When it comes to swimming, there’s no denying the time and effort the sport requires.
Abby Armstrong spends a serious proportion of her day in the water, swimming up to 100km a week. The experienced competitive swimmer also works part-time helping young swimmers hone their techniques and work on strengths and conditioning exercises to help with injury prevention.
While time in the water and technique training is a key focus, Abby is a huge advocate of dryland training.
“Other than the obvious mechanical benefits, the social aspect of dryland training is another element which contributes to the greater picture of being a swimmer.
“It’s time for the kids to get into the right frame of mind before hopping into the pool, but also time where they can catch up with their friends, socialise and have a bit of fun.
“Swimming is an intense and somewhat individual sport, so the social side of it is really important.”
In her third year of a Sport and Exercise Science Degree at Wintec, Abby thrives on the role which utilises her passion for strength and conditioning and love of swimming.
What is your role?
A couple of Wintec students and I deliver a dryland strength and conditioning programme to several swimming clubs around Waikato. The programme has been specifically developed by Swimming Waikato and Wintec to improve movement proficiency and injury prevention in younger swimmers.
What is your swimming background?
I was a competitive age group swimmer when I was younger. Three years ago I started swimming again and found a love of the open water. For the past two years I have been a series age group winner at the NZ Ocean Swim Series. I have competed in the Taupo Epic 10km swim for the past two years and have been successful.
Currently I am training hard to complete the Apolima Strait, a 22.3km swimming race between Upolu and Savaii in Samoa.
What do you focus on with your swimmers?
Injury prevention is ultimately the main focus. Then activation, muscle balance, strength and strength endurance.
Initially the 12 week programme is focused on increasing range of motion, flexibility and mobility through a series of basic orthodox movement patterns. The later stage of the programme is spent developing strength and strength endurance, volume (capacity for muscular effort) is achieved through targeted sets and repetitions.
Ultimately, each movement pattern has to be durable enough with bodyweight alone before additional load is permitted.
What are the most common problems you see among young swimmers?
Muscle imbalances are notorious, often causing injuries in the shoulder and subscapular region because the adductors and internal rotators (pecs, lats) of the arm become over-developed due to the repetitive nature of swimming. Therefore, the external rotators (rotator cuff muscles) and scapular stabilisers are weakened – as they don’t get used as much.
Consequently, muscle imbalances, overuse and/or poor technique results in an anterior capsule laxity, which allows the humeral head to move forward and up, thereby compromising the subacromial space (where the supraspinatus and biceps tendons run through) causing an irritation and/or impingement (swimmer’s shoulder).
Hence the reason why improving muscle balance is a major factor within the programme.
What can be done to help prevent it?
The dryland training programme has been specifically designed to counteract and prevent any imbalances that occur in the water. Correct technique in the pool is also very important to avoid any long-term injuries and promote good shoulder health and longevity.
Why is correct technique so important?
Primarily to prevent injury. Bad habits and techniques generally stem from poor adaptation to the water. Some of these habits surface even in the most experienced swimmers. Swimming requires much practise, a lot of hours in the water, and countless repetition of aspects of the stroke in order to perfect the skill.
What are the most common technique problems?
Head position: lifting the head up to breathe allows the lower body to drop, therefore reducing efficiency in the water.
Finishing the stroke early: When the hand exits the water before extension, it reduces the length of pull, reducing the distance travelled per stroke. This means it now takes more strokes to swim the same distance.
The kick: allowing the kick to be initiated via the knee, inactivates the larger muscles needed for a strong kick.
The kick should be derived essentially by glutei activation as well as the quadriceps and hamstring muscle groups.
Swimming flat: In freestyle, hip rotation in relation to shoulder rotation ensures a long stroke, maximising water surface and creating an effective, powerful movement.
What is the best advice you have been given?
Dream big, be realistic, listen to your body and know when to slow down.