Scapular Stability for Swimmers: The Importance of developing “Iron Scaps”

scapular-stability-brad-jones

by Brad Jones, Bellingham Bay Swim Team Coach

We all know that the shoulders can take a lot of abuse with swimming.  At some point in your swimming career you will most likely experience some type of shoulder issue.

The shoulder is a very mobile joint, and being so mobile, it needs to be well controlled by the muscles and ligaments that surround the joint. Over-training, fatigue, hypermobility, poor stroke technique, weakness, tightness, previous shoulder injury or use of hand paddles can lead to your muscles and ligaments being overworked. If this goes on, injuries such as rotator cuff impingement and tendonitis, bursitis, capsule and ligament damage, or cartilage damage can occur.

With the repetitive overhead, internal rotation of the shoulders in swimming while pulling forcefully down, the front of the shoulder tends to get over worked. This is where problems can occur.  For the past five years here at the Bellingham Bay Swim Team (BBST), we have spent time in every dry land session doing some scapular stabilization exercises that have paid huge dividends.  We have seen very few shoulder injuries and the swimmers have developed strong, balanced shoulders that have helped performance in the pool.

There are many scapula (shoulder blades) stabilization exercises that we do daily. I would like to share two.  The focus of these exercises is to strengthen and mobilize the 17 muscles that attach to the scapula.  Doing this, will help take the pressure off of the front of the shoulder and create more balance.

We do these types of exercises prior to or after dry land or practice in the pool.  This is not something that you do to failure.  The goal is to activate the muscles attaching to the scapula. We want them “online” prior to and after a big workout.

Scap Pull Up:

-Either hanging or standing, place your hands on a pull up bar, palms facing away. (Hanging is more difficult, but what you should be working towards.)

  • Relax the neck. Lock the elbows. Slowly start to draw your scapulas down the back and toward the spine, as if you were going to put them in your back pockets.
  • Slowly let the scapulas slide up, gliding up the rib cage.
  • The only things moving are the scapulas.
  • Repeat for 10 reps. Do 3-4 sets of 10 reps.

Scap Circles:

  • On hands and knees, hands placed slightly wider than the shoulders.
  • Have head in line with the spine, and lock elbows.
  • Move scapulas down the back, then slide them out to the side and back up and in at the top. Do this for 10 reps.
  • Reverse the direction of the scapulas: up the back, out to the side, and then back down and towards the spine.
  • Don’t arch the back.  
  • It takes practice, but the only thing moving should be the scapulas.
  • 3 sets of 10 circles in each direction.

 

Watch the full video below:

BBST Shoulder Savers from Brad Jones on Vimeo.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff. All swimming and dryland training and instruction should be performed under the supervision of a qualified coach or instructor, and in circumstances that ensure the safety of participants.

18 Comments
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4 years ago

Karen Weyl where was this 10 years ago when I needed it lol

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4 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Weyl

Really! Are you including this in your exercise portfolio?

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4 years ago

This guy in the video told they were doing a lot more exercise for the shoulders. Can we see some of them?

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4 years ago

Rich Alderman

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4 years ago

Lilly Makovsky

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4 years ago

Evan Smith

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Noah Berman

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4 years ago

Kate Larocque

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4 years ago

Ashleigh Botha

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4 years ago

Isabella Cesareo

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Kerri Carlton
4 years ago

Bellingham Bay Swim Team swimmers won the jackpot when Coach Brad joined the coaching staff as their dryland coach. The love and care he gives each and every swimmer is extraordinary and helps them reach their fullest potential. Thank you Coach Brad, for sharing your wisdom, knowledge, and love of swimming!

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4 years ago

Scap stability – love it! Master it! Huge improvements when swimmers stabilize scap and stop over-reaching. You’ll improve power output/stroke length and the feel of holding the water not pulling aka spinning wheels!

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4 years ago

Emily Brown Denise van Wijk Hannah Van Wijk

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4 years ago
Reply to  Lin Tozer

Looks really good. Video is helpful.

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4 years ago
Reply to  Lin Tozer

Thoight might be good for Sammie and Hannah

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4 years ago

Monica Beible Marks

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4 years ago

Peter Sameh Ezzat, Carol Sameh

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4 years ago

Thorpe N Hall D’sylva