Shoulder pain when swimming and coaches advice

I sam for the first time in my Orca wetsuit and it felt amazing. The suit is so light and flexible and it keeps me really boyant. I swam in the suit for 300 metres and I felt pain develop in my left shoulder as I was finishing the recovery phase of the stroke. I took the suit off and I could change the pain by turning my body more towards the pain shoulder (left) at the time I felt the pain. It knocked my confidence in the suit so I spoke to my swim coach Emile and these were his words of wisdom.

Swim Coach (Emile) writes…

Re the left shoulder issue, assuming there are no pre-existing skeletal issues then it’s likely to be one of the following:

1. Levering off the left hand particularly when breathing to the right.

You may be putting unnecessary pressure in a downwards direction to support breathing to your right. Ideally when breathing on either side the leading arm will remain high and stretch forward. Occasionally through lack of rotation to the right, lack of confidence breathing to the right or simply an urgency to begin the propulsive phase of the leading arm (as when sprinting) the leading arm presses down and when coupled with the added weight of the head turning to breathe you can apply unnecessary pressure to the shoulder area. Because of the repeated nature of swimming the slightest pressure although not an issue for a short distance swimmer will start to cause problems for the endurance swimmer. As is the case with many aborted channel crossings.

Remedy – ensure you fully rotate, keep the head position low in the water when breathing and project the leading arm comfortably forwards rather than downwards

2. High elbow recovery on the left side without adequate rotation.

You may well be recovering the elbow too high for the rotation on that side. If the rotation is limited and the elbow recovers high the result is an impingement in the rotator cuff area. Again a common injury for channel crossers which is why to avoid the issue they tend to under rotate and recover with very low wide arms.

Remedy – you could take the channel crosser approach but I would suggest for anyone with good core strength able to support full rotation you simply rotate more on the left side and experiment with a slightly lower elbow recovery.

Week 17 Great swim advice, cramping and multivitamins, coaching on the bike, packing bike into bike case


Swim coaching

I went for swim training with Emile as I was concerned about my elbow pain, tightness in my fingers, and a shifting of my body to the right when swimming in the lanes. It was a great session to check on the technical side of the my stroke and give me further advice on what to concentrate on as I swim.

He explained that sometimes swimming does cause medial elbow pain. This is because swimming is a repetitive sport and no matter how much we play with the technique the pain can still be present. Sometimes it is an adaption to swimming and with time the pain can get less.

He looked at my swimming overall and we re videoed it from the front and side. My timing of stroke looked like I was pushing through the water and then relaxing, pushing through the water and then relaxing, and this was a constant occurence. This was inefficient because I was losing momentum from the push phase. He wanted me to speed up the recovery phase of my arm so that I would start the catch phase sooner.

He also mentioned my elbow pain may come from a strong pull of my arm in the catch phase. This stressed the medial elbow. He advised me to move my arm slower in the catch phase and once my elbow was high in the water and my arm perpendicular to the bottom of the pool I was to push hard. I am not the most coordinated when it comes to changing several elements in the swimming stroke all at once. Making my arm move faster in the recovery and then altering the catch and push part of the stroke was not easy.

To help my finger cramping Emile said it was ok to have a slight gap between the fingers. If I hold them too tight they will cramp. This made a big difference and now I swim more relaxed in the hands.

To keep me straight in the water Emile got me to look ahead and make sure I leave a gap to see though to the end of the pool as my hands entered the water.  If my hands crossed I would start to swim to one side of the lane. He also got me to side bend my hand to the outer sides of the lane each time my hand entered the water. This helped create the gap between them and I could see to the end of the pool.  The line on the bottom of the pool was also useful as I could stroke my hands on either side of the lane.

On the video we also noticed my head was down. Since swimming in the pool I had started to look down at the bottom of the pool. I did this because it made me feel stronger in the swimming for some reason. I now look slightly forward to get my forehead just above the water line. Emile was happy with the rotation of my body and position of my body as I swim.

To summarise: The three key points with the swim are…

1. Faster recovery and slow catch with strong push through in the water

2. Keep hands separated as they entered the water so I swam straight

3. Keep head up

Medical advice for cramping

I had a 2 hour medical examination during the week. I went to a medical centre with a holistic approach to treating medical conditions. The doctor was from New Zealand and lived what he prescribed. I told him my toes were cramping in the pool and my hamstrings and calf muscles were getting tight with running. I told him I had been drinking 4 litres of water a day. I also explained that despite all the training when I walked up steep stairs I would get breathless.

He immediately identified the following…drinking 4 litres of water a day would leech me of minerals and I needed a multi mineral, especially magnesium, in my diet. My skin was dry and I was not getting enough Omega 3,6,9.  My body was getting acidic with the training and work. It did not have enough alkalinity to buffer the acidic build up. When I walk up stairs this imbalance produced more Carbon Dioxide and I would breathe faster and get breathless.

Since this assessment I have added a multivitamin, Udos oil (I had started with Udo’s oil but stopped as it was a hassle to continue to order it), and I will be adding Greens (alkalinity drink) and PH drops to my water. The latter will change the PH of water to 9 (very alkaline). I have noticed my toes do not cramp in the water with the last swim I did. I need to assess the effect on my running over the next two weeks. I will not be able to start the Greens until I get back to London.

Bike coaching

I went out for a bike ride with my coach Fran. We rode to Windsor and back and he wanted to assess my riding technique and my strength on the bike. He taught me how to signal to each other when  riding together e.g how to indicate holes in the road, passing another cyclist or parked car and when he wanted me to take the lead.  I followed him for the first 10 km to see how he was riding. We went up the steepest hill in Richmond Park and he destroyed me. He was so much faster up the hill and immediately had my respect. At anytime he could speed up and leave me behind.

We rode out and he made me sit in aero position and do some speed work. We did some time trialling and he watched the gears I used as I rode. He thought I was a stong cyclist and he was pleased with the technique on my bike. He noticed I was chosing to ride in good gears.

The areas I needed to reassess were…

1. Riding too fast as I would blow my legs out for the run

2. Keep riding in gears that felt like was working but also felt a nice and easy cadence

3. keep up leg weight training for strength and power on the bike

I normally get back pain on the bike but this time I concentrated on recruiting my back muscles correctly as I was riding and I had the most comfortable 3 hour ride I have ever had. Being a physio really helps but this can be trained if you learn to be aware of your body and how to recruit the right muscles. A physio  who understands cycling can help in this area if you are having problems.

I managed to get through a busy week at work and packing to head to NZ and get the training completed. I am looking forward to training in NZ.

Packing my bike in a bike case

Packing my bike in the DHB bike case was a major learning curve. Wiggle had photos on how to put it in the case and this was a major help.  I still had trouble getting the handle bars to fit properly and I did not realise until the day I was leaving I had to take the pedals off the cranks. I tried taking the pedals off with a screw driver but this did not work. At the last-minute I called Evans bike shop, Fulham, in a panic. A search on the internet explained a pedal wrench would help lever the pedals off the cranks. To my relief Evans sold them and I bought a wrench with the longest arm to lever the pedals off. It is very important to know which direction to turn the wrench to get the pedals off. It is counter-clockwise for the right leg (when sitting on the bike) and clockwise for the left leg.

I managed to get the handles bars into the case at a right angle to picture shown by wiggle. I will take a video and put it on my youtube sight in the next two weeks to help all you travelling Ironman athletes.

This was a long blog but lots to tell this week. I will training in NZ the next 9 to 14 days. The updates will come when I am at a computer. Running is still a problem area with tightness in right hamstring and left calf. I want to solve this soon as my running is my weakest discipline.

Swimming: fine tuning my swim technique

Had a swim session with Emile yesterday and at the end of the session we noticed I was getting tired swimming because I was kicking too much. At the start of training Emile had told me to kick faster and with smaller depth of kick. I had practiced this so much that slowing myself down was difficult.

Emile wanted to test my fitness and had me swim 500m with a time of 2.10 minutes per 100m. If I finished the 100m faster I had more rest. The first length took me 1.40 min and the fourth 100m took 2.10 min and the final 100m 2.20 min. He noticed the timing of my stroke was too long, i.e I would glide in the too long with each arm. The extra glide is where my legs must kick harder and I have  tiring as a result. We also noticed when I try to make my arms move faster I would make my legs move faster and hence get tired.

My goal is to now get into a pattern of stroke where I can keep the stroke up and this would mean increasing my arm rotation and slowing my leg kicking. I may get another swim session in with Emile before he leaves at the end of this month. I will retest the 500m and see how I am when he gets back in the New Year.

First professional swim coaching session with Emile.

Emile and I assessed the video taken last week. The video showed above and below the water. From the top of the water we could see I needed slightly more shoulder rotation, the head was staying nice and low, and I had smooth and non splash entry of the hand, and good glide of the arms. From under the water my body was bowing in the middle as I breathed and the the legs were sticking out to the side with the knee flexed and this was creating drag. My feet were apart when kicking and I had minimal kicking. I was overcoming the drag with my arms. My fingers were seperating as I was pushing through the water past my hip. This was losing forward momentum and apparently due to weak tricep muscles. I had good pull through motion with my arms although I was not internally rotating my arm and flexing my elbow soon enough and losing some valuable pull through the water with my arms.

We went through three drills today and the keys points from each of them were;

1. Kicking from the hips and use my glute muslces, keep my toes together so that when I kick my big toes brush against one another,  Keep the distance I kick within the width of my body and kick with a shorter motion. Kicking with a shorter motion may look like I am kicking faster but it s energy efficient. The key here is also to let my knees slightly relax so that on the downward phase of the leg my quads contract briefly to pull the leg down in the water and then they relax and the bouyancy of the water allows the leg to straighten again. I only use my muscles in one phase of the kick and it is energy efficient. Generally I am a slow mover so I must practice kicking with a shorter motion within the width of my body.

2. Superman drill: I am to have my arm out in front and my head looking straight and snug against the shoulder. The opposite arm is held against my body and I kick in a side position in the water. This is to practice the main position I am in when I swim. I am using a buoy in my hand as I have more muscle mass than fat and I sink in the water. This allows me to breath between strokes. The kicking is what keeps me a float and again I found kicking with a shorter motion was important. I also had to use my core stability to keep my body above the water. It was difficult to keep my head looking straight. The purpose of the heaad straight is to replicate the head position I want to be in when I swim. It was important for me to relax, focus on the kick and core stability.

3. Swimming on my back and rotating my shoulders side to side  so that my trunk and pelvis rotate on my head. This is to practice getting correct head and body rotation as I swim. Initially my would sink as I turned my shoulders. Apparently I should turn slower to allow the water to adjust to the new body positon I am in and also to keep kicking and eventually I would come up and out of the water.

These are three drills I am to practice and when I am ready I am to see Emile again. I will be getting a copy of the videos and posting them on my youtube site at

I am not sure how long I should wait for the next one. I am thinking it is better to have them sooner than later to allow me to practice good habits. I will find out the closest pool to me and then diarise my swim sessions. I think training with Emile each Saturday is a good plan.

Health phase of training prescribed by nutritionist and swim training schedule.

Been trying to eat 6 x day as my nutritionist recommended. I went and bought a rice cooker and a slow cooker in an attempt to save time and eat quality food. I made sushi on the weekend and made the rice too Gelatinous but still ate it and my friends enjoyed it. Last night used the slow cooker for 8 hours. This morning ate it for breakfast and it taste great. Had Chicken with vegetables in a chicken stock.

Eating six times a day and drinking 3 litres of water a day does require organisation and having the food available in the kitchen at work. I have Two 1,5 litre bottles of water with lemon juice in them sitting in the fridge. I have have snacks like rice cakes and rye crackers with bananas for snacks and now I must get good carbohydrates and protein to eat as main meals. The trick is having variety and also having food which is fast and easy to prepare. I find I get hungry after 8pm and do feel like eating carbs after 3pm. I think I have not got the balance right in food yet to stop the hunger feelings.

I will try eating more carbohydrates in the morning and for lunch and then try protein and salads in the afternoon and dinner. If I do more exercise like yesterday I find I am hungry in which case I am eating as I feel my body needs it.

Sleep is an issue for me as I am in a habit of going to bed late. This is especially true when I am out with friends. If I have a late night out it upsets my sleep cycle for the beginning of the week and with work it takes time to recover. I am have got my Anti oxidant juice Monavie, Udos oil and multivitamins to take each morning and now I must organise my sleep.

I do have opportunities to go to sleep early but I mentally want to do more things and go to bed later. I am going to buy a new Tempur Mattress because my current mattress is hard to lie on and I find I wake up with a sore shoulder. I hope this will help me sleep deeper and longer. I have cleared my diary of social activities from now to xmas so I can put events in that I feel fit with my sleep cycle.

I can cope better at work and with life if I get adequate sleep. I am fed up waking exhausted in the morning and not enjoying the day. This Ironman has made me make positive changes in my life that I would not have done otherwise.

My training schedule has evolved. I have have swim sessions to fit in after the assessment from Emile. The schedule will look like this

1 Hour Technique Sessions:

1 – Identifying drag, focus on kicking, rotation, breathing & streamlining (200m)
2 – Review 1 and focus on arm recovery (400m, 1min rest between 200s)
3 – Review 2 and focus on timing of stroke (600m, 1min rest between 200s)
4 – Review 3 and focus on catch (800m, 1m rest between 200s)
5 – Review 4 and focus on underwater pathways (wetsuit optional) (1,000m, 1m /200m)
6 – Review 5 and prepare for race condition swimming; sighting, drafting, positioning, starts and finishes, vascular shunting (wetsuit optional)

Fran has me increasing my weights. I have developed a clicking on my right knee cap with deep squats. It can happen sometimes and not others and I think it is my biomechanics as I squat. When I feel the movement is awkward the clicking occurs. The strength training has made  big difference to my bike strength and I am enjoying the hard workouts. I can push more but I am making sure I keep good technique with all the exercises.

Fran and I have decided on doing a UK half Ironman and also doing a training camp in Provence, France. I will book these and we are putting the calendar together nicely. I have been invited to train with Debbie Shaw, winner of  age group  Forestman this year once I get some mileage in the legs. I want to connect with more triathletes and build a great network of friends.