Thoracic Mobility for Swimmers

During any overhead movement the thoracic spine contributes ~10 – 20%. Although 10 – 20% may sound minimal to some, it makes a massive difference when you’re seeking improvement at any level. For perspective on thoracic spine mobility and overhead function, follow along with this video:

In swimming, poor thoracic spine mobility limits the following swimming activities:swimming personal training can help improve thoracic spine mobility

  • Dolphin kicking
  • Butterfly undulation
  • Freestyle rotation
  • Backstroke rotation
  • Breakstroke undulation
  • Flip turns
  • Starts
  • And most important…the catch of each stroke!

Clearly, adequate thoracic spine mobility enables elite swimming, as proper movement of the aforementioned activities enables elite swimming. Therefore, swimming personal training and dryland programs must utilize thoracic spine mobility and integration exercises for enhancing performance, especially if a swimmer is lacking thoracic spine mobility.

On top of all these activities, thoracic spine mobility also protects overuse at the shoulder. Over a swimming season, and career, the ligamentous structures in the shoulder become looser. The looser the capsule, the more rotation one will have at the shoulder. However, if this structure becomes too loose the dynamic stabilizers (surrounding muscles) try to stabilize the shoulder. Also, nerves, the labrum, and other areas become at a higher risk of stress. Now, some may ignore the prevalence of Swimmers Shoulder, but it is one of the biggest problems in the sport of swimming, as ~50 – 70% of swimmers will report shoulder pain at one point in their career. Also, shoulder pain is unfortunately “accepted” in the swimming culture. Simply accepting pain is wrong on many levels for the short- and the long-term. Therefore, providing safe exercises for maximizing performance and health is key!

With all this, coaches (especially strength coaches) should have a set of thoracic spine mobility exercises for swimmers. Here are 5 common personal training thoracic spine mobility exercises for swimmers we use at COR.

Swimming Personal Training: 5 Thoracic Spine Mobility Exercises for Swimmers

1. Foam Roll Thoracic Spine

2. Kneeling Lunge Rotation

3. Rotatory Baseball and Extension Mobility

4. Quadruped Extension-Rotation

5. Side-Lying Windmill

At COR, we use these exercises right after our foam rolling and breathing drills during the warm-up. These exercises are also performed before shoulder injury prevention drills/exercises with our team training, individual training with Olympic caliber swimmers. Despite the variety of our clientele (in age, size, and skill) the activities of our time (texting, computing, etc.) result in reduced thoracic spine mobility, which can impair swimming and increase injury risk. Utilize some of these drills if you lack thoracic spine rotation in your swimming for improved results.

If you live in the Bay Area and are looking for maximizing swimming potential, schedule a Sports Performance Assessment today!

Written by Dr. John Mullen, DPT, CSCS