Simple as at it seems, overdoing it can result in swimmer's shoulder. Adding to much swimming too soon - failing to do a gradual, prudent buildup - or adding too much load too soon - not an increase in distance, but doing something like adding a lot of hand paddle swimming or pulling - can result in an overuse to a swimmer's shoulder, injuring that shoulder and stopping the swimmer from swimming.
USA Swimming reports that a swimmer's shoulder injury is classified as a repetitive-type injury from overuse. Among the potential causes of swimmer's shoulder are:
- Poor swimming technique
- Strength imbalance
- Increasing the amount of swimming work too quickly
- Increasing the intensity of swimming work too quickly
Swim workload changes are something a swimmer or coach can and should control. The amount of swimming yardage and speed of that swimming yardage is easy to plan and regulate. Remember the rough guideline of no more than a 10% increase per week.
I feel this relates to both aspects of swimming: volume (how much time you swim or how far you swim) and intensity (how hard or fast you swim). Don't increase your distance and intensity in the same week. If you increase your average distance per swimming practice, wait at least a few days before you try to increase the relative level of effort for that length of swimming practice.
Long term, a more conservative approach can be the best approach, since it allows your body to adapt to, and benefit from, the strains and stresses of swim training instead of being destroyed by them. You will be a happier swimmer if you get stronger and faster! Put a good long range swim training plan in place, then use that plan to design each workout.
Swimming technique is a bit harder to control unless you pay attention to what you are doing when you swim. There are thousands of ways to improve or maintain good swimming technique. A few things to think about are:
- Adequate body roll on your recovery, so your elbow stays below or closer to the water than a line drawn from shoulder to shoulder.
- Recover your hand in a more thumb first manner, palm facing the body.
- Use a flat to little finger oriented entry.
- Press back on the water after your hand reaches a depth that allows your elbow to bend at a 45 degree to 90 degree angle.
- Only extend your entry and reach to a natural, comfortable length; do not over-reach, do not stretch your arm as far forward as possible.
- Practice good swimming technique every day.
- Use swimming technique drills and/or have someone else, like your coach, help you to refine your stroke.
Prevention and rehabilitation are related. Making the shoulder stronger is important to both stopping swimmer's shoulder injuries from developing and to prevent swimming shoulder injuries from re-occurrences after the injury heals. USA Swimming recommends exercises like seated rows, lat pull downs, and several other shoulder exercises.
If you think you may be developing swimmer's shoulder, stop what you're doing and get it checked by your coach or physician. The best preventative measure is good technique coupled with prudent workout and season planning.
I hope you stay injury free, but if you do get a sore shoulder, take care of it immediately so you can get back to the pool.