Swimmers Education: Youth Competitive Swimming
Training demands and stroke technique (biomechanics) are important components of injury prevention and performance in a young swimmer.
Swimmers often begin their competitive careers as early as seven years old. Most swimmers train and compete year-round, frequently on several swim teams including club, summer, and school teams.
Swimmers perform a great number of overhead arm motions in the course of a normal practice week. It is estimated that some swimmers may complete as many as 16,000 shoulder revolutions in a one week period and that elite swimmers older than 13 years typically perform up to 1 million shoulder revolutions per year. By comparison, a baseball or tennis player will have 1,000 shoulder revolutions per week. Thus, tremendous stress is placed on a swimmer's shoulder.
Although many people do not think of swimming as a sport that is associated with a high risk of injury, competitive swimmers have a high rate of "overuse" injuries. For swimmers the most frequent injury occurs at the shoulder. It is reported that approximately 50 percent of competitive swimmers will develop shoulder pain severe enough to cause them to alter their training schedule at some point during their swimming career. In a survey of swimmers, 47 percent of 13-14 year olds, 66 percent of 15-16 year-olds and 73 percent of elite college swimmers experienced shoulder pain associated with swimming.
Female swimmers are three times more likely to develop shoulder injuries than males. Shoulder injuries in females usually start to occur during early to mid-adolescence, when body weight is likely to increase, arm strength is not fully developed, and the swimmer is moving into a higher age group. This is followed by injuries that are more common in the later stages of high school competition when body weight becomes more stable but upper body strength may not be sufficiently strong enough to withstand the harder training. For swimmers that transition to the collegiate level, injuries may become more frequent since collegiate swimming typically includes dramatic increases in training volume and intensity.
In male swimmers, shoulder injuries often occur for the first time at the end of the second growth spurt, when body size increases but shoulder muscles are not fully developed. The second most common time for injury occurs during the high training point of the freshman year in college, usually between semesters because the training exceeds previous training yardage by several thousand yards. Appropriate strength and flexibility training programs, stroke technique and correction drills may improve swimmer performance and reduce injury risk in the developing youth swimmer.
Biomechanics of Swimming
Most swimmers will swim freestyle more than any other stroke in their career. Therefore, prevention of injury requires a thorough understanding of freestyle swimming biomechanics and pathomechanics as well as the appropriate exercises that produce the muscle "balance" necessary to reduce injury risk. Identification of improper swimming mechanics or stroke faults in combination with appropriate corrective drills may be one of the best ways to treat the injured swimmer, and more importantly, how to prevent injury.
UW Health Swimming Services
In addition to providing medical coverage at the All-City Swim and Dive meet, UW Health Sports Medicine doctors are the team physicians for the men’s and women’s UW Badger Swimming and Diving Teams. UW Health Sports Medicine also offers a variety of swimming services for swimmers of all ages and all levels to optimize health and performance.
The UW Health Sports Medicine Center is the largest and most comprehensive sports medicine provider in the region. Fellowship trained physicians and surgeons, who also serve as the team physicians to the men’s and women’s UW Badger Swimming and Diving Teams, provide consultation and surgical services for swimmers of all ages.
Additional Services for Swimmers
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- Welden, E.J., Richardson, A.B. Upper extremity overuse injuries in swimming. Clin Sports Med. 2001;20:423-438.
- Stocker D., Pink M, Troup J. Comparison of shoulder injury in collegiate and master’s level swimmers. Clin J Sport Med 1995; 5(1):4-8
- McMaster W.C., Troup, J.: A survey of interfering shoulder pain in United States competitive swimming. Am J Sports Med 1993;2(1):67-70
- Troup, J. (1983). The Female Athlete, A Scientific Approach To The Sport of Swimming. 214-217. Scientific Sports: Gainesville, FL.
- Malena, R.M., Bouchard, C. (1991). Growth, Maturation, and Physical Activity. 65-85. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics
- Bell, K. (1983) Motivation: A Scientific Approach to the Sport of Swimming. 126-127. Gainesville, FL: Scientific Sports.
- Maglischo, E.W. (2003). Swimming Fastest: The essential reference on technique, training, and program design. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics