What is the best exercise program?

Competitive swimming places tremendous demands on the shoulder, resulting in high shoulder injury rates among swimmers. Strength and endurance of the scapular muscles (especially serratus anterior and trapezius) is considered extremely important for both sport performance and shoulder injury prevention. Strengthening programs including elastic bands and dumbbells have been recommended for swimmers; however, few researchers have evaluated the effectiveness of a specific scapular strengthening program in adolescent swimmers. Furthermore, it remains unclear if an exercise program focusing on strength or endurance is better for scapular muscle function.

Researchers at Ghent University in Belgium investigated the effectiveness of a simple strengthening program in 18 adolescent swimmers. The 12-week program consisted on 4 exercises: dynamic hug with progressive colored exercise bands (pictured on the right), elbow push-up, sidelying external rotation, and prone horizontal abduction with scapular retraction.

The swimmers were randomly assigned to either a strength group performing 3 sets of 10 reps at 10RM resistance, or an endurance group performing 3 sets of 20 reps at 20RM resistance. Subjects were tested for both strength and muscular fatigue (endurance) of scapular protraction and retraction using an isokinetic dynamometer in both shoulders.

After the 12-week program, both groups increased the strength of scapular protraction. For retraction, strength increased only in the non-dominant side. Neither program increased scapular muscle endurance; the authors speculated that 12 weeks of competitive swim training caused fatigue, resulting in less muscle endurance. In addition, both groups improved their protraction:retraction strength ratios, achieving improved left-to-right symmetry, which may be important for a bilateral sport such as swimming.

This study would have benefited from inclusion of a control group to examine any effect of intensive swim training without a complimentary strengthening program.

The authors concluded that young swimmers can benefit from a simple exercise program focusing on strengthening scapular muscles (including Thera-Band elastic bands and isotonic weights). Furthermore, muscle balance and side-to-side symmetry can be improved, which may be important to prevent injury.

REFERENCE: Van de Velde A, De Mey K, Maenhout A, Calders P, Cools AM. Scapular-muscle performance: two training programs in adolescent swimmers. J Athl Train. 2011Mar-Apr;46(2):160-7; discussion 168-9.

Re-post from Theraband Academy: http://www.hygenicblog.com/2012/07/19/thera-band-exercises-help-improve-shoulder-muscle-balance-in-swimmers/