Rotator Cuff Exercises in Swimming Pools

By Kay Tang

There are four small muscles in your rotator cuff, or the capsule that protects your shoulder joints. These muscles stabilize your long arm bone and shoulders and give your shoulder its range of movement. In many sports, such as swimming, basketball or golf, athletes suffer from overuse injuries of the rotator cuff. You can perform strengthening exercises for your rotator cuff in the pool, using the water as resistance.

Water as Resistance

When you perform strengthening exercises for your rotator cuff in water, it’s as if you’re moving liquid weight. Water provides resistance that’s also variable. You can instantly increase the intensity of water exercise by using more force. Use buoyancy-resistant devices, such as webbed gloves and paddles, to augment the surface area and leverage the effects of buoyancy. If you slow down the motion of an exercise, you can get a better workout for your rotator cuff.

Type of Exercises

Pool exercises for the rotator cuff can work internal and external rotation. Exercises performed with free weights or resistance bands can be done in water with or without buoyancy-resistant devices. Begin exercises with no resistance, and then add webbed gloves or tubing as you progress. When doing rotational exercises, limit the rotation to 45 degrees. Swimmers who are recovering from rotator cuff impingement, which is typically an overuse injury, should focus on external rotation. When you swim, your internal rotators are strengthened by stroking actions in which you lift and move your arm overhead.

Example Exercise

An effective pool exercise that works both internal and external rotation begins by standing in neck-deep water and wearing a pair of webbed gloves. Stand with one foot in front of the other and shoulder-width apart. Contract your abdominal muscles and glutes to keep your spine in neutral position and body stable. Bend your elbows and pin your upper arms to your sides. Extend your forearms to your sides with palms facing away from you. Draw your hands toward your navel with an arcing motion and touch your waist. Slowly return to starting position, using controlled movement. Perform eight to 16 reps. A second exercise is one in which you rotate both arms to the right and left. If you use paddles, stand against the wall for more support.

Diagonal Movement

To perform a conditioning exercise for your rotator cuffs using diagonal movement, begin by standing sideways next to the pool’s wall in shoulder-deep water. Wear webbed gloves or use paddles. Put your right hand on the edge of the pool for support. Position your left, or outside, foot in front of your right foot, which is closer to the wall. Contract your abs, keeping your chest lifted and shoulders down. Extend your left arm directly in front of your left leg with palm facing down. Move your arm down and across your trunk toward your right leg. Raise your arm to the surface of the water and then return to starting position. Perform eight reps. Turn around, reversing your position, and repeat the exercise with your right arm.


About the Author

Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.

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