Note: This article can also be found at Swimspire.com. This is the fourth in a series dedicated to the solo swimmer.
Just when you have gotten into a great groove with your swimming, you get injured in a bicycle accident or it’s time to embark on that ocean cruise you booked last year. Your routine is disrupted—again. Don’t let injuries or obstacles derail your swimming. Make the best of both!
Making the Best of Your Injury
The advantage of being a solo swimmer when you have an injury is that you don’t have to worry about not being able to do the coach’s dictated workout or keeping up with lane mates. Instead, you get to call the shots. Following are tips and ideas to keep you in the pool.
First, before you swim another lap with that injury, visit a doctor for an accurate diagnosis, and follow your doctor’s orders. Your doctor may allow you to swim with waterproof bandages covering open wounds, but make sure to ask about this and any other work-around ideas you may have for your injury.
For many types of injuries, such as those involving muscles and joints, a visit to a physical therapist for an evaluation may be recommended by your doctor. If not, ask if it would be appropriate for you. After a physical exam of the injury, a physical therapist can show you strengthening exercises that will not only get you healed and back in the pool again, but could prevent further injury. Make sure to follow your prescribed exercise program to the letter! Then, even after you are fully recovered, keep doing the exercises as part of a regular dryland routine to help avoid reinjury.
If you are not sure whether it would be safe for your particular injury to do some of the proposed adaptive swimming ideas outlined below, do a Google or YouTube search and show a video clip of it to your doctor or physical therapist for approval. For example, after my stitches were removed following a hip labral tear repair and hip flexor release, my doctor didn’t want me to do any kicking for two months. I showed him a video clip of swimming with a pull buoy, and he approved it for easy freestyle and sculling drills, but no pushing off the walls. I was also given the strict order, “Let pain be your guide!” My swimming was severely restricted; however, I was back in the pool two months earlier and was able to keep my healthy shoulders strong while my hip healed.
Four Limbs, Four Strokes, Unlimited Possibilities!
Aren’t you glad you’re a swimmer rather than a runner? As a runner, you won’t get too far with a lower limb injury; however, (most of) us swimmers have four limbs, four (competitive) swimming stroke options, and unlimited possible combinations.
A pull buoy became my best friend following hip surgery, and it can become yours, too, if you have a lower limb injury. For proper usage, search “pull buoy swimming drills” on YouTube. Just keep in mind that eliminating your kick in swimming will put increased reliance and stress on your shoulders; so, leave the paddles at home, use proper stroke technique, and reduce yardage throughout your recovery to avoid other injuries. The same applies with any injury and any adaptive swimming you do to compensate. Again, let pain be your guide, and don’t overdo it! You won’t know how much your body can withstand of your new routine, so stay flexible with your workout plan, yardage, and duration.
For an upper limb injury, this will be the time to focus on incorporating kick sets with lap walking in the shallow end of the pool mixed in. Using a kickboard puts stress on the shoulders, so opt instead for a front-mounted snorkel and kicking with your arms relaxed by your side (or out in front if your injury allows). If you are like me and dislike snorkels, roll to one side to breathe or take a quick breath in front. (Note: A snorkel is your best option for neck injuries.)
Kicking options include flutter or dolphin kicking face down, on your side facing to the left, facing to the right, or on your back. Breaststroke can be kicked face-down or on your back with your arms either above your head or by your side. To avoid overdoing it, try mixing them up in various combinations for each set. An example would be kicking a 100 Individual Medley on the first and third repeat, and flutter kick face down, to the left, to the right, and on your back on the second and fourth repeats, resting for a set interval in between each 100. Mixing in one-minute egg beater kicking in the deep end or water walking (forward and side steps) in the shallow end can give your legs much-needed variety as they get fatigued.
You may also be able to swim some one arm drills, depending on your injury. Show the following video, “Swimming—Freestyle—Single Arm Variations” to your doctor or physical therapist to see if this would work for you.
Another option is to combine the upper half of one stroke with the lower half of another. When my hip flexor gets fatigued, I like to swim breaststroke pull with an easy dolphin “kick”—more like keeping my legs together and letting them flow behind me, keeping my hips loose.
Again, if you have any question about whether these ideas would work for you, bookmark videos of swimming drills on your phone ahead of your doctor or physical therapy appointment, and run the videos by them for approval.
In addition, if you are reading this prior to sustaining an injury, go ahead and get somebody to shoot some video of your swim strokes. Not only could you use the videos for stroke technique analysis, but they might come in handy someday if you need to show them to your doctor or therapist for clearance to swim with your injury!
Rather than an injury, perhaps you have been faced with an obstacle that is conspiring to keep you out of the pool. Maintaining consistency is important for fitness, well-being, and staying race-ready (if you are a competitive swimmer). If your regular pool has been closed for maintenance or you are going to be traveling, a terrific resource for locating an alternate pool is Swimmers Guide. According to their website, “Swimmers Guide contains the only international, descriptive directory of publicly-accessible, full-size, year-round swimming pools you will ever need…” I utilized this site to successfully locate pools throughout the northeast United States, so I could swim throughout a seven-week road trip I did with my husband.
What if you have access to a pool during your travels, but it’s tiny like this riverboat pool?
If the pool is too small for stretch cords, you can still get a great workout by kicking face down with you hands up against the side. For breaststroke, push off with your hands, allow yourself to float backwards, and then do a kick back to the wall. Repeat several times before switching to flutter kick again.
I worked on strengthening my hips by pushing off underwater and streamlining to the other side, and then quickly turning around underwater and pushing off again. Going back and forth underwater not only worked my legs, but it worked my lungs as well! Mixing in vertical streamlined jumps off the bottom added variety.
For an arm workout, I stood facing the side with my feet on the bottom and toes up against the side. Leaning back slightly, I did fast repetitive breaststroke pulls, going as quickly as I could for one minute. This is a great way for improving turnover speed and aerobic endurance. Doing all of these drills in fast succession, I was out of breath as if I had done a sprint workout!
Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and these tips and ideas can help! The swimming routine you have developed is too important to let injuries and obstacles keep you from the fitness, well-being, and endorphin rush that swimming provides. Next time an injury or obstacle conspires against you, get creative and make the best of it!