Luckily, gymrats are not the only ones suffering from this problem. This is why an albeit small group of exercise scientists from has spent a considerable amount of time and effort to identify methods to reverse this ugly, and as a 2008 study in 40 university students whose pulmonary function decreased with increasing FSP degree shows (Ghanbari. 2008), even "breathtaking" problem.
Since swimmers are one of the groups of athletes that appears to be most affected, it is only logical that they were also the subjects of a series of studies by scientists from the Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Kentucky who investigated the a combined exercise and stretching intervention in two separate studies on hunched over swimmers (Kluemper. 2006; Lynch. 2010).
In the last mentioned study by Kluemper et al., the participants, 29 (14 male and 25 female) elite-level, high-school- and college-age competitive swimmers from 2 swim teams, performed a Theraband® latex-band base resistance training regimen consisting of (see Figure 1)...
Figure 1: Scapular retraction (top), external rotation (middle) and shoulder flexion for the lower trapezius (bottom | Kluemper. 2006).
- External rotation - The upper arm is positioned at 90° of shoulder abduction and 90° of elbow flexion. The forearm begins in a horizontal position and externally rotates into a vertical position. The subject then executes a controlled return to the starting position. The exercise band is fixed in front of the subject at approximately waist height at the beginning of the exercise (Figure 1, middle).
- Shoulder flexion for the lower trapezius - With arms flexed to 90°, elbows fully extended, and palms down, the subject flexes the shoulders to 180° against the exercise-band resistance and then executes a controlled return to the starting position. The exercise band is again fixed in front of the subject at approximately waist height for the beginning of this exercise (Figure 1, bottom).
|Table 1: Progression of the exercises | at the end of the third week the subjects progressed to the next higher level of resistance using the Theraband® latex band (Kluemper. 2006).|
Obviously, I wouldn't be telling you all that in detail if the result of Kluemper's study didn't show that this training combination of strengthening and stretching exercises can "reduce the forward shoulder posture present in most competitive swimmers" (Kluemper. 2006) - or, to be more precise, that doing these exercises only 18 times over the 6-week period was enough to significance reduce the scientists primary measure of FPS, i.e. the distance of the acromion from the wall (see Figure 3, left), when the subjects were standing with their backs against the latter in a resting posture (–9.6 ± 7.3 mm).
"The first stretch, for anterior chest muscles, required the subject to assume a supine position on a 5-in-diameter foam roll, which runs down the center of the back. The subjectʼs partner grasps the subjectʼs shoulders and slowly presses them down in the direction of the floor until instructed to stop and hold for 30 seconds. This was repeated twice per training session (Figure 2, top). The second stretch for shoulder internal rotators required the subject to assume a kneeling position in front of his or her standing partner and lace his or her fingers behind the head. The partner then reaches in front of the subjectsʼ arms and back behind the subjectʼs scapulae, lacing his or her fingers together, as well. The part ner pulls in a diagonal direction, both up and back from the subjectʼs trunk, until instructed to stop and hold by the subject (Figure 2, bottom). The stretch was held for 30 seconds and repeated twice per training session" (Kluemper. 2006).
Figure 2: Photos of the stretches for pectoralis major and minor (Kluemper. 2006)
Due to the possibility of glenohumeral instability among swimmers, the therapists proceeded cautiously in all participants during the MET application. The arm was held at this barrier for 3 seconds. The shoulder was then brought out of the stretch slightly, and the participant was instructed to ‘‘pull against the investigator’s resistance towards the opposite hip.’’ This contraction was performed isometrically with approximately 25% of the participant’s maximal effort for 5 seconds. Immediately after this contraction, the entire sequence was repeated with the arm again being passively horizontally abducted to the new range of motion.
|Figure 4: Overview and description of the exercises in the Lynch study (Lynch. 2010).|
"Subjects in the intervention group were trained using an instructional video of the exercises as well as being provided with an illustrated handout. Descriptions of the exercises are shown in tables 2 and 3. Strengthening exercises targeted the periscapular muscles. Stabilisation of the scapula throughout the exercise routine was emphasized during instruction. Subjects performed three sets of 10 repetitions of all strengthening exercises. The stretching portion of the intervention aimed at increasing the flexibility of the pectoralis muscle group and the cervical neck extensors. [...] Subjects logged the number of times the training was performed. Random checks by the investigator were performed to ensure compliance as well as the correct execution of the exercises." (Lynch. 2010).Lynch et al. selected the exercises "based on literature which suggests selective activation of the lower trapezius/middle trapezius and serratus anterior, lengthening of the pectoralis minor and improving deep cervical flexor function and improving posture" (Lynch. 2015).
|Figure 5: Changes in forward head angle, shoulder translation and scupalar distance (Lynch. 2015); I deliberately chose the same scale for the primary axis as in Figure 3, even though a direct comparison is not exactly scientific.|
- Ghanbari, Ali, et al. "Effect of forward shoulder posture on pulmonary capacities of women." British journal of sports medicine 42.7 (2008): 622-623.
- Kluemper, Mark, Tim Uhl, and Heath Hazelrigg. "Effect of stretching and strengthening shoulder muscles on forward shoulder posture in competitive swimmers." Journal of sport rehabilitation 15.1 (2006): 58.
- Laudner, Kevin G., et al. "Forward Shoulder Posture in Collegiate Swimmers: A Comparative Analysis of Muscle-Energy Techniques." Journal of athletic training 50.11 (2015): 1133-1139.
- Lynch, Stephanie S., et al. "The effects of an exercise intervention on forward head and rounded shoulder postures in elite swimmers." British journal of sports medicine 44.5 (2010): 376-381.