High Elbows BEWARE! (Avoiding shoulder injury)

One of the biggest life changing moments I found when changing my stroke technique was to stop over-head arm rotation in front crawl. Now I do a semi-circle ‘elbow push’, allowing a relaxed forearm and hand. I know this is completely different to what we were all taught. This one element of the stroke instantly took pressure off my shoulder joint. I am writing a series of blogs about the Ocean Walker Technique™ , which in short was the difference between not being able to continue swimming and completing 6 more channel swims to fulfil the ‘Oceans Seven Challenge!’

main-image-copyAs with most swimmers, the aim is to get the arm into the water, finding the catch quickly and efficiently using the pull back to move you forwards. What your arm does on its way there and just afterwards is just as important in order to prevent injury and imbalance.

So why?

overarmshoulderThe majority of swimmers shoulder issues according to medical specialists are caused from overhead rotation creating instability, rotator cuff, tendinitis, impingement and other shoulder related injuries. By creating a low semi-circle ‘elbow push’ instead of an over-arm forearm lift, instantly takes pressure off the shoulder joint by working within the shoulders natural range and avoid rubbing of tendons.




In order to practice and to imprint the muscle memory, the ‘elbow push’ is low enough to drag finger nails across the top of the water ensuring no overarm lifting. When the shape has become fully imprinted, then the ‘elbow push’ is high enough to avoid the top of the water by 1-2 inches.


Further benefits

resistanceelbowHaving an elevated elbow above forearm and hand provides the ability for a clean hand entry as long as you keep the elbow above the forearm and hand throughout entry and submersion. By keeping this angle avoids unnecessary resistance from the elbow collapsing and hitting the water either before or at the same time the hand enters, which I refer to as an ‘armpit fart’.

Ouch – that’s what we call a forced high elbow!

Beware forcing a high elbow!

With a flat body position in order to obtain a high elbow requires the forearm and elbow having to be lifted and driving the shoulder socket up towards the shoulder girdle which causes stress and tension thus creating potential for impingement and common injury amongst swimmers. There are exercises that work on this basis (e.g zip-up) that I would not recommend for this exact reason.

My elevated high elbow position does not come from driving the shoulder socket up towards the shoulder girdle. My arm is relaxed as a result of being on my side and with a 40 degree depth under water with my front arm, the downward position, creates a natural elevated position within the body’s range of movement.  If my front arm was more towards the surface of the water, it would require the elbow to be potentially lifted. However this is not the case with the front downward position I find myself in. Also as discussed in the last blog, at the point of entry the hips allow the front arms to drop in to the water effortlessly without any forward driving or punching.

beforeafterThe Result: Effortless arm approach and effortless entry, limiting drag, muscle use and therefore saving energy as well as significantly reducing the potential for injury!!

How we position one part of the body in water has a knock on effect to the rest of the body. As water supports us, we don’t realise or often feel what we are doing. This is why, when I am coaching the Ocean Walker Technique™, I break down the individual stages and explain in-depth why you are positioning yourself in a certain way. Once you are aware of your body and what it is doing you have the power to make the necessary changes to improve.

Next blog in this series – ‘The Benefits of Hip Rotation
Also in this series
Why I don’t DRIVE with my arms
The importance of a still head

Adam Walker runs swim camps worldwide with courses to suit all abilities.
Click here to find out more>>

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