Hi, I'm Dr. Molly with Your Goals Physical Therapy. May is posture awareness month, and to that end, I am doing a series on how posture affects different sports. In this week's Video, I'm gonna go over how posture affects swimming. So specifically I'm going to define posture just in a general sense, then explain how that directly relates to swimming mechanics. I'm gonna talk about injuries that can come when posture's not ideal and then how to resolve those things.
So let's get started. What is posture? In the way that I'm using it, just because there's always more than one way to look at something, so the way that I'm gonna use it is how you hold your spine, how you hold your torso upright and what position that's in.
And what do I mean by that?
We all know that we have three curves in our spine: In our neck and then our thoracic spine and our lumbar spine. It kind of makes an S curve. It's a little bit more mild than a lot of people have. Overall we have three curves and what that allows us to do is stay stacked. Our head is over our shoulders and our shoulders are over our hips, which are over our feet. These curves allow shock absorption in between our spine, so that our nervous system stays safe, because we have our spinal cord that travels all down our spine.
Now our posture and how we hold ourselves is a direct showing of how we're falling. If you have rounded shoulders, it means that you’re not able to pull yourself back. If you're tilted one way, you can't pull yourself the other way. If your low back is either over arched or under arch, that tells us certain things about muscle groups, because the muscles are what's holding your spine in that position or allowing it to fall in other positions, depending on how you wanna look at it.
What does that mean for swimming? Swimming is a unique sport in that you don't really touch anything. You're not touching the ground, you don't get any stability from the surface. You're not touching the floor or having our feet on anything. The entire sport of swimming is you trying to cut through some water and propel yourself without touching any external force. Either ground or a wall or anything, right? You don't have a racket. You're not doing anything, but using yourself to try to cut through water, which means you have to go through drag, so it's really impressive.
And that means that all of your force that's being generated is coming from how stiff you can keep your spine or another way to say that, because there's lots of terms out there. How you can keep your trunk stable or fixed. And so that's pretty impressive. If you think about it, you're able to generate forces without touching anything. I'm not pushing off the ground. I'm not jumping into the air. It's all what you can do, basically suspended in water. It's pretty impressive. Anyway so with trunk stability and how you can keep your spine. If you're not able to keep your shoulders back, that's gonna affect how your arm goes up. Because if I'm forward, it limits how my arm comes up. If I can't keep my pelvis stable and I'm rotating my hips side to side and I'm losing power in my kicks. So that's how your spine plays a direct role, especially in swimming, because if I have too much movement this way or this way, then my arms aren't gonna be as strong. And again, if I move too much this way, or if my hips are rotating, then I'm gonna lose power with my kicks. At the very least I'm gonna be losing energy because I'm gonna be wasting it moving my trunk instead of just propelling my arms and my legs to help pull me and push me through the water. So that is like the short version.
Let's talk about common injuries, shoulder problems. I have seen several people who come in with rotator type problems in their shoulders, and that can be directly correlated to how you hold your shoulders. If you are upright and your shoulders are back and you're able to keep your ears over your shoulder, that gives you the most space and the most flexibility for your arm. Now, if I do that same motion, but I'm rounded, now I've lost a whole lot of motion. The amazing thing is our body is just amazing, so we will come up with compensations, something will move so that we get that full range. So if I'm trying to get my arm to come up and over, I will find either something in my shoulder, I will find something in my neck or I'll find something in my spine to move so that I can make my arm do what I want it to. If your posture or some of the muscles aren't in the right balance to keep your spine stable, you could still be swimming, but you might not be using the muscles that you think you're using to accomplish the same motion. That's really what causes a lot of injuries for people, especially with swimming, because there's so much rotation in your shoulders. I'm talking about a freestyle stroke, but we could probably do an entire video on the stresses that occur if you're doing the butterfly stroke, especially if your spine and your upper back aren't strong and mobile and very stable. So there's a lot of moving parts that can happen.
But that is how posture can directly affect your shoulder. If I'm rounded, then I'm compressing all the space in my shoulder and pulling it forward, which has stretched out my back muscles and caused the front of my shoulder to become very tight. That imbalance results in having less shoulder range of motion from the shoulder joint. It doesn't mean that you can't be pulling that range of motion from someplace else. It just means that in that shoulder joint that has been constricted.
Now let's talk about kicking and kind of hip issue, depending on what's happening if your core is not strong. If your lower ab muscles are not strong enough to keep things stable and stiff, then sometimes what happens is we stiffen up our hips. Now if we stiffen up our hips, then that can cause us to lose strength coming off the block because you don't have that range of motion that you need to get your hips to flex enough, to get right into the correct position so that you get that good push off and then diving into the water.
Now I know I started this by talking about how you don't really use the ground to get stability or force from swimming and really the only time you get it is during turns and diving off the block. Propelling through water, you really have to have core stability, core strength, your lumbar spine needs to be very stable and stiff so that your legs can propel without getting the extra wiggle.
I mean, we were making it funny here, but if you're going through the water and your spine is moving, then your hips aren't having as much of a lever to pull off of and that's what makes it really, really important. That leverage is where you're getting all of your propulsion force, to be able to flutter your legs. Without the leverage your legs either have to do more work or you're just not gonna go as fast. The reason I'm bringing up the blocks is because a lot of times, if your abdominal muscles are not as stiff as they need to, your body feels that it needs to become stiff. Then your hips are the next thing down. So your hips will tighten up so that you get that stability that your body is craving. So once your hips stiffen up, that makes other aspects of swimming more difficult.
And so people will complain about back problems because their hips are so tight specifically when you're trying to initiate diving into the water or pushing off. That is one reason why posture is so important because if you can't keep your lower spine stable, other things will become stable and that'll mess up your whole kicking stroke.
So what do you do? Well especially for swimming, lots and lots of abs. This is very important for your stomach muscles to be extremely strong, Because that's where you're getting most of your forced generation. The other thing that you really need to work on is your upper back. And I think that is probably one of the number one things that people forget about. You have to have a really strong upper back so that your shoulders become very, very stable.
If your upper back muscles are not strong, it's very hard to make your shoulders as stable as they need to be for the amount of motion that you need them to do during your swimming strokes. So what do you do if you've been working on all this for so long? Because it can be very frustrating. “You're like I do all the rotator cuff stuff. I do all the upper back stuff and nothing seems to be helping. I still have this achy shoulder. I still don't have the flexibility in my hip that I've been trying to work on for years. I'm just a stiff person in my hips and I just can't fix that.”
Well that's when talking to a movement specialist helps because I have the ability to take a look at you from a broader spectrum. I get to watch how you're moving globally. I get to assess each muscle and see how everything is working and moving together from a vantage point that, you know, you don't really have because it's you, it's really hard to diagnose yourself. And I know that there are lots of these tools on the internet so that you can come through and kind of figure out exactly what the problem is. Unfortunately, knowing what the problem is and being able to fix the problem aren't necessarily the same thing, because trust me so many people would be just doing that at home, but it becomes very frustrating because it's hard to figure out exactly what to do with all the information you can collect on the internet and from Dr. Google, to be able to put it together and to put it into functional use for you with your specific problem.
So if you've already driven yourself crazy by looking up a thousand different videos and you really just wanna know exactly what it is that you need to do for your specific problem so that you can get back to swimming because swimming is awesome and it's super fun and meets are happening all the time. Then that's where calling and finding out how exactly I could help you would be the quickest way to get back to your sport.
Because it really is hard. There's no shame in that, trust me, if I have to figure out what's wrong with myself, I have to call a friend and have them help me because you just can't do that on your own. It's just too hard and it's too hard to figure out what's normal, what's not normal, what's acceptable, What's not acceptable. In terms of movement, pain and range of motion and what really matters and what doesn't. Because sometimes you can find something that's wrong and it really isn't affecting anything. And then sometimes it's a minor thing and that just snowballs into a lot of other things that are causing problems. Again, that's where having a movement specialist helps you go through that process with you, helps you achieve your goals more quickly and with far less headaches and possibly with less trial and error and ramifications, then just trying to go at it by yourself.
So if you are in that conundrum where you've tried so many things, and you're just not even sure that a movement specialist could do anything other than what you've already tried, I offer free discovery sessions and in a discovery session, it's just us meeting. So you realize that I'm an actual person and for 20 minutes we talk and we figure out what you've done, what you haven't done and what you're trying to get back to. And we figure out if I can help you with those specific goals to get you back to what it is that you're trying to get back to.
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Dr. Molly McDonald