Have you experienced some sore spots, strange sensations, or actual pain while swimming recently?

Even I have. My body is not ‘old’ but I can feel my vulnerabilities as well as any one can.

Once while spending some weeks back in the local pool for my practices instead of in the sea I started to get some shoulder aches.

Over the years, if I switch back to a pool, or back to open-water, it takes a couple weeks to adjust my mind and body to the different training environment. Swimming in the sea and swimming in the pool are similar only in the fact that both are done in water, but most of the similarities stop there. (That’s why you should practice in the open-water as much as possible, if you intend to race there!).

Upon getting in the pool for the first time this year (to swim, not to teach) the front part of my shoulders started to ache a little bit, especially the right shoulder. This rarely happens when I swim in the sea. I knew immediately that something about being in the pool must be making me change the way force is going through my shoulders.

So, right away, while I was swimming, I did some evaluation to find out where the problematic changes may be. This what I found:

1. First Underwater Stroke (pull)

After pushing off the wall and gliding to my break-out point, when I make the first underwater stroke, I always start with the right arm. I noticed that instead of setting the Catch and ‘press the ball straight toward my toes’ my tendency on only this first underwater stroke is to push out to the side at the beginning of the Catch, rather than press straight back. I was using the push of my Catch hand to rotate my body somehow (rather than the core), and this was putting a strange load on my shoulder. This is exactly what I saw in one of your videos a few weeks ago – one of you who was complaining of shoulder pain – and once you corrected that and a few other details the pain went away.

2. Open Turn

Since I am training for open-water swimming, not pool competition, I often choose to do open-turns rather than flip turns. (Good flip-turns are slightly faster than good open-turns, but they put you in oxygen-debt because you have to hold breath much longer). When I came to the wall, I would reach with my lead arm to touch and hold, add a little force to pull my body close to the wall, then push away from the wall, all with that same arm. This put a strange load on my shoulder – something I definitely do not do when in open-water – and in the pool I would do this more than a hundred times! That adds up.

3. Glide From The Wall

After the turn, once I get into streamlined body position, and push off the wall, I place left hand on top of the right hand (to create the arrow-head in front of my body), hook the thumb of my left hand over the edge of the right hand to hold the arms together, and then (I noticed) I pull each arm against the other with the thumb-hook preventing them from pulling apart. This was creating tension on the front side of the shoulders also.

So, I found 3 places where I was changing the load (the force) I sent into the shoulders, all because I was swimming in a new environment. I practiced these self-coaching skills:

  • I was mindful. I was always paying attention to the signals (the pleasure and the pain) my body was sending.
  • I was careful – I gave serious attention to those signals and was more loyal to responding to them than to completing a workout plan.
  • I immediately scanned my body, movements, and stroke pattern for more details, more specific information.
  • I evaluated my environment to see what were the differences between sea and pool to find what could cause me to swim differently.
  • I found 3 possible problem spots, and studied each one to find out what specific moment in the movement could be causing problems.
  • I chose a correction for each one, and started testing those solutions to see if they would work.

I am pleased to report that with those three corrections I was able to remove the soreness in my shoulders. It may not have been just one of them alone, but all three adding up to my shoulder soreness. Though I have found the solutions, I still have to keep those three corrections as focal points during my pool swims in order to prevent the old habit from creeping back in and causing my shoulders to ache.

Each of these focal points come at just one moment in the swim, at the wall and right after. So the rest of the swimming time, away from the wall, I can direct my mind back to normal whole stroke focal points. If you experience any strange or painful sensations, you can practice the same process for finding and correcting it.