I went to the gym last night with my roommate for by far the best Saturday night activity ever: exercise. Okay, so maybe not, but it sure beat doing homework in my dorm room. For me, it’s a weird feeling heading to the student rec center without my mesh swim bag, and I definitely looked wistfully in its direction while resigning myself to situps.
Anyway, mixing up the routine is good for any athlete and dryland workouts (what us swimmers call non-pool exercise) are no exception. Although I didn’t do any arm workouts last night (except trying to do a pull-up; I can’t!), my shoulder is really killin’ me today. So I decided I’d share with you some possible swimming-related injuries, in order of silly to OMG.
My friend Chelcee was always dealing with knee pain throughout her high school swimming career, but she made it through all four years!
Injury: lane line scratches
Cause: Hear me out on this; the plastic discs that comprise lane lines get dragged across the concrete pool deck each time they’re pulled out, which can be up to a few times a day. As a result, they’re pretty rough. And even though most of us have been swimming for years, that doesn’t mean we swim straight! If you brush against them accidentally, it’s more of a shock out of a blue-tinged reverie than anything, but one that oftentimes causes a sharp veer into the middle of the lane, perhaps in front of other swimmers…
Result: Minor abrasions to mid-pool pileup
Injury: Swimsuit chafing
Cause: Swimsuits can wear out quickly sometimes, and often us girls will double up on two old ones. That way, we don’t have to drop a wad of moolah on a new suit as often, but we’re also not running around in see-through getups. Win-win! Maybe… One time my sophomore or junior year of high school, I attempted this method, but instead experienced a small, one-off side-effect. Namely, the two straps on one shoulder kept working their way up my neck and rubbing with each stroke. After a few days of practice and chlorine gettin’ all up in that business, I was left with a lovely red patch on my neck. My yearbook teacher actually asked me if it was a hickey (he had a goofy relationship with everybody on staff), which was especially awkward since I hadn’t even had my first kiss. I went out and bought myself a new suit pretty darn quick after that.
Result: Questionable red patches of skin
Injury: Arm slaps
Cause: When there’s more than two people in a lane, we circle swim, which means we constantly stick with the lane line on our right side, traveling counterclockwise. Sometimes less than a foot away, there is another person swimming exactly the opposite way. While this leads to many accidental gropings (we get verrrry close on the swim team), there’s also the occasional time when one person smacks arms with another person. Again, it’s mostly more of a shock than anything; still, sometimes swimming at high speeds and with even faster arm movements, it can kind of hurt. Of course, if you happen to also be a drama student and wishing the swim season was over already, then it will probably be a lot worse.
Result: Ranges from profuse apologizing when you and hittee are back at the wall to moaning for days that your wrist is broken and darn! you can’t go to practice after all
Injury: Head slaps
Cause: One time, I was standing against the lane line in the shallow end, waiting for the people ahead of me to push off the wall and begin the next round of swimming. All of a sudden, something connected with my head, and it was not the most pleasant experience I’ve ever had. One of my teammates in the lane next to ours was swimming butterfly and apparently had a hard time keeping his hands in his own lane. Don’t ask me how he managed to reach so high up in order to smack the back of my head, but he did it. It might have had something to do with the fact that he had a complete disregard for anyone else on the team, as he was the only one to swim individually at the state meet that year so he thought he was hot stuff.
Result: No apology, headache for the rest of practice, and one more angry thought to add to my mental list about him, joining others like having him as a co-captain that didn’t do anything and making videos to play for the rest of the school that featured only guys. No no, I’m not still resentful at all.
Injury: Heel-wall collisions
Cause: Heel, meet the top of the wall. You’re normally familiar with the underwater side of it, but now you get to very quickly get familiar with the concrete. Okay reader, do you know what a flip turn looks like? The swimmer approaches the wall and with a final stroke, ducks his/her head under and the rest of the body follows. The last thing to flip over are the legs and feet. There’s a little room for adjustment of distance to the wall, but for the most part, the extremes are not enjoyable. Too far away from the wall and you must get back up to speed from a dead stop. Too close and your momentum slams your heels down onto the pool deck. I’ve done this two or three times and hope it never ever happens again, as the bone aches for a good while. At a racing speed, the effects are even worse.
Result: Slight limping to spiking pain. One of my poor teammates had to wear flip flops for a week in the middle of a Utah winter because his feet were too swollen and painful to fit in shoes.
Poor Josh kept doing it over and over again, letting the mental aspect of swimming get to him. I just avoided the wall like it was an electric fence for a few days.
Injury: Meandering ribs
Cause: I’m notoriously bad at racing starts. In less than half a second after the starting beep, swimmers are in the water. I just have a hard time managing all of the different aspects of a good start in that little bit of time, since I don’t do them enough to have muscle memory. My freshman year, I let one of my arms drop by my side when I entered the water during a race at the regional meet. It slowed down my time a bit, but later that night, my back started aching. Chalking it up to soreness after an otherwise good meet, I ignored it. A week later, it was worse. A month later, after a bout of muscle relaxants, antinflammatories, and physical therapy that didn’t help, my doctor realized the lump in my back wasn’t another muscle knot, but my rib. After popping it back in place, I was back in business.
Result: A month of keyboarding class where sitting up straight and still for an hour was pure misery. Also, I realized I had a higher tolerance for pain than I thought, but now I definitely don’t relish the idea of growing old and experiencing chronic pain like that again.
Injury: Strained shoulders
Cause: Here’s the part that’s relevant to all of you! While the other things are petty and probably won’t happen, this is an injury that could just as easily ruin an inexperienced swimmer within a few months. Sore shoulders are most often the result of poor form when doing the same stroke movement thousands and thousands of times. The most important thing to remember is to keep your elbow above your hand at all times. Keep it high when bringing your arm back over your head and keep it closer to the surface when pulling. That reduces the strain on your shoulder joint. Once you wear this joint down, the only way to repair it is through surgery. I’ve had friends who went through this, and they would have been able to avoid that if they had listened to their bodies in the first place. Long story short, if something hurts, stop swimming for the day. If it returns, take a jaunt to see your doctor ASAP. Preventative care is the best care!
Result: Lots of time spent sitting on the edge of the pool, clutching one or both shoulders. Surgery and lifetime pain is the worst-case scenario.
Proper arm position: notice how the hand is well below the elbow. It should also stay under the elbow under the water too.
Again, a high elbow position. Also, this makes me glad I’m the one behind the camera, so my friends don’t get the chance to display the ridiculous faces I make across the internet.
Another good example of a high elbow when entering the water is here.