• Dr. Pat McSweeney PT, DPT

Overhead Mobility Considerations for Triathletes in the Water


The overhead nature of swimming puts unique demands on our shoulders and upper quarter that require us to have adequate strength and mobility in order to effortlessly get into an overhead position with every stroke. Any issues that limit our ability to easily get into an overhead position (without compensation) could cause unnecessary drag and ultimately a reduction in our swimming performance.


In swimming, we practice drills in order to improve our swimming technique, but what if we don't have the requisite mobility and strength for proper positioning in the water in the first place? Identifying ways to improve our movement quality will go a long way towards helping us improve our overall technique. So what are the key components that we need to look at in order to improve our overhead mobility, strength, and position in the water?


Strength/motor control:

1. Scapular muscles

2. Rotator cuff





These two muscle groups are in large part responsible for the stability and strength of our shoulder in an overhead position. Building a solid foundation of strength and control here allows us to meet the repetitive demands of longer distance swimming.


Mobility: Having adequate mobility within these muscle groups is needed in order to achieve a full overhead position that we need in the water.


1. Lats

2. Pecs

3. Subscapularis

4. Teres Major


Thoracic Spine:

AKA the middle part of our back. In order to get into an overhead position we have to be able to extend and rotate through our upper back. A common compensation that is seen to make up for decreased thoracic spine mobility is an over emphasis on extending the lumbar (low back) spine. This compensation can effect our efficiency in the water while increasing drag.


Glenohumeral (Shoulder) Joint:

Another piece to full overhead mobility is our actual shoulder joint. Stiffness within our joint capsule can also limit our ability to get into a full overhead position.





Each of these contribute to overhead mobility and can be improved in a number of different ways. We will cover that in a part two of this blog as well as how to assess each limitation. Additionally, we will cover specific strengthening and mobility exercises in order to improve our overhead position. By having a solid movement foundation, including strength and mobility, we will effectively be able to improve our efficiency and performance in the water.




Whether you want to cross the finish line for the first time or you are looking to set a new personal best, we are here to help. For more information on how you can reach the starting line of your next race healthier and fitter than ever, email pmcsweeney@pro-activity.com or message us directly on Instagram @pro-activity_ohio.



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