I am a 38 year old who has been fitness swimming 3 times a week for
about 5-6 months.
I have been reading the long and often technical postings on this news
group about different freestyle techniques, their suitability for
fitness swimmers, and possible links to shoulder problems, with some
interest (and some difficulty as someone new to swimming!) and I have
some questions which I would be interested in the responses to.
My main reason for taking up swimming as exercise was because, about a
year ago, I had surgery on my left shoulder to repair a recurrent
dislocation which I have suffered since about age 19. I think the
medical/surgical term for it is a "Bankhardt repair". The surgeon
also "tidied up" (his words) damage to the rotator cuff muscles at the
back of my shoulder which had occurred over the many years of
dislocation, and attempted to tighten up the general looseness and
other damage in my shoulder joint. (My right "good" shoulder is also
not a particularly robust joint, I did dislocate it once at about age
17 but it has never gone on to be a recurring problem, presumably
because I am right-handed and so my right shoulder/arm has stronger
So I needed some exercise that was going to help me regain flexibility
and strength in my shoulder and, naively, I thought swimming would be
just the thing! And now I read all this stuff about shoulder
As I have never had any swim coaching or been involved in any swimming
groups before, I have been doing swim technique classes at my local
pool to improve my freestyle, which I have always struggled with. I
think the technique I am being taught is similar to what has been
described as the "hitch" technique by Larry Weisenthal in his
postings. There is a reach forward from the shoulder at the start of
the stroke but I am supposed to keep my elbow "soft" at all times. We
do drills like catch-up, DPS (distance per stroke), etc.
I have also changed my breathing from single sided on my left (bad
shoulder) side every 2 stokes to bilateral breathing every 3 strokes.
I found this very difficult at first but now I've made the change I
must admit that it's better as it works both my arms more evenly. I
still have a sub-conscious tendency to work my right arm harder than
my left arm.
I don't have a particularly strong kick, I would think I am somewhere
between a 2-4 beat kicker.
Now I must say that, as my shoulder has gradually gained strength, it
does not give me any problems swimming freestyle at all. It is
usually a little tender for about the first 100-150 metres each time I
get in the pool but once it's warmed up it is fine. Sometimes it
aches a little after a particularly hard workout but not while I'm
swimming. The only shoulder discomfort I get from freestyle is in my
right "good" shoulder, particularly if I do much pull-buoy work, which
I think is a result of the over-working of that arm & shoulder. (It
gets sore just at the front of my armpit of all places!. Apparently I
have a tendency to push my hand out to the side as I breathe which may
account for this.) I have swum a couple of times with paddles under
the guidance of the coach in the classes but do not use these in my
Swimming ***-stroke - which used to be my strongest (comparatively)
stroke - does give me some discomfort across the front of my left
shoulder where the surgery was done and also makes sinewy "clicking"
noises. Backstroke is a little sore at the back of my shoulder where
the rotator cuff damage was repaired, but this is gradually improving
as I regain movement in my shoulder.
I currently swim around 2000-2300m per workout of which about 10-20%
would be *** and/or back stroke and the remainder freestyle, drills
and kicking. This is mainly because I really want to finally master
freestyle, and because it seems to be the best stroke for general
fitness swimming. (***stroke and back stroke just seem a little
too "easy" to really do much to improve my fitness - although I guess
I don't really push it very hard when swimming those strokes). Oh,
and I can't swim butterfly, though I would rather like to learn (that
would be a real test for my shoulder).
So here (finally!) are some questions.
Is the freestyle technique I am being taught appropriate for someone
of my level of (in)ability and history of shoulder injury (of which
the coach is aware)? If not, what would be a more appropriate
Is there anything in particular I should avoid in my swimming so as
not to further damage my shoulder?
Conversely, is there anything which would be particularly beneficial
to my shoulder which I should include in my swimming? Any particular
strteches I should do for my warm up?
Is concentrating on freestyle the best for general fitness or should I
include more of the other strokes as they become more comfortable for
me to do?
Thanks in advance for any responses (and for reading this rather long