Medical Concerns of Mega-Yardage Training:
Strategies to Prevent and Rehabilitate Shoulder Injury
Rod Havriluk, Ph.D. Swimming Technology Research
Ted Becker, Ph.D., R.P.T., Everett Pacific Industrial Rehabilitation
Jim Miller, M.D., FAAFP/Sports Medicine, Family Practice Specialists of Richmond, P.C.
Scott Rodeo, M.D., Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service
A recent article in Swimming World (Stott, 2012a) examined “the premise that mega-yardage is a requisite for distance swimming excellence.” In a second article, Stott (2012b) explained the performance benefits of an emphasis on quality with less volume. While the second article may encourage some coaches to avoid excessive training distance, others may be persuaded from the first article that a “history of heavy volume” is typical and quite probably necessary.
For coaches tempted to maintain or even increase training distance, it is critical they are aware of the medical concerns associated with mega-yardage. Improved performance may accompany increased/excessive training distance, but so will shoulder injuries. For example, one study (Richardson, Jobe, & Collins, 1980) reported that elite swimmers (with a higher training volume) experienced shoulder pain at almost twice the frequency of non-elite swimmers. Shoulder injuries are already approaching epidemic proportions (e.g. Haupenthal, et al., 2006; Rodeo, 2011), so extreme care must be taken to reduce the associated risk factors.
There are three generally recognized risk factors for shoulder injuries – muscular imbalances, harmful technique, and overuse (from excessive training distance). As virtually every swimmer has more developed musculature on the front of the body than the back, anterior-posterior imbalances are almost universal. Research shows that shoulder-stressing technique is equally common, as found in 100% of a sample of university butterfliers (Becker & Havriluk, 2010) and 94% of freestylers (Havriluk & Becker, 2012). While any one risk factor can result in injury, and two factors are usually present, overuse (i.e. mega-yardage) adds the third factor for the “perfect storm” effect. Because swimmers are, therefore, both anatomically and biomechanically predisposed to shoulder injury, it is essential that any mega-yardage program include preventive measures and be ready to refer to conservative medical treatments and, in rare cases, surgery.