potential mobility issues and making you a better swimmer!
Written by David Cohen, Physiotherapist at UprightCare]]>

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Larry is a highly skilled physiotherapist who specialises in treating back and neck pain, postural issues and scoliosis. He is certified in Schroth and SEAS methods and through the Egoscue University. Larry has a background in elite gymnastics and springboard diving and also has many years experience in endurance running and triathlons. His specialist knowledge and techniques have seen him appointed as a gymnastics coach and physiotherapist at both the Olympics Games and Special Olympics.

His passion and driving philosophy is about achieving the best outcomes for his patients utilising an amalgam of the latest techniques and theories while recognising there may sometimes be a need for invasive procedures. Where deemed appropriate Larry will then refer to a specialist. To further his holistic understanding and approach, Larry is currently undertaking a Ph.D. in Spinal Deformity and regularly attends and speaks at international conferences and courses and clinics.

Fun fact: Larry is learning how to surf - so be careful next time you go to the beach! Qualifications: B.Sc (Physiotherapy); M.Sc. (Exercise Physiology); Advanced Certificates in Schroth (BSPTS) and Egoscue (PAS) and SEAS Larry is Level II certified (advanced) in the conservative treatment of Scoliosis based on the Schroth method. The training was conducted by Dr Manuel Rigo of the Barcelona School at Scoliosis Rehab Inc in Wisconsin. He has completed his SEAS scoliosis treatment training at ISICO in Milan. Larry has also spent time working with Dr Rigo in the Barcelona clinic. Larry also has advanced certificates in shoulder treatment, posture alignment therapy and acupuncture.