The Strength to Swim Properly
By IREP Athletics

The early vertical forearm in swimming is an elusive skill for most adult onset swimmers. It is the ability to latch on to the water soon after the hand enters the water and pull the body past an anchored hand in an efficient manner. The swimmer does this by internally rotating the shoulder allowing the hand and forearm to drop below the elbow before initiating the pull while the arm stays abducted out to the side. The swimmer should feel some resistance from the water medium in the palmar aspect of the hand and on the forearm. This feeling can be illustrated by imagining a driver in a car rolling down their window and placing their hand on the side view mirror. If they were to externally rotate their shoulder and lift their hand straight up (as if they were signaling a Right turn on a bicycle) they would feel a similar resistance on their hand and forearm.

A common problem for some swimmers is dropping the elbow below the forearm and hand and pulling with a straight arm. People simply do not have the strength to hold elbow in a high position close to the surface as the forearm and hand drops down during the catch and pull.

We can address the strength deficit with the exercises below:

Prone Scaption Series

All of the following exercises can be done on a Treatment table, flat weight bench, incline weight bench or on a stability ball:

“I”/ “i’s” – the arms remain close to the trunk and are raised with the palms facing each other. The shoulder can flex and the arms extend past the head or the shoulders can flex bring the hands near the hips


“T” the arms are abducted with a straight arm. Weight may be added to the hand. This exercise can be done with thumb up and thumb down

“W” the arms are abducted out to the side with a flexed elbow creating “W’ shape. The palms should face the ground

“Y” the arms are extended out in front of the head. This exercise can be done with the thumb up and thumb down.

Weight/Band Bent Over 90 degree Shoulder Abduction

Weights or bands are placed in the hands with shoulder and elbow both abducted to 90 degrees the weight is lifted straight up linearly. The hands should remain on plan and not deviate towards or away from the body.

Standing Shoulder Flexion with External Rotation Isometric Using Band

Shoulders are flexed overhead and arms are slightly internally rotated as if initiating the catch phase of the freestyle stroke. This isometric contraction should be held static for time.

Prone Resisted Abduction and External Rotation Isometric

Resistance for abduction can be placed around the elbow joint using a band or weight cuff. The use of a distal weight in the hand stressing the isometric external rotation can be utilized to emphasize keeping the shoulder high when initiating the catch phase of the swim stroke.

Full article can be found online at:

I.R.E.P Athletics is managed by Certified Exercise Science and Sports Medicine Specialists.  Scott Proscia, BS  ATC M.Ed ACSM-CPT and Anthony Ross, CSCS ATC M.Ed believe in providing custom cutting edge training programs based on scientific research. Each and every program is developed for the specific needs of the individual athlete. From first-time 5k’er to someone who wants to qualify for Ironman Kona, they specialize in developing a plan for you to Respond, Evolve, Perform. 


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