By Amanda Wittenmyer//US Olympic Committee Strength & Conditioning Physiologist | Thursday, November 19, 2015
Swimmers are notorious for their broad shoulders, but what’s the foundation of powerful broad shoulders?
The scapula is the foundation of the shoulder girdle, more commonly known as the shoulder blade. Stroke efficiency is at its best, and risk for shoulder injury is decreased, when the scapula muscles are strong enough to handle the generated force and mobile enough to allow for proper glenohumeral function. Swimmers need to have incredible scapular strength and mobility to move powerfully and efficiently through the water.
Many swimmers are unaware of the movements of the scapula. Let’s progress through the movements of the scapula by trying this:
- With your hands in the air shrug your shoulders up to perform scapular elevation and pull shoulders blades down towards your pockets to perform scapular depression.
- Pretend to do a standing push-up with arms straight out in front, squeeze your shoulder blades together to perform scapular retraction and push hands away from the body to do scapular protraction.
To improve mobility and strength in all four movements of the scapula, the following exercises are recommended as a starting point towards improving shoulder strength and mobility:
- PVC Scapular Elevation: Take an athletic stance, feet slightly wider than hip width, chest in an upright position. Shrug shoulders up and slowly lower the PVC to starting position.
- Push-Up Scapular Protraction: In a straight arm push-up plank position, press the upper mid-back towards the ceiling, slowly retract shoulder blades back to starting position.
- Hanging Scapular Depression: Hanging from a pull-up bar with arms straight, pull the shoulder blades down into your imaginary pockets and slowly lower the body back to starting position.
- Band Scapular Retraction: In an athletic stance, squeeze shoulder blades together and slowly return to starting position. Avoid shrugging the shoulders up by keeping the shoulders down and relaxed.
Begin with 2-3 sets of 8-15 reps of each exercise. There are numerous variations and progressions for these exercises by increasing resistance or changing the modality. Safely be creative with equipment you have!
To develop powerful broad shoulders, start building these exercises into your strength training program.