The Swim-fit programme

Strength, stability, flexibility, injury prevention & performance enhancement for swimmers

What is the Swim-fit programme?

The Swim-fit programme is an exercise programme developed by chartered physiotherapist and shoulder specialist Eoin Ó Conaire. Swim-fit is an 8 week programme tailored to the needs of swimmers. The programme aims to improve strength and stability in the key swimming propulsion muscles, improve trunk stability and body position in the water and optimise muscle length and thoracic flexibility. The overall aim is to reduce risk of injury, improve swim efficiency and optimise swimming performance. The programme includes elements of Pilates, yoga, strength and conditioning, therapeutic exercise and plyometric drills.

How was the programme developed?

Eoin Ó Conaire has over twenty years post-qualification experience as a chartered physiotherapist. He has worked as a shoulder specialist for 16 years and regularly teaches his Shoulder Masterclass to physiotherapists in Ireland and internationally. You can read more about his background and experience here

In the past few years Eoin has developed a special interest in treating swimmers. In Eoin’s words, “there are few things more stressful for the shoulders than swimming freestyle and almost all of the swimmers that come to me for treatment have shoulder pain”. In fact one survey of American college-level competitive swimmers demonstrated that 90% of respondents had active shoulder pain. Eoin explains: “There are various reasons why a swimmer may develop shoulder pain but the most common source of pain is the rotator cuff. Overload of the tendons of this sling of musculature can lead to pain, swelling or even splits or tears.” You can read more about the rotator cuff here.

The swim-fit programme is now led by Nigel Plummer – a chartered physiotherapist and successful Galway Bay swimmer – specialising in exercise prescription. Nigel has trained closely with Eoin to  oversee and develop the programme further.

Why do swimmers get shoulder pain?

Although the source of pain in swimmers’ shoulders is usually the rotator cuff, the underlying reason why the tendon has become overloaded and painful is variable and can be more complex. Eoin carries out detailed clinical assessments on all swimmers with shoulder pain so as make a specific diagnosis and develop an individualised rehabilitation programme for each person. Over the years he has recognised some of the main presentations. Eoin outlines four examples below:

1) Increased movement with inadequate strength:

Some swimmers are naturally highly flexible (hypermobile) and can take their shoulders through much higher ranges of movement than the average person. This is a huge advantage for swimming. However these hypermobile swimmers often don’t have adequate strength through the entire range of motion and typically have insufficient trunk and core stability. This can bring about compensatory overload of the shoulder muscles and tendons.

2) Reduced range of movement affecting biomechanics

Some swimmers are naturally stiff and restricted. I typically see this in older male swimmers and triathletes who perhaps have taken up swimming later in adult life or spend long hours sitting for their job. If you have reduced range of motion in the shoulders and mid back, it is very difficult to perform an efficient stroke. Many of these swimmers over-reach during the stroke and are operating at the end-point of their available range. We are weakest and most vulnerable at the extremes of our range.

3) General overload

Generally speaking tendon pain and injury is caused by increasing the training load on the tendon too rapidly or not allowing adequate recovery time.

Within swimming there is a culture of very high training load. It is not uncommon for teenage competitive swimmers to take part in 9 or 10 swim sessions per week. This level of training is tolerated by some but many become injured or demotivated. This is the traditional Darwinian nature of the sport. Those that “survive” the high training loads without pain or injury may go on to have success in the sport. In my opinion this loses lots of promising swimmers who could do very well and achieve success and enjoyment from swimming if they could have more rest and recovery days. Unfortunately most competitive swimming clubs don’t accommodate this.

The other group that I see with tendon overload and overtraining is the amateur triathlete and in particular the ironman group. A combination of increasing training load too quickly and swim technique problems can lead to pain and injury in the rotator cuff. The typical pattern that I see is that the swimmer develops rotator cuff related shoulder pain and is unable to swim meaningful distances without pain. They then rest and the pain settles down but when they try to build up their swim mileage again, the pain comes back. They then may try adjunctive therapies like manual therapy, massage or dry needling. These can provide symptomatic relief but because they do not address the load capacity of the tendons (with specific strengthening exercises), the pain usually returns when the swimmer tries to build up the mileage again.

4) Lack of training variability

Most swimmers concentrate almost all of their training on swimming. Even if they include technique sessions, endurance sessions, intervals and sprints, this still represents a lack of training variability. If we look at the research for running, the way to improve running efficiency is to include at least two strength training and plyometric sessions per week in the training programme. It is rare for me to see a swimmer or triathlete who does any meaningful heavy resistance training or upper limb plyometric drills. In my experience, these are absolutely key in improving stroke economy and tendon load capacity and therefore reducing injury. One triathlete patient recently told me that she was amazed that even mid-way through our rehabilitation programme (which included rotator cuff strengthening and plyometric drills), she discovered that when she started building up her swimming by doing very easy sessions, her slowest pace was now faster than her usual race- pace.

The Swim-fit programme was developed by Eoin based on the latest research evidence and his own clinical experience to address the key aspects of training essential in preventing and managing injury in swimmers.

Where is the Swim-fit programme held?

The exercise class is held in the exercise studio at Evidence-Based Therapy Centre on Fairgreen Road in Galway city centre.

Who is the swim-fit programme suitable for?

All regular swimmers of any level are welcome. However if you have current pain or injury, you may need to have individual physiotherapy assessment and rehabilitation prior to starting the class.

When is the programme held and how much does it cost?

The next 6 week Swim-fit course starts on Wednesday 17th April 2024 at 6pm-7pm.  The cost is €135 for the 6 classes. 

All places must be reserved and paid in advance. Class numbers are kept small (to allow more individual attention) therefore it is important to book your place early to avoid missing out.

You will be required to complete a health screening questionnaire in advance of the programme. If any areas of concern arise from the questionnaire then you may need to have a telephone consultation with Eoin or Nigel or may be required to attend for an assessment to determine if you are suitable for and will benefit from the programme. Some people with active pain or injury may need to have a short course of treatment to work up to the class.

How do I book?

To reserve a place on the programme, you can call Evidence-Based Therapy Centre on 091 727777 or get in touch via the contact page.