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Science of Performance: Swimmer's Shoulder System -- February 21, 2012


By G. John Mullen of SwimmingScience.net and CenterofOptimalRestoration.com, Swimming World correspondent

SANTA CLARA, California, February 21. THE top athletes in the sport, such as Phelps, Lochte, Pellegrini and Hackett, have all spent numerous hours in the pool and taken millions of strokes throughout their careers, syncing their genetic and training potential. They synchronize their modifiable and innate characteristics for success. Building the ship addresses training, one modifiable characteristic.


So what enables these top athletes to be able to handle these high training volumes better than other swimmers? It comes down to being able to handle waves. Common stroke flaws are like waves in the ocean " you can hit a few along the way and still reach your destination safely, but hitting too many will cause damage and divert your course. The more robust your ship, a modifiable characteristic, the less damage the waves may cause.

However, detouring around all waves could add unnecessary time to the journey. As no sea is completely tranquil, the ultimate goal is to handle waves with minimal effect on our ship.
Proper muscle length, strength, and timing (LST) make our ship a well-armored aquatic vehicle. The athlete must keep their ship strong to float against recurrent waves. Rarely (disregarding macrotrauma) does an athlete hurt himself or herself the first time they do a task. If an athlete has optimal muscle length, strength, and timing each time they enter the pool, their muscles will work properly, preventing injuries. Fewer injuries mean more consistent training, which leads to faster swimming and ample time for practice, synchronizing genes and training.

Other overhead sports (tennis, baseball, and so on) provide adequate monetary compensation to help athletes assemble their ship. Unfortunately, most elite swimmers are underpaid and barely able to support themselves while healthy. For some, a shoulder injury is tantamount to retirement, as any extended time out of the water can be financially crippling. Due to low budgets, swim coaches are also spread thin and must wear numerous hats: sports psychologist, strength coach, injury prevention expert, rehabilitation specialist, and nutritionist. The Swimmer's Shoulder System will help these overworked coaches master two of these areas (injury prevention expert and rehabilitation specialist) and keep their swimmers healthier and in the pool. It will also help the parent understand and support the coaches" efforts to prevent shoulder pain. Lastly, it will help the swimmer successfully perform the sport they love for as long as they desire.

Keeping swimmers in the pool is one of my goals for this system. Whether your goal is acute swimming success or life-long participation; the risk of shoulder pain increases with age. One study reported positive histories of shoulder pain were found in 66% of 15-16 year old swimmers and 73% of elite college swimmers (McMaster, 2006). This study didn"t follow Masters swimmers, but I"d infer their injury rates are much higher. It also didn"t account for those who quit swimming due to shoulder pain, potentially decreasing the total number of injuries in the study.

McMaster's study reveals that there are a surprisingly high number of shoulder injuries occurring in youth swimming. One way to reduce these injuries is to reevaluate the swim programs that have become routine. Completely eliminating or replacing these swim programs would unnecessarily eliminate many benefits that they provide. Instead, I recommend focusing on altering the programs to include injury prevention measures, for the benefit of all swimmers.

Everyone knows that swim programs vary in philosophy from high yardage to high quality, all with different potentials for success. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury forces you into the most ineffective training system, which is not to swim at all. The Swimmer's Shoulder System is the culmination of years of research, observation, and sessions with evaluation of athletes of all abilities to determine the most comprehensive approach to sustain training continuity, synchronizing prevention training and genes.

Dr. G. John Mullen is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. At USC, he was a clinical research assistant at USC performing research on adolescent diabetes, lung adaptations to swimming, and swimming biomechanics. G. John has been featured in Swimming World Magazine, Swimmer Magazine, and the International Society of Swim Coaches Journal. He is currently the strength and conditioning coach at Santa Clara Swim Club, owner of the Center of Optimal Restoration and creator of Swimming Science.

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