3 Mobility Exercises to Improve your Swimming Catch

Unlike most sports, the upper body derives the bulk of propulsion during swimming. This opposes many other sports which the legs create the majority of propulsion. Therefore, creating a large surface area for grabbing water is essential for elite swimming performance. Unfortunately, many do not have the range of motion for maximally propelling themselves forward. 

I recall working with one Masters swimmer who could barely raise his arms overhead! He was a typical Masters swimmer, who worked long hours at a desk job, then got to the pool expecting elite performance. Unfortunately, our current daily habits greatly reduce the thoracic spine range of motion, as well as shoulder mobility. If you're lacking these two areas you've got no chance becoming elite. It would be like kayaking with half a paddle. After working with this swimmer I realized there a few exercises to help improve the swimming catch.

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SMR Infraspinatus

Kristian Gkolomeev looks to win the 50 free. Getty Images.

As I discussed in my 21st century shoulder mobility article, self myofascial release (SMR) of the infraspinatus can provide a massive range of motion improvement. 

Like most SMR spots, this spot will be tender, sometimes sending pain and aches down the arm. This unique sensation feels like you're being touched in two different places at one.

If you haven't had an anatomy class in your life, this spot is tough to find, so be patient. But with that practice, it’s no big deal. It just takes a few tries to start to get the hang of it. Pat your back and locate the ridge running from the middle to the outside of your body. This is the scapular spine of the shoulder blade. Underneath this bone is the portion of the shoulder blade covered by the infraspinatus.

The infraspinatus is not a thick muscle. Start off with some soft devices, like tennis balls, then progress to baseballs or lacrosse balls! 

Perform 2 - 3 minutes before practice.

SMR Infraspinatus Video

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Brachial Plexus Neural Mobility

Freestyle Underwater
Freestyle Underwater. Adam Pretty/Getty Images

All the computer and phone typing in modern society results in poor neural mobility. The brachial plexus is the group of nerves which pass through the arm (near the armpit) after originating in the neck. The brachial plexus requires motion, but all our sitting in slouched positions prevents adequate brachial plexus mobility.

This is a set of arm movements for mobilizing the brachial plexus, the nerves which run through the arms. This set of mobilization helps restore motion in the nerves, reducing neurosensitivity and arm carrying position (shoulders rounded, etc.). In combination of this, it helps strengthen the back muscles and neck muscles, which are the result of swimmers’ posture.

For this exercise, perform a mini squat against a wall, then retract your head, elongating the neck. Next, flatten your back and move your arms in a "Y", "Windmill", "eyeglass" motion. 

Brachial Plexus Neural Mobility Video

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Foam Roll Thoracic Spine

Massage. Getty Images.

The thoracic spine greatly influences shoulder motion. For example, raise your arms overhead while standing upright. Next, slouch down and raise your arms again. Surely you noticed less shoulder motion while being slouched over. Therefore, maximizing thoracic spine motion is essential for optimal shoulder mobility.

For this exercise, lie on your back with your knees bent and place a foam roll parallel to your spine. Make sure your head and tailbone are on the foam roll and your head is relaxed. Place your arms on the ground for support and roll back and forth at your desired speed and amplitude.

Foam Roll Thoracic Spine Video

Updated by Dr. John Mullen on April 26, 2016


A proper catch in swimming requires an adequate shoulder range of motion. However, poor shoulder mobility results from not only poor tissue length at the shoulder, but also at the thoracic spine and with the nervous system. Try these 3 exercises to improve your swimming catch today for enhanced performance!