Freestyle Technique for Healthy, Stable Shoulders by Steve Wood (1998)


Introduction: Steve Wood here to make a presentation for us. And, to give you a little bit of background on Steve. He has just got done being the head Age Group Coach at Parkway Swim Club in St. Louis, and did a great job of developing the program that unseated me after about ten consecutive years of winning our Regional Championships. It was through his great Age Group Coaching and Senior Program that taught me how to be a second place team. So, I definitely like to listen to what he has to say. Steve has done a great job. He went to school and got his Bachelor’s Degrees in Sports Medicine. And, so I think this will be an area he can really help us with. He’s done a great job working with the entry level swimmers. And, then also, himself, was an NCAA All American. So, I think he’s from a practical point, done it, taught it, and studied it. So, I think we’ll have a great talk here today.  Thanks for doing it for us Steve.


Woods: Can everybody hear me? I’m one of those mobile coaches, if you know me, I can’t stand still. And, that’s in here, or on the pool deck, or whatever. But, I really want to thank  the American Swimming Coaches Association, and everybody involved for giving me this opportunity to speak to you about a re-occurring problem. I think we all have faced in coaching is we’ve got great swimmers. Then all of a sudden, through one incident or another, they become injured, or they’re engulfed   in a lot of pain. I’d just tell ya real quick, a little bit about my background. I do have a degree in Sports Medicine. And, when I got into the Coaching profession, I think one of the biggest things that carried over from my education in Sports Medicine, was that I didn’t want to be a coach who would be responsible or play a role in a young athlete being injured or having some type of pain in the shoulder.


In sports medicine there are two words that you use heavily in legal aspects is called co-mission and omission. I just didn’t want to be a coach that through an athlete being involved in training, got injured. So I spent, you know my four years of college basically preparing to be a coach. And, I took a lot of pride in the fact that not one swimmer over all the years that I’ve coached had ever had to go see a doctor. Not one swimmer had ever needed to go under the knife to have something surgically re-attached or re-aligned. And, you know, I take a lot of pride in that, because I just didn’t want to have that you know, that stigma attached to any type of coaching that I did.


This is a pretty simple presentation. I don’t know, if there’ll be any major revelations for a lot of people in here. But, I will let you know that the technique that I have practiced, and I think a lot of coaches end up practicing the same techniques that you were taught. And, I was pretty fortunate to have some technical coaches in my background that I never once experienced any

type of shoulder pain, what so ever. And, today’s topic is about freestyle technique for healthy, stable shoulders. But, you will find that the majority of this talk will be based on the recovery of the freestyle stroke. Then towards the end I will get into some underwater pull patterns.


Today’s objectives are first to have a better understanding of what mechanics are going on in the water, we need to have a basic anatomy of the shoulder. And, then once we have a basic anatomy of the shoulder then we can probably formulate and get a good idea of the pathology that is involved with an unstable shoulder. And, then we’ll move into drills and techniques that will help create a healthy stable shoulder.


The shoulder joint is an amazing joint. The design of the shoulder allows the hand to be put in any sphere around the body. And, the only thing that limits where you can put your hand, is the space that the body takes up and the length of the arm. When you look at it from an anatomy stand point it’s a marvelous human joint. And, while it is a pretty awesome set up, it has its limitations. Now, there’s always been a lot of talk, and know that each coach has experienced maybe, some swimmers that get some shoulder pain. And, you know, everybody has their own policies and procedures with their teams that they need to go see a doctor, or whatever. And, then you know, the kid comes back from seeing the doctor, and the kid says well, my doctor says we’ve got a rotator cuff problem. That term is thrown out so much, that I really want to address what exactly is a rotator cuff. So, that way, when you do have an athlete, maybe who comes back, you’re going to have a really good understanding.


The rotator cuff are the three main tendons that stem from the supraspinatus, the infraspinatus, and the Teres minor muscle to the greater tuberosity of the humorous. And, I’ll show you what that looks like. There’s a fourth muscle in the rotator cuff, and it’s the subscapularis, and that’s underneath the shoulder blade. And, it’s not really palpable. And of those four muscles and tendons, the supraspinatus is the one that is most commonly injured. So when we hear about a rotator cuff injury, most of the time it’s the supraspinatus that’s had its trauma. Here are those three main muscles and attachments. I don’t know if these markers will show up. But, this is a posterior view, of the right shoulder. This here is the spine or the scapula. The actual scapula here, and then here’s your humorous. And, these are in the posterior part of the shoulder. Like I said, supraspinatus, infraspinatus humerus, and the Teres minor. So I guess, you know, it gives you a good idea of when you look at a swimmers shoulder, now you can almost look beneath the skin, and we’re going to piece this together so you can understand how the mechanics move in the water.



How can we eliminate kids from being engulfed with shoulder pain? Ninety percent of rotator cuff injuries usually stem from an anterior development of the shoulder that is way out of proportion to the posterior part of the shoulder. I guess my best example of this would be NFL running backs, or anybody that’s in track. In order for them to be consistent, run fast, all the time, if the hamstring is not equal to the same strength of the muscles in the quads it will become the weak link. And, with running backs and people who run track, they blow their hamstrings out because simply the quads are so much more stronger that it puts undue stress on the hamstrings, and that becomes the weak link. And, that’s what we have happening in the shoulders all the time. We have a lot of situations where the maturing body, and what exercises were done in swim programs have a tendency to over develop the anterior part of the shoulder. And a lot of that goes to the actual freestyle technique. And, I’m sure a lot of people in this room have had swimmers, or their parents come back and say my Johnny can’t do any back or Butterfly. Or my Suzie Q can’t do any butterfly because it hurts. I guess I’m here to let you know that the main culprit in shoulder injuries, is not the butterfly. I mean there’s such a stigmatism that butterfly’s what caused it. It’s really poor technique in freestyle that’s repeated – repeated – and repeated over years that we get this weak link in the posterior part of the shoulder and then that’s when we get injured.


We’re going to take this picture here and we’re going to talk about the middle deltoid, the posterior deltoid, and here you can see the infraspinatus and the other muscles. And, how these all attach to the humerus. There are so many muscles that attach to that humerus to allow that hand to be moved around, it’s very complex. I guess the best way to describe it is like those serious puppeteers with all the strings, trying to get the puppets to do those beautiful movements. Well, every muscle here represents a string. And, in swimming to make the shoulder efficient, the strings themselves have to be programmed to be efficient.


We’re going to take a look at the anterior part of the shoulder. We’re going to take a look at the pectoralis major muscle, the anterior and middle deltoid, the acromion process, the biceps tendon, and bursa. I don’t know if this one’s in your presentation, ‘cause I ran across it this morning. And, I thought this would be a nice addition. This gives you an idea of how the three deltoid muscles surround the shoulder joint, give it shape, and help with stability. But, right here where this gentlemen’s finger is that’s where a lot of kids experience pain in the shoulder. You always see them rubbing therein the bicipital groove. With these three muscles right here, I’ll let you know right now, that it’s the wide freestyle recovery that’s the culprit. The development of the pectoralis major, the development of the anterior deltoid is the main culprit. And that happens as a result of a very wide free style recovery.


In this portrait you can see the sides of the pectoralis muscle, and I know that some of these may be difficult, but you can see the humerus here, this large pectoralis, how it comes in, originates on the sternum area, and asserts and attaches on the humerus. When that muscle is over developed, I’m telling you it re-aligns the whole shoulder joint, and it sets it up for failure. OK. And, a lot of kids, like with gym class, you know they’re in there doing a lot

of pushups and stuff like that and exercises that they do in other sports. You know, sometimes it’s not always a swimming related situation that a kid becomes injured in the program because then you find out other things, like they’re doing the physical fitness testing in grade school, or junior high, and he’s trying to max out his buddy; and, they’re doing forty or fifty push-ups. Or you get a kid that’s a pitcher on a little league team, and he comes in one day and he doesn’t understand why his arm’s so sore, ‘cause he threw like a hundred balls that day. So, where I’m going with this is when you have athletes and you kind of want to get to the bottom of the cause. O K, is it something in my training that may be causing this person to have some pain or an injury. Ask very good questions. What other sports are they involved in? I think Rick Stacy brought up a good thing, when he was out in Colorado Springs, the all mighty book bag. Kids like to wear them on one shoulder, one shoulder only. Get rid of them. Because, you know they walk around like this all day in school. And, then they get to practice and they can’t understand why the shoulder hurts. Go to a book bag that the weight can be equally distributed amongst the shoulders. And, my favorite. If you ask the right questions, you find out that they had a slumber party, and they slept on the floor, and they slept on their side. And, the next day they woke up sore. And, if you investigate you find out it’s just basically how they slept.  And, that they really can do butterfly that day.


Here are some more anterior views of the shoulder. This acromion process, right here, we’re going to get into a discussion about it. But, here’s a nice example of how this humerus sits in the socket. And, I guess another easy way of describing it is like a golf ball on a tee. OK. You got the sides of the golf ball, and then the sides of that tee. There’s not a lot of tee space there for that golf ball to sit on. What makes that joint unique is like I said, is you’ve got all the muscles and tendons holding it together and they need to be orchestrated correctly so the shoulder becomes healthy and stable. And, it’s so much more different than a weight bearing joint, like the hip. You take a look at the hip, the hip socket engulfs the head of the femur. I mean it’s engulfed. I mean that’s the reason why it was designed, because it’s very much a weight supporting joint. Here, as you can see, we’re looking at probably a very small percentage of where the humerus actually contacts or where it lands, and where it should glide. And, you can probably start to see now an imbalance in muscle structure. You can see where this shoulder would immediately be misaligned. OK. Poor technique is really the culprit here. Like I said, the wide freestyle culprit in my mind, and over the years, what really sets kids up for injured shoulders. There will become an imbalance between the anterior and posterior part of the shoulder. The shoulder joint will not be aligned correctly, and range of motion will be limited. It will put the rotator cuff in harm’s way. And, bicipital tendonitis and bursitis will result. I’m going to back track here, when I mean a wide freestyle recovery, I’m also talking about no hip rotation. We’re talking about kids that swim very flat on the water, without hip rotation, and that hand swings out wide on the free style recovery. And, if you were to stand there in front of a mirror, of yourself, without a shirt on, or in a suit, and you just do this, you will see how much pressure and how much actual anterior deltoid and pectoralis major muscles are involved in going wide. And, ultimately what you want to do is with awesome hip rotation get on our side. We want to use the posterior deltoids, and we want to strengthen the subscapularis, infraspinatus  and


Teres minor to help pull that joint into line. So that everything will be peachy king. OK. Now I talked about bursitis and tendonitis, OK. There’s bursah here and they’re like a little jelly sack that allows things to lubricate and everything work real well. Like the motor oil of a car, these bursa are located in here. They cushion, back here.


Repetitive trauma, when the shoulder joint is out of align and it bangs against this acromion process, that bursa gets inflamed. And, when it gets inflamed we’ve got nerves involved, it radiates pain, and then you’ve got your kid going man, my shoulder hurts. OK. And, the acromion process here, is where we get a lot of the trauma, because this humeral head bangs right up in here. I mean, it just gets slammed in there, on every recovery. And, after a while, it gives up. Ligaments and tendons, well they all have nutrients. And, I guess the best way to describe this is like, if you planted a tree and you wanted that tree to grow, you’d want that root system to develop. And, the worse thing you’d want to do is to take a shoulder and stick it down into the ground, and perhaps cut that root system. Because now the nutrients have been blocked. And, when that repetitive trauma of the ligaments and tendons are inflamed from banging against that acromion process, it almost drains the nutrients and the shoulder becomes even weaker and gets scar tissue and then we’re into a big ol’ mess here.


Bicipital tendonitis, a lot of times you get the kids that are going right here… well it hurts right here. OK. This is called retinaculum. Which is a fibrous connective tissue that allows that long hair to the bicep to slide in there. And, a lot of times what we find that when the kids develop, and they do something perhaps they shouldn’t have at school or whatever. There’s a little tear, in that retinaculum, and on the recovery it clicks. And, it clicks, and what’s happened is that bicipital tendon clicks out – clicks back in. And, then every time we have something that’s not operating the way it’s supposed to, there’s going to be inflammation, swelling, trauma, and pain.


This is just a review. The wide recovery will cause the head of the humerus to bang against that achromium process. Inflammation of the tendon and bursa will happen. And, it places stresses on the tendons of the rotator cuff and tears are likely. That wide recovery with a swinging motion, a momentum, a swing, without hip rotation, puts stress on that rotator cuff. And, it just goes back to like an NFL running back, or a track star. When they go to extend forward, to reach for the next one, that stretch on the hamstring if it’s not done right it will tear. And, I have to let you know that even though I have a degree in sports medicine, we never stretched. I know that may sound kind of weird. But, we never stretched. And, here was my though on it, and some of you may agree, and some of you may disagree. By the time kids come to us, after school, they are basically warmed up. And, what I mean, warmed up, it’s not like they’re getting out of bed cold.


Morning workouts, I’ll let them do some arm circles if they want to. But, they’re warmed up, they’ve been moving around all day. Here’s one of the reasons why we’ve never stretched. I wanted to have range of motion established in the water, not on land. I wanted range of motion to be in a non-weight bearing situation. We know that when the human body is in the water, there will be less stress on it. And, I’ll go into a little bit about workouts with so

much time being spent on working on the recovery, we establish range of motion in the recovery. And, also we got a nice easy mellow warm up. I never would ever start into a sprint. I think age group kids over the years, that I’ve coached, on an average their warm up was close to two thousand yards, sometimes three thousand. Just long easy freestyle drill. And, through that on a consistent basis, we were allowed to get that range of motion, the shoulder was warmed up and then we would get into the main part of our set, and go after it.


Here’s a nice visual of how that humoral head bangs into that achromium process. You can see how that shoulder gets misaligned, and bang. And, I’m telling you, you can see it. You can see if you train your eye correctly and you watch them swim, you can develop that camera eye so well that you can see when that shoulder joint’s mis-aligned. And, you can see that trauma almost happening before your eyes. And, then you can get in there and make a difference.


I want to throw out some things here, and I just spit these numbers from the top of my head. I want you to take a closer look at your workouts. OK. Because if you remember what I said earlier, it’s not butterfly, it’s not the other strokes that are the culprit in having an athlete experience shoulder pain. It’s really the freestyle. And, I’m just taking an average age, you know total yardage in a work out, performing freestyle. And, I just threw these numbers out, the average age grouper maybe takes anywhere from twenty and twenty six strokes per twenty five yards. And, a four thousand yard work out, if half of it is freestyle, if the stroke is incorrect, that’s eight hundred and eighty eight repetitions of one arm based on an average of twenty two strokes in freestyle. Now, if you are doing the same thing five days a week, you’ve got each arm over or close to forty five hundred reps that are incorrect. And if you think about forty five hundred reps, something will give sooner or later. OK. Now, I will let you know that when you’re dealing with age groupers, as you probably already know, what you’re developing here is you’re kind of helping them right their circuit board or etch their circuit board in their body for this proper technique to happen. So, if you’ve got an athlete, and I’ve had athletes come to our team, when I was with Parkway from other teams, because their child was injured and then within six weeks of being in the program, they’d become pain free. And, I spent six weeks just rehearsing proper free style recovery. But, you can see that almost forty five hundred reps per week, how over a period of months, years you can see where the trauma is going to take place. Why it’s going to happen. Now, it’s almost like a two to one ratio in a way. If an athletes is averaging forty five hundred reps of one arm that’s incorrect, you can bet your    that you know, that it’s going to be like close to nine thousands of correct repetitions to rewrite that circuit board in that athletes body to get him to do it right. OK.


I want to talk a little bit about the importance of a high elbow recovery. And that’s where I mean, it’s a term that we all use, and I’m hoping with stuff that you saw from anatomy stand point and everything else, you can understand why is it so important for a high elbow recovery. Now, I’m also going to tell you that this is not going to make kids fast. I mean, I think sometimes coaches think well if we just change his technique he’ll be immediately faster.  It takes time.  But I want to put it to you this way, over a


period of time of correct shoulder freestyle technique, you will have a child that will be in the sport longer. OK. And if the shoulder is stable and healthy, they will be able to mature and stay in the sport, and then you will be able to get performance down the road. It always goes back to having age groupers taught awesome technique and realizing that that is the most important thing. And, why we like to have our ten and unders be top sixteen, and have our eleven – twelve to be top sixteen. You know, wouldn’t it be great to have a whole bunch of kids going to Senior Nationals when they’re fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen. You know, sometimes you’ve got to balance what the needs are of your program. I know that I would much rather see kids in the program maybe never get a zone time, or a top sixteen time. But, when they would get to the Senior Program, because their technique was there, we didn’t have to worry about them getting injured, that they would just launch and take off and go to the next level, like they wanted to.


The high elbow recovery will eliminate and the wide around house recovery plays a major role in strengthening that posterior deltoid. Does a great job of strengthening the subscap and will develop the Teres minor muscle. And, here again, with developing the posterior part of the shoulder with the high elbow recovery, you have now set that shoulder up for great alignment. ‘Cause as soon as that gets out of alignment, we’re heading for trouble. High elbows here will eliminate the humerus from banging into the acromion process. And, there’s no way that you’re going to get really good high elbows unless you start from the hip. OK. Hip rotation is where it’s at.


There is a term here it’s called reciprocal inhibition. And, it’s a term, what some people might think is being coordinated. If I wanted to go with a forty five pound dumb bell, to do a bicep curl, there’s no way that I’m going to be able to do a lot of reps, over a long period of time, if while my bicep is firing to contract, that my tricep is firing and contracting at the same time. Reciprocal inhibition is where you have a proper balance on both sides of the joints with one muscle firing while the other one is being relaxed. And, through the drills that I’ve done over the years, see a lot of kids develop this reciprocal inhibition, they become very relaxed, very fluent, and of course when people are more relaxed they save heart beats, they swim longer, and it begins to flow, and snow ball to help them achieve success.


I am a very big huge fan of kids breathing every third. And the reason why, is if we do have an athlete that does breath on one side, there will be an imbalance in the shoulders. Let’s say that you have an athlete that always breaths on the right. Well the head is technically, the steering wheel of the body. So, if you always have an athlete that’s breathing to the right, yes the right hip will come up, but the left hip will never come up, therefore the left shoulder won’t come up. And, we have that imbalance, you can take a pretty good bet, that that left shoulder is going to be the main culprit. As a matter of fact, a lot of the kids that would come to our program, and the parents would be like Johnny’s got some shoulder problems and  la-ti-da. And, I’ll say, OK, he breaths on the right side, so it’s probably the left shoulder. And, they’re like, yeah! I mean, it’s very simple. So, if you get athletes and swimmers to breath every third, and be patient, and do it every day, and teach the kids the importance of breathing every third,

to make the hips balanced, the shoulders will roll, and when they roll, the whole stroke becomes balanced and stronger. High elbows, here again, will give you proper strength ratio between the anterior and posterior shoulder.


These are just a few of the specific drills. And, I know everybody has different terminology. But, you know, the ones that I did, as an age grouper, and throughout high school and college, and it flowed over into my coaching.


Thumb trace are what people call may call thumb drag.  Use  the knuckle, and I’m going to go into a little bit more specific on these.


Wrist drag, the wrist must plow the water to get the elbow up, like in the leverage situation.


Ear tap, here again, we’re going to try and achieve high elbows.


Fingertip drag, we have to keep the hand close to the body when

we do fingertip drag.


Half side thumb trace, is where basically we’re on our side, we do half thumb trace and then go back down. That’s all we do. We just work on that first part of the recovery to set it up so we don’t go wide. We just program them to come straight up and that elbow points to the ceiling, and then goes back down, and we’re on our side.


I’m not a big fan of the thumb entry. Matter of fact a lot of the workouts over the years, in freestyle, they spent pretty much entering with their pinky. And, the amazing thing about kids and humans, if you go all the way to the right to an extreme, like with hand entry doing the pinky, and then you let them go, they’ll meet you half way. The thing about a thumb entry, is a thumb entry internally rotates the shoulder. And, when you internally rotate the shoulder, you tighten everything up in the shoulder. And as soon as you tighten everything up in the shoulder, you’re not going to have a very relaxed recovery. And, when that shoulder becomes tight, it will give out after a while. You know, early on in my coaching days, if Bosco misbehaved, we had these water balls in there, and we make him stand there, you know. And, after a while you’d think two pounds wouldn’t be that much, but just holding it out there, gets pretty heavy after a while. Well, repetitive internal rotation on the recovery, the shoulder will wear out. OK.


Thumb trace, and when I mean, thumb trace to use the knuckle here, a lot of time we’re taught to do thumb trace by sticking that thumb out like this. OK. That thumb is way out like that. As soon as you extend the thumb, the wrist will become tight. When the wrist becomes somewhat tight, the elbow becomes somewhat tight. When the elbow becomes somewhat tight, the shoulder will become tight. So the idea with all this is to have a very relaxed wrist.


Let me back track here, I remember when I first got to Parkway, we were doing some drills. And, this poor girl Marie O’Brien, and you saw I do have a missing part of the digit, and it’s kind of a humorous story. We were doing a stroke drill, and I’m demon-


strating high elbow recovery, and this thumb trace, and she didn’t know I had a missing part of my finger, and the Mom came up to me about a month later, and said, that her daughter came home from the clinic and the coach told her to swim like this: to bend her fingers. <laughter> And, I had to pull Marie off to the side and I went look, I’m not really bending my finger, I just don’t have one there. But, relax the hand, the thumb has got to be relaxed. So we use the knuckle, as our thumb trace. OK.


That knuckle at the finished portion of the stroke, that knuckle is just gently rubbed up the side of the body for thumb trace. And, when we get to the half way point of the recovery of the stroke. Here’s the most important part. A lot of kids will want to drop the elbow and then go in like this. Well, you’ve just defeated all your recovery to help your shoulder become stable. The idea is to keep that elbow pointed to the ceiling, reach over that barrel, and keep it up, and then extend forward and go in. OK.


Wrist drag, we all know how kids are. They say, “Coach, I’m doing wrist drag”. And, they’re doing wide freestyle recovery. The way I teach it, is the back of your hand now becomes the bottom of the boat. OK. And, I want to see the bottom of the boat on the water, but I also, with all of these drills – the hand is right next to the body. We all know that they quickest distance between two points is a straight line. And, that’s what we teach the kids. When you finish the stroke of freestyle, it is a straight line on the recovery, we’re looking at the hand from exit to entry that it is a straight line. And, the only way we’re going to do that is to rotate the hips, rotate the shoulder, get on our side, and put the hand close to the body.  OK.


Ear tap, you know I talk about that dropped elbow. I’ll have a lot of kids that will do this, they’ll come up and then they’ll try and stick their thumb in their ear, they’ll extend the thumb, and then the elbow drops. And they’re like saluting into the water. OK. So here again, you want to go back and demonstrate on land, that that’s the most crucial part – is when that elbow comes up, and we’re just tapping the ear, we’re not trying to clean it out, we’re tapping it. And, you just brush by it, and it just extends and goes right in. OK.


Fingertip drag, here again we’re trying to just drag the finger tips

along the water close to the body.


The half side thumb trace takes a while. You got to tell your kids you’re going to have to kick on this drill. Because if you don’t kick, you’re going to sink. But, maybe they need to experience sinking and choking on the water. Because a lot of kids learn through trial and experience. But, they’re gonna have to kick. And, they have to be on their side to do this. And, you know, be patient.  I’m going to tell you there’s no quick answers to this.  I did these drills every day. And, Every day we did drills, these basic drills in some type of format at different distance, and I would repeat myself, day in and day out. Just like you all have, but it pays off. And, it pays off when you don’t have somebody injured, you’ve got to feel pretty good. OK. And, I said pinky entry, of course, because if we go to one extreme, when you let them go to do their own swimming, they’ll meet you half way, and it will be a nice – pretty much flat entry.

I’m just going to throw out some parameters here. How to incorporate these drills. Three to five times a week in warm up. One to three times in a main bulk yardage set. At Parkway we were very distance oriented: low heart rate, long duration. And, always in warm down. And you got to remember with young kids, you’re dealing with an attention span. You’ve got ‘em they first get there, they’re yours. They’re really receptive to learning. Then they kind of go off in their little world, and try and pull them back. But, when we say warm down, we all know, warm down they just seem to come alive. And, then that’s a perfect opportunity to teach that technique. I mean, if I went through my high tech log, not that every warm down would be the same, but there was always freestyle drill work in warm down. And, if you catch it at the beginning, and catch it at the end; over a period of time you’ve got that healthy stable shoulder.  OK.


That high elbow free style recovery, if we were to look at a swimmer coming right at us, here’s the water level OK. We want to see the hips rotate, OK. When the hips rotate the shoulders will rotate, I should probably do this with different colors. But, then here we go, we’ve got that elbow coming right at us. The most important thing is to have the hips rotate in order to get the shoulder up high. Once we get the shoulder up high. The elbow will go up high. And, we’ll be good to go. If the shoulders, of course don’t rotate because the hip don’t rotate that well and, the leverage that is put on that shoulder is immense. And the way the shoulder compensates when it’s sent through that range of motion all the time. Is the anterior deltoids and the pectoralis major will become over developed. And, when it’s over developed, then we’ve got that mis-alignment, and then we’re headed for trouble. OK.


Some of the things that I do with kids in the water, is pretty much elementary, like I said, I’m not an art major so bear with the drawings. We know we have that mid-line that goes right down our body. And, I do spend quite a bit of time, I don’t want to paint the image that that’s the only thing I work on. But, with that mid-line on the body, pretty much the pull pattern underneath the water, I mean it’s not a giant S, but it’s a fairly straight line, with the elbows still being the highest point in the underwater pull. If you have kids that breath to one side always, I guarantee you, they breath to the right, more than likely the left hand will sweep across that mid-line and they will lose all that power and they will slip through the water. So, it’s like what is done on top is flip flop reverse reflected underneath the water. If that makes any sense at all.


Watch your swimmers strokes and move around the deck. I know sometimes a lot of coaches perhaps are stationary, I know nobody in this room is stationary, but look at your swimmers swimming away from you. Look at your swimmers swimming at you. And, if that hand is coming across the mid-line of the body, you can say hhmmm look at the opposite arm, see if it’s recovering, see if they’re breathing to that opposite side. And, teach the children why it’s important to do it that way. Because this is what you see, and this is what will happen down the road. And, we all know that dealing with teens, pre-adolescent teens, and those juvenilestic years, but they’re hard to teach. But, you’ve got to be consistent. And, you got to a passion for teaching it and being consistent every day.  OK.


All righty. Pull pattern is fairly straight. With the elbow being high, underneath the water. A lot of times with the thumb entry what we see is when they slide in, the elbow will rotate down, and then they’ll pull with the elbow. And, they’ve lost all that leverage to get up over the barrel underneath the water to get leverage to move the hip out of the way of the hand and deliver all that magnificent water behind them. If you’ve got kids that go with thumb entry, I mean.. I can’t make anybody do it the way that I’ve done it, I just hopefully presented some materials that you can choose from, and say hey that’s pretty good. Or, that’s not what I believe in. But, hopefully you’ve got a larger menu here, to go back to your kids, and work on them, to keep them pain free.



Woods: That’s the experience that I’ve had. To keep our kids and the kids that I’ve coached from being pain free. After it enters the water, I know a lot of swimmers who have entered thumb, have a tendency to level out and keep the elbow up high. I have just devoted a lot of time on the recovery of the freestyle, to get what I wanted underneath the water and make the shoulder stable. But, we spend a lot of time on pinky, to get flat. And, with the press, the elbow would stay high, and they would be efficient. Does that answer your question, kind of? OK.


Q: I think you have the most important point on there, but I don’t think you emphasized it enough. Go back to your chart where you said what high elbows will do. It’s got to say high elbows with a big body roll. Because, I have hurt the most swimmers shoulders who were working on high elbows. High elbows doesn’t prevent shoulder injury, it causes shoulder injury if you don’t roll enough. But, you also agree that it’s the angle that the humorous comes up in relation to the shoulder joint. So if you’re trying to pull your elbows to high, without rolling, that’s when it clicks.  That’s when it hits the most.

Woods: You’re right, it stems from hip rotation, in order to get the high elbow, if the hips don’t rotate and you’re not on your side. It’s going to be difficult to get the high elbow. And, it will strain the shoulder.


Same person: I think you’re saying everything right, but there’s a caution here. Because we’ve done this to swimmers. We’ve worked on high elbows, and if we don’t tell them to roll their bodies, their guaranteed to get sore shoulders. There’s one other picture that you had there, of showing the angle that the arm comes out.

Woods: This one here. I thought I made it pretty clear that   this

all starts from the hip.


Same person: But, one thing you said, that the wide recovery   is very very bad. It’s not, but after someone gets the shoulder problems, from me making them lift their elbows to high, the only way that swimmer can swim this distance is to get a big body roll, and carry his arm wide and lower, to change that angle there, so he’s not hitting. You had a drawing there that showed it perfectly.  Let’s see which one it was.

Woods: Well, I would agree. But, hopefully we can get to the point, where we don’t have that shoulder injury to where they have to compensate by going wide.


Same Person: I want to ask a question, I don’t want to tell ya. But,

if this angle right here, the angle of the humorous to the shoulder joint that causes the problem. So this guy here, he’s only going to roll this much, he will take the pressure off the shoulder by having a lower recovery get his elbow down. That will change that angle.


Same person: Then we tell them to roll a lot , carry his arm more, shoulder doesn’t hurt as much. Now that’s not the right stroke. That’s all he can do at that point.


Woods: Right. And, like I said, hopefully through working on high elbow recovery from hip rotation, hopefully we will never get to that point. OK



Woods: Well, it’s such a stigmatism that, you know, that my son or my child is doing too much butterfly, and that’s the reason why their shoulders hurt. Butterfly, if it’s taught right, is a very efficient easy stroke to accomplish. But, if repetitive incorrect freestyle and the shoulder has trauma to it, when we go to recover our butterfly, it will add to the trauma. And, with snapping the finish and having relaxed recovery on butterfly and let the work that you do underneath the water with the snap in correlation to the kick and the hip and the front of the torso. The work that you do under the water that recovery, should be like automatic. Like if I stretch a rubber band out, and I let go, it goes back together by itself. The actual butterfly recovery, from my experience is not something where people have to put a whole lot of effort into it, but it’s a combination of what they’ve done underneath the water, and it’s relaxed. And, it flies around. But, why on butterfly if it’s done that way, if it is relaxed and it does fly around, then there won’t be that trauma to the shoulder. And, then taking it one step farther, if the shoulder in freestyle has been aligned right, then things are just going to work real well. OK.



Woods: Right. We do. There’s occasionally with some of the things we’ve done in dry land, basically laying on the ground, we call it our chicken stance. Where they basically lay on the ground, and all they do is they elevate the elbows off and relax. That isolates the subscapularus, infraspinatus, supraspinatus, Teres minor and develops those. And, helps pull that shoulder into alignment. They’re lying on their stomach. And, all they do is just ninety degrees at the armpit, ninety degrees at the elbow and all they do is just lift of the ground and go back. If I go back to my first slide, the one where you have the whole description of the whole back It will take care of the rhomboid muscles which will help keep the shoulder blade flat on the bottom. What we call winging scapula. Because if the scapula’s mis-aligned, we see that a lot in pre-adolescence teens. That the strength of the back and the rhomboid muscles and the trapezius, if they’re weak, then the scapula will wing out. And when the scapula wings out then the shoulders will be mis-aligned. So those exercises, that simple one seems to strengthen everything in the back to help facilitate a smooth shoulder.



Woods: Tubing, the only tubing exercise that I’ve really done with kids for shoulder rehab, or you know making the shoulder strong is external rotation.  They stand there, the cord is hooked to the


podium here, and they externally rotate. OK. ‘Bout the only thing. Keep it really simple. And, the other tubing, underneath for the finishes, you know just to help hand acceleration. But, in the weight room, you know another term that we use in physical therapy is called the Codman’s exercise. We see a lot of shoulder dislocation patients. It’s just take a soup can and they put it in their hand, and they angle forward, and they just start off with small circles. And, they get larger, and larger and just holding that soup can. And, that range of motion here, I mean if you do it with a soup can, you’re going to feel those muscles in your back being activated and then once they’re activated you know you’re on your way to strengthening. Next they reverse and go back into small circles. But in the weight room, I just don’t spend that much time in the weight room with the kids that I work with. I stay away from, when I coached division three, we didn’t do any flat bench, we didn’t do anything overhead. You know, most everything we did was box jumps, some core exercises, a little bit of dumb bell work, for the more mature athlete with some external rotation up here.  But, that’s really about it.


Q:           Woods: Double arm back stroke, where they come up like this? I think with anything moderation. Backstroke, you know can be a wonderful stroke, of course if it’s done correctly. But, lead with the thumb, the last minute they can put the pinky in, but what I found to really take some stress off the shoulder, is for the kid to actually press the neck and look back, and watch their hands under the water. Now, I know we’re not getting any rotation,  but that simple looking back, twofold: they get to see what their hands look like when they recover, OK. And, it seems to take a little bit of stress off the shoulders. But, anything that you do in moderation will be fairly good. If you do it all the time, I wouldn’t suggest it, I mean like all the time. OK. Does that answer your question. Just make sure that you always lead with the thumb. Because a lot of the times with backstrokers, those kids will want to get to leading with the pinky too soon, and then we’re right back to internal rotation. At the very last minute I have them put that pinky in. It’s right here, probably the last ten percent of the recovery. OK.



Woods: Pretty much neutral. Probably the most important thing is the wrist, I feel needs to be relaxed. If on the freestyle recovery we see the hand like this, there is some flexion taking part in the wrist. There’s certainly a range here that the wrist can be in to be relaxed. You know, there’s not one core set of ideals that will work for everybody, it’s going to be a case by case. Because every human body is different. And, for some kid, with the palm close to the body it’s very relaxed for them, just because of their genetic makeup. But, for some other ones, it might just have to be neutral. OK. So, take it case by case and just see which one works best for what kid. OK.



Woods: Well the first thing is I sit down and have a pretty long discussion with the athlete and the parent at one time, so we’re all on the same page. I think we all know that when kids jump teams, for a number of reasons. It’s the MTV generation, light switch on, we make the change, it’s going to be better. The first thing I do with that discussion is I let the parent and that swim-

mer know that I have their best interest at heart, and that there is no easy short cuts here. And, what we’re going to do is, we’re going to take a whole bunch of steps back, and re-etch the circuit board that exists in this child’s body, and then just start building on it day after day.



Woods: Yeah, right yeah… you know it goes back to OK, hey.. let’s just get right back into this training so you can be competitive and then six months down the road going to see a doctor, and then having to have surgery. Is that what you want. Or, hey, let’s take a very slow approach, you’ve got all these great performances down the road. There’s no rush to get them right now. Keep the athlete in mind, and just take it very slow.



Woods: Here again, each athlete is completely different. With my formal training in sports medicine, there’s a couple test that I’ve done, just because with the training. We used to call it in college the empty beer can test. But, I think the more politically correct statement would be the empty soda can test now. Where they pretend like they’re holding a soda can at a Y. I’m going to put my hand on top of their pinky’s and I’m going to say, OK I’m going to push down you push up. And, just with my training, if I’ve got an athlete that I know that their right shoulder is in pain, and I put the same amount of pressure, and they go up the same on both. I know pretty much that we’re probably dealing with an inflammation problem and not a muscle tear. And, for me then I know that a modification in the amount of yardage that they do, and here again with aspirin, and ice and stuff like that, we’re basically going to get through it. But, if I’ve got an athlete that I test and it goes up and down, if I got one that really over compensates, where you can see a noticeable difference in muscle stability. In that case, I mean, you know, they’re gone, go see a doctor. I’ve never had that per say, on a team. I’ve had it in clinical situation in college. But, case by case, I wish there would be some magic formula: it would be six weeks of doing this, will help your athlete become pain free. It really comes back to case by case. Just take your time. And the modalities, like aspirin, if an athlete, you know you can’t really tell him take aspirin, but the parent, you know let them know that that’s a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication that will help take down the swelling. In ice, heat before, ice after. OK. Works real well. Heat before, of course, to get the blood to the tissues, get everything warmed up and then ice afterwards to constrict that trauma area and basically with constriction we can get the inflammation out. It just takes time. But, if you have a real serious athlete, that comes to your team or that you know, don’t be afraid to send him to a doctor. OK, because we are limited with what we can do.



Woods: Right. What I do, and I know everybody’s different, but I’ll say well let’s work on some kicking.  Let’s take a little bit  of a break here, but keep in mind in telling this athlete the main thing is we need to maintain his heart rate, we want to keep the heart rate up for an endurance process. If I’ve got an athlete that’s going to take a little bit of a break, because they’ve got some soreness in the shoulder, and that’s where you really have to be the psychologist. The difference between soreness and pain. And when we talk about pain what is pain, and what is injury. I


mean, those are so hard to distinguish. Back to kicking. Kicking with the arm down. Because, as soon as you put them on the kick board, and their shoulder hurts, you’re going to inflame it even more. So, put the fins on, kick on your side. And, what I’ll do is I’ll say, hey, this is a perfect opportunity to where we can finally work on that hip rotation. And, I’ll give him a set specifically designed with fins, to where they’re on their side, and they have to get so many rotations per hundred. And, just challenge them in a different way, but keep them going, it keeps their heart rate up and, you know, it just seems to work out. And, then the inflammation may go down. But, here again, that’s a perfect opportunity that if they’re playing little league, and it’s spring training, that they threw you know, a gazillion amount of balls that day, or, that book bag. So, my initial thing is very caring. All right, we’ll take a little bit of a step back, I rarely say, stick it out, I really don’t care. You know, I’m here for one thing, your parents pay me.  You know, I don’t do that.



Woods: Right. Impingement. Impingement is bicipital tendon, bursitis, it all gets clogged up there. And, impingement is that bicipital tendon being knocked into that acromion process. And, it impinges. Yeah, and on that recovery it just like the word says, it’s impingement.  And, that’s where he’s going with that.



Woods: Yeah, and ya know it’s like a classic. Because doctors will tell their athletes oh you can’t be in the water for two weeks. And, you know the favorite thing that I like is when we’ve got swimmers ear. And, I ask the kid, well did the doctor say you can’t take a shower? You know, that kind of thing. So, be friends with your doctors. You know, don’t look at them as the evil person trying to keep your kid from being great. But, say, I’m genuinely concerned, I’d like to keep the athlete, but here’s what I’ve decided to do, how does that sound. I want to keep him in the water. But, help me understand what I can do and what I can’t do. And doctors, love hearing from coaches, and they’ll be more than happy to give you information.


Woods: Well, as you saw my right hand, very difficult for me to wear a paddle. I couldn’t stand them, because of the way that my middle finger’s set up after so many surgeries. I could never wear a paddle. I never trained with a paddle. And, my kids have never really used paddles. If they’re going to use paddles and we do some, a lot of backstroke exercises with paddles, it’s not a lot. But, we use Han’s paddles if we’re going to use them. And, I think they’re appropriate, and you can use them, but if you over use them, there’s been some evidence there that that does set that shoulder joint up for impingement and some pain. Like I said, anything with moderation is pretty good. But, I don’t have a lot of experience with using paddles, but just because I couldn’t wear one. So, none of my swimmers really have gotten the benefits of paddle training.

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