I know many instrumentalists who love to swim. And rightly so! It’s a low-impact, cardio exercise that works the entire body and doesn’t put any stress on the hands (the musician’s bread and butter). I had many a teacher (and even physical therapist) tell me that in order to stay in shape and help my playing-related injuries, I should be swimming. A lot. What these people don’t realize is that swimming is one of the worst things you can do to rehabilitate your injury. I can hear you now: “But Rachel, I love swimming and it’s never given me any problems!” Great. You’re either not human or in denial. Let me break it down.
The most common injuries for competitive swimmers occur in the shoulder. StopSportsInjuries.com explains that:
Shoulder injuries may include rotator cuff impingement — pressure on the rotator cuff from part of the shoulder blade or scapula as the arm is lifted. Biceps tendinitis (painful inflammation of the bicep tendon) and shoulder instability, in which structures that surround the shoulder joint do not work to maintain the ball within its socket, all can result from fatigue and weakness of the rotator cuff and muscles surrounding the shoulder blade.
Some of the most common playing-related injuries are EXACTLY THE SAME! Moreover, swimmers most often develop their injuries through overuse. Sound familiar? It should because that’s how musicians most often develop their injuries.
It all has to do with how we use our bodies. Swimming is considered an overhead sport, where the primary movement of the athlete is to take their arms overhead. Any instrument that requires the arms to be held in front of the body (which is basically every instrument) can be considered overhead. I understand that this is a strange idea, but the nature of our instruments makes us elevate one or both shoulders, which is essentially the same as pressing our arms overhead and we hold the position statically for hours at a time.
Check out this volleyball player’s shoulder (another overhead sport) compared to a violinist (Okay… Fine. It’s me from a while back).
The point of all of this is not to scare you out of swimming. Swimming is great exercise. But instrumentalists need to be cautious about their form and time spent doing these things. My guess is that you probably don’t have a swimming coach. If you are hell-bent on swimming, then make sure that you at least consult with someone well versed in stroke technique so that they can give you some ideas about how to swim the most efficiently. After that, remember that swimming injuries and playing-related injuries develop most often from overuse. Monitor how much time you are playing and how much time you are swimming. In periods where you are doing a lot of playing, maybe consider taking up another form of cross-training to balance out all of the shoulder elevation.
- Swimmers experience exactly the same shoulder injuries as instrumentalists.
- Swimming is almost entirely an overhead sport as is playing an instrument.
Thanks for reading! I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section!