Building lean shoulder strength—not bulky muscle—is essential to lowering your swim times. To help you do both, we hit up David Marsh, former head coach for Auburn University’s swim team and current CEO and head coach of Mecklenburg Aquatic Club [MAC] in Charlotte, N.C. Read on to learn how he builds his Olympic clients’ shoulders.
STACK: Why is shoulder strength important to becoming faster in the water?
DM: Shoulder strength is critical because that is the primary joint used during the arm propulsion movement. A swimmer’s shoulders must also be adequately conditioned to enable him to achieve a high catch position, which is vital to swimming speed.
STACK: What kind of shoulder problems will hinder a swimmer’s speed?
DM: Swimmers need to maintain as much muscular balance as they can in their shoulder joints. Most of them have protracted or rounded shoulders, which is caused by having overactive chest and anterior deltoid muscles, which in turn puts the less used back and posterior deltoid muscles in a weakened position. In essence, the front part of the body—around the shoulders—becomes too powerful, inhibiting the back part of the shoulders.
STACK: Can this be avoided?
DM: A swimmer needs to stretch his chest and the front part of his shoulders after every practice, and make sure to strengthen the rear shoulder and middle-of-back muscles to promote optimal balance of the shoulder joint.
STACK: What’s one exercise that strengthens the shoulders?
DM: One that we like to use with our MAC swimmers is with a stretch cord. Attach the cord to a wall or fixed object, grabbing the handle with the hand furthest from wall. Bend elbow 90 degrees, keeping your upper arm locked and parallel to your torso. In a slow, controlled motion, rotate your arm away from you. Perform 25 reps on each side; eventually work up to 50. This exercise works and strengthens your shoulders’ supporting muscles