Importance of Functional Shoulder in a Swimmer

The Importance of a “Functional” Shoulder in a Swimmer

Front crawl, breaststroke and backstroke. All three strokes require different shoulder muscles to accomplish the task. When we train in the water and on land for swimming we make those muscles stronger. But what is happening when we train and train and these muscle actually become “weaker” and essentially, our shoulder becomes “dysfunctional”?

The truth is, the muscles aren’t actually weak and they don’t require strengthening exercises to get strong. Rather, the muscles are “inhibited”, meaning, they are unable to perform 100% and they need to become “uninhibited” in order to be functional.

Inhibition is a result of muscle strain and/or nerve compression.

i. Muscle Strain – the more you use a muscle repetitively plus add an increased load (ie: water resistance), the more strained it becomes. If a muscle is excessively strained a neurological response occurs and the muscle becomes inhibited and presents as weakness.

ii. Nerve Compression – when a muscle becomes tight due to training it can compress on a nerve. The tighter the muscle the more nerve compression. The more nerve compression the more inhibition to a muscle. Inhibition will present as muscle weakness.

When a muscle is dysfunctional due to inhibition it can predispose a swimmer to plateaus in training or injury. Inhibition of muscles however can be addressed and resolved. Once resolved the muscle (and the athlete as a whole) can achieve the full benefits of a training program with a functional shoulder.

Dr. Angela Pucci
Chiropractor & ART Provider
Cadence Chiropractic & Sports Therapy
Runner’s Therapy Centre               
Inside Urban Athlete Fitness Studio
480 14th Street NW, Calgary, AB, T2N1Z7
t: 403.521.CCST (2278)   

Leg & Foot Cramps when Swimming

Ever been half way through a hard swim or kick set and suddenly your calf tightens up? Well, that type of cramping is such a common complaint with new triathletes. The good news is that it is quite easy to diagnose and also easy to fix, if you can be honest about what you feel.


The whole issue of cramp in the water can be summed up simply by the inappropriate action of plantar flexing your foot.  

a) Stand on one leg on dry land while trying to perform small kicking flicks with the foot. Aim to let the ankle simply flick around like a leaf in the wind as you shake the leg quickly up and down (just a small movement). If you can honestly see that your ankle IS relaxed and does flick around as you move the rest of the leg, then this is a good sign. For most of us however, you will realize that you are in fact tensing the shin to pull up and then pointing down in order to move the foot. In this case, you have some major relaxing to learn in the water. This confirms the reason why cramps will be occurring – you are not relaxed through the ankles when kicking.

b) Get in the pool and kick with flippers on your back (arms sides, looking at the roof). Put your feelings in your ankles and kick slowly (look at the roof, not at your feet – a balance issue that will separately make you tense). Be honest about what you feel as you kick along slowly and ask the question – “Is my ankle totally relaxed or am I consciously / unconsciously trying to control the flipper by tensing somewhere?” If so, then you will find yourself tense in either the calf, or shin. This will be the cause, over time, a cramp. As above you need to learn how to relax.

1. Kick on your Back with Short Fins, and Learn to RELAX – short fins will demand that you let your ankle actually bend with the weight of the water as you kick up and down. If you don’t relax and let this happen then the result will be simple – you’ll get a cramp. So your aim is to let those ankles flick round in the water like they are floppy things on the end of your feet. Start by kicking slowly, which will ensure you stay aware of what is happening, and also help keep you relaxed.

There is a another very positive side to this – when you can learn to totally relax your ankles, the feet begin waving around in the water more and this allows you to pull backwards with the weight of water collecting on the top of the fins’ blade. This will produce more propulsion than if you are tense. So there are two benefits from being more relaxed (1) no cramp, and (2) faster kicking technique.

2. Be more progressive with hard swimming, short sprint work or hard kick sets. By taking slightly longer over the weeks to build your sprinting sets up, the stresses on the body are coped with better and you will have less chance of getting a cramp.

3. Stretch the ankle by regularly sitting on top of them (heels together). As you improve the range of movement your ankle has, so will kicking be that much easier. It just takes dedication over time for your ankle flexibility to improve.

How to change a flat tire

Watch this great video on how to change a flat tire while out on a training ride:


Some Tips:
Purchase the equipment and carry with you in a seat bag on all rides. Spare tubes, tire levers, CO2 cartridges and adapter and/or hand pump.

Practice changing a tire at home. Try a CO2 system beforehand.


  • If you have a flat tire when riding with a group – notify those behind you that you have a flat and cycle to the side of the road. Go entirely off the road onto the grass or gravel to ensure you don’t become a road hazard.
  • If your back wheel has the flat, move the chain to the smallest gear in the back cassette (change gears to that spot) BEFORE removing the wheel.
  • Don’t forget to open the brake caliper lever.
  • Run your thumbs along one side of the whole tire to loosen the tire to the rim a bit.
  • Two tire levers work best – one to stay put under the rim and tire and hooked to a spoke and the other tire lever to remove the tire along the rim.
  • Remove the flattened tube. Fold up and carry back with you – leave no garbage on the road side.
  • Run your fingers (or look) on the underside of the tire to ensure you don’t have anything (glass, etc.) inside the tire before you replace it with a new one – or you will have another flat tire right away!
  • Inflate the new tube slightly (by mouth or with a hand pump) to make it manageable for inserting inside the tire.
  • Insert the new tube inside the tire starting with the valve stem and ensure that no part of the tube is sticking out or you may have a pinch flat  – that is when the rim of the tire pinches the tube of the tire.
  • Use the tire levers to pry the tire back on the rim and be careful not to pinch the tube when doing so.
  • Pump up the tire with your hand pump or use the CO2 cartridge system to inflate the tire quickly.
  • To put your wheel on the back, line up the chain to the smallest gear on the back cassette and let the wheel fall into place. Ensure the wheel lever is secure and close the brake caliper.
  • To put your front wheel back on, ensure that you close the brake caliper after the wheel is in place. Give the wheel a quick spin to see if the brakes are rubbing. If they are, you may need to re-adjust the alignment of the wheel.
  • Give the crank a couple of turns to ensure the chain is aligned properly on the back cassette.
  • Cycle slowly at first to be sure everything is ready to go before you rejoin a group.



The best tip to avoid a flat tire is inflate your bike tires to the proper PSI – over 100 PSI for a road bike tire and over 60 PSI for a mountain bike tire.

Last Place Worries

Chances are, if you are new to triathlon and/or don’t have a lot of swim training, you will likely be started in one of the earlier groups. If you are also still working at improving your cycling and running skills, you may in fact be passed by women who started the swim after you. But, even if you end up with the slowest time overall, it is highly unlikely that you will be the last competitor to cross the finish line. This honour will most likely go to someone who will be starting in a later swim heat.

Next Clinic for First Timers

Our next clinic will be geared specifically towards first time triathletes. It’s the Women’s Only First Timer’s Triathlon Clinic, and DATE will  be TBD. Topics covered include:

  • Introduction to triathlons and what to expect race day
  • Triathlon course overview for our events and other local triathlons
  • What to wear, eat and what to pack for your race
  • Transitions – watch a live demo and learn some great tips!
  • Learn the triathlon rules and why they are important

Check out the clinics Web page for details.