› Shoulder Stability

Triathlon Swim Training

Shoulder Stability And Strength

Triathlon swim training programs should always include some shoulder stability and strength work.

If you are looking for information on training to improve your swimming fitness please visit our triathlon swimming pages. For advice about triathlon swimming technique, have a look at our swimming technique page.

So here is a series of exercises that you can include in your triathlon swim training program to improve your shoulder strength and mobility.

Part 1 is about preventing injury through improving flexibility and stability around the shoulder. Part 2 focuses more on functional exercises to develop strength and stability for performance.

These exercises will help you to move your arms effectively through a full range of motion. The aim is to be able to keep your shoulder blade and arm moving smoothly whilst maintaining good posture in your upper back.

You don’t want your upper spine to move when your arm moves. All of this will help contribute to maintaining good swim technique and avoiding injury.

Part 1: Preventing Injury


Good flexibility around the shoulder can help improve swimming technique and reduce the risk of injury. As well as stretches we have included some foam roller work to help loosen off tight muscles that are harder to stretch. These should be incorporated into your triathlon swim training sessions.

Pectoral Stretch Work: 3 Angles

  • Stand at a 90 degree angle to a wall or door frame.
  • Step forwards and away diagonally, until you feel a stretch.
  • Repeat the stretch at 90 degrees, 120 degrees and 45 degrees.
  • Hold the stretch for a minimum of 20 seconds, or until you begin to feel it ease off.
Pectoral stretch
Pectoral stretch
Pectoral stretch

Foam Roller

Thoracic Extension

  • Arch backwards over the Foam Roller.
  • Keeping your bottom to the floor, slowly let the upper spine relax back over the roller, keeping your neck supported in neutral.
  • Repeat this, working along each vertebra.

You can also roll along the foam roller to massage the muscles at either side of your spine.

thoracic spine mobilisation

Pecs & Lats Roll

  • Angle your body, so the foam roller is directly under the muscle to be worked.
  • Gradually put more pressure through the roller as you are able.

You can repeat this, angling your body slightly forwards and backwards to make sure that the whole muscle is targeted.

loosen pectorals
lats foam roller

Activation Exercises

These exercises are to ensure that the muscles that hold your shoulder in the correct position during the swimming stroke are working effectively. During all of the following exercises make sure that your scapula is ‘set’. This means that your shoulders are in a good postural position with your shoulder blade flat against the chest wall – no ‘winging’ out of your shoulder blade.

For all the exercises aim to complete 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

You will need an elastic resistance band (commonly a Thera-Band) for these exercises. You can increase the difficulty of the exercises by tightening/shortening the band.


  • Hold your arm out at 90 degrees to your body and maintain this position.
  • Keep the scapula set down and back – with activation in the lower trapezius muscles (between your shoulder blades and spine).
  • In this position pull the hand forwards whilst maintaining good shoulder position (don’t let the shoulder move up/forwards). Repeat this 10 times.
  • Then do the same exercise but pulling the hand backwards.
Scapula rotation exercises
Scapula rotation exercises

Straight Arm Catch Position

  • Put your arm up in the air at the end of the range of your catch position.
  • Control your shoulder blade – don’t let your shoulder hitch up.
  • Pull backwards using small movements, then repeat but pulling forwards.
Swimming shoulder exercises
Swimming shoulder exercises

Infraspinatus Raises (muscle that rotates shoulder)

  • Tie your band in a small loop.
  • Keep the shoulder blades in position and keep this controlled throughout the movement.
  • Push outwards with the backs of your hands against the band – keep pushing outwards as you take the arms up and back down.

Push Up Plus

In the press-up position, keep your arms fixed and then drop your upper body downwards through your shoulder blades.

Lift back up into the neutral position.

Then continue to lift past this to round your back in-between your scapula.press

Push up as much as you can, then return to the neutral position.

Start on all fours and progress to ½ press up position, then to doing the exercise with your feet on a Swiss ball.

Press ups against a wall

  • Set the shoulder blades into a neutral position.
  • Press up against the wall, keeping the lower traps activated and keeping the shoulders wide.
  • Don’t let the shoulders dip together.

Part 2: Functional Exercises

These exercises are ideal for using as part of a triathlon swim training circuit. Perform each exercise a set number of times or for a set duration. So for example 2 sets of 10 repetitions or 2 times 30 seconds with 20 – 30s recovery.

Rotating Side Plank

rotating planks
rotating planks

Balance Ball Swim Catch

Maintain good position of the lower back – ie don’t let your back arch or sag. Let the Ball rotate as your body does.

Balance ball swim catch
Balance ball swim catch
Balance ball swim catch


Control the lower back position by contracting your lower abdominal muscles. As your arm and leg move keep your lower back in position - don’t let it arch or twist.

Superman ab exercise

Walking Lunges – Arms Raised

Keep your arms vertical, don’t let them drift forwards. Don’t arch your lower back and only step as far forwards so that your front knee doesn’t extend past your toes. Keep knees parallel – no wobbling out to the sides.

walking lunges

Shoulder Blade Squeeze

Lie on your front and bend one arm behind you so that the back of your hand is against your lower back. Relax your neck and upper trap muscles. Activate your lower trap muscles and squeeze your shoulder blade down to lift the arm.

Shoulder blade squeeze
Shoulder blade squeeze

Bosu Press Up

The use of the Bosu makes you less stable, meaning more effort to control the movement and position. If you don’t have a Bosu then try doing this on a cushion or crash-mat or even with each hand on a ball.

Control the shoulder blades as you go through the movement. Only go as low as you can control.

Bosu press ups

Lower Traps Activation

Lie on a bench. Keep your body in a streamlined position. Hold your arms out to the sides, bent with your hands pointing down to the floor at an angle. Lift your arms by drawing your elbows back and squeezing your shoulder blades together.

lower traps exercise
lower traps exercise

Summary - Triathlon Swim Training Shoulder Stability

  • Working on shoulder stability and strength is important for preventing injury.
  • Stretching, massage and activation exercises should be included in your triathlon swim training program.
  • Functional exercises to develop strength and stability for performance are also important and these can be included in a triathlon swim training circuit session.

Now that your shoulders are in order, check out our swimming technique and triathlon swim training pages for ideas on how to improve your swim performance.

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