How Would You Like Your Swimmer’s Chicken-Wings?

8 May 2020

If you are a swimmer who is serious about competitive freestyle swimming, you know that form matters. And if you are training competitively, you are more than likely (~66%) to be nursing some sort of shoulder injury. Recently, you heard from some that the “chicken-wing” causes and aggravates shoulder injuries. While others say it doesn’t. So should you chicken wing-it or not? Well, it is safe to get back into the water. What matters is not whether or not to chicken-wing, but HOW you chicken-wing it.


It’s All In The Swimmer’s Shoulder

The key to chicken-wing (see image: Free-Style: Chicken-Wing) and avoid placing excessive stress on the shoulder joint is the body roll. When the swimmer does not roll sufficiently, the chicken-wing form compresses the arm and the shoulder blade together. (see need image to chicken-wing without body roll)

When swimmers train to increase the body-roll, two things limit their ability to do so:

  1. Trunk-flexibility
  2. Core Strength

Trunk Flexibility

When it comes to flexibility and stretching, in general especially newer swimmers, the emphasise on stretching the shoulders. This helps the swimmers reach back or forward more easily. Often, these swimmers pay less attention (if at all) to the flexibility of their trunk and spine from the neck down.

Here are two basic stretches swimmers can do include:

  •  Thoracic Spine Extension
    1. Lie on a foam roller underneath your shoulders and both knees bent.
    2. Keeping the belly button sucked in towards your spine, lift hips off the ground so your spine is parallel to the floor.
    3. Gently roll back and forth so the roller covers the length of your shoulder blade.
    4. Do 1 Set x 1-2 Minutes. 
  • Lumbar Rotation Stretch
    1. Seating up straight with one leg outstretched and the other leg bent so your ankle is behind the opposite knee.
    2. Rotate through your lumbar spine toward the bent knee side and rest the elbow on the opposite knee.
    3. Do 3 sets x 30 second holds.

Core Strength


Strength training outside is the pool is a must for serious athletes and must include strength training for their internal obliques and transversus abdominus. These two muscle groups hold the spine steady. If the body roll is done in a vigorous and uncontrolled manner, it trashes around and causes drag. These two muscles work to hold the body steady as it rolls.

Below are two exercises, you can do to improve your core strength.

  • Forward Ball Roll
    1. Kneeling on the ground with elbows supported on a Fit-Ball with neck and back in neutral.
    2. Slowly roll the ball out so the shoulders and hips both move as one unit. Keeping your neck and back in neutral.
    3. Move out as far as you can without losing neutral position.
    4. 3 Sets x Fatigue.
  • Side Planks
    1. Lie on your side with upper body supported on your elbow. Make sure your entire body is perfectly straight as if you were standing
    2. Suck your belly button towards your spine and lift your hips off the ground. Keep your neck and back in neutral.
    3. 3 Sets x Fatigue.