Give your rotator cuff some support
A competitive swimmer performs about one million stroke cycles per year. Even if you clock less time in the pool than Natalie Coughlin, the repetitive rotations can take a toll on your shoulders. In fact, about 70 percent of swimmers suffer from swimmer's shoulder -- rotator cuff tendonitis -- at some point. Telltale signs include pain or a dull achy feeling in the joint.
"The shoulder is an inherently unstable joint," said David Geier, M.D., an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at the Medical University of South Carolina. While it's a ball and socket joint, the socket is relatively flat so the rotator cuff -- a group of muscles and tendons -- holds the top of the arm bone (humerus) into the shoulder blade (scapula).
As a swimmer, you ask those naturally wobbly joints to take countless overhead rotations (studies found that 80 percent of practice time is spent performing the freestyle stroke), which primes the body for an overuse injury like swimmer's shoulder.
That is, unless you take the time to strengthen the muscles that make up your rotator cuff when you're on land. Doing so helps stave off fatigue when you're in the pool so your shoulders can withstand windmilling your arms hundreds to thousands of times.
"I can't express enough how crucial it is to do these exercises for anyone involved in sports with repetitive overhead motions whether you're a swimmer, gymnast, pitcher, cheerleader or tennis player," Geier said. "I used to work with the doctors who took care of the St. Louis Cardinals and the pitchers did these exercises every single day all year long. It didn't matter whether it was a game day, offseason, or spring training."
The good news: All it takes is 10 minutes.
Internal and external rotation: Attach one end of a theraband to an object (such as a doorknob) about waist high. Stand perpendicular to the door with your left side facing the door. Holding the free end of the theraband with your right hand, bring it across the body and then back toward the door, keeping the arm straight the entire time (internal rotation). Do 15 to 20 reps. Turn around so the right side of your body faces the door. Still holding the free end of the theraband in your right hand, repeat the exercise (external rotation). Do 15 to 20 reps. Repeat on the left side.
Extension: Secure one end of the theraband to an object at waist level. Grasp the free end with one arm and pull arm backwards, keeping the elbow straight. Slowly return to starting position. Do 15 to 20 reps. Repeat on the opposite side.
Seated rows: Sitting on the floor, wrap the theraband around a fixed object and hold one end in each hand. Bend your arms as you bring your hands toward your chest and extend them forward again. Do 15 to 20 reps.
Shoulder shrugs: Stand on the middle of a theraband, feet hip-distance apart, and hold one end of the band in each hand. Shrug the shoulders straight up toward your ears and relax. Repeat 15 to 20 times.
Prone on stability ball exercises: Lie face down on a stability ball placed just above your hips. The balls of your feet are on the floor to help you balance. Lift both arms about 45 degrees past horizontal (toward your ears). With the thumbs pointed upward, lift the arms up so you're making the letter Y. Lower the arms. Do 15 reps. Next, position the arms straight out in a horizontal position. Lift them straight up so you're making the letter T. Lower the arms. Do 15 reps. Finally, place your arms straight down by your sides with palms facing down and lift them straight up behind you. Lower the arms. Do 15 reps.