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Dante Dettamanti BS, MS
Coached Stanford University to Eight NCAA Championships

Volume 1 Number 3 April 1, 2010
Water Polo Doesn't Come with an Instruction Book - That's Why We Have Coaches.

This is the last of three articles on the shoulder, injuries to the shoulder joint, and exercises to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder. The focus of this article is on the overhead throwing motion in water polo.


Throwing a ball is one of the single most stressful activities in all of sports in terms of the stress placed on the shoulder joint; mainly because of the extended and vulnerable position of the arm as it is held over the head. Coaches spend countless hours with players working to improve technique, yet very little emphasis is placed on strength training as a means to combat the high-velocity mechanical stress associated with overhead throwing. By introducing a strength-training component into a weekly regimen, players and coaches can expect reduction in the mechanical stress associated with overhead throwing, while preventing injuries and the onset of muscle imbalances.

It is important that we review the anatomical structure of the shoulder (see first shoulder article), the muscle groups that are heavily responsible for accelerating and decelerating the throwing arm, and the mechanics of throwing a water polo ball. By becoming familiar with these structures, the overhead throw can be better evaluated and incorporated into a strengthening exercise. A similar type of motion is involved in a number of overhead sports activities (e.g. serving in tennis, spiking in volleyball, throwing a baseball or javelin).


Similar terms are used to describe movements of different parts (limbs) of the body in relation to each other. Following are examples of the terminology used throughout the article to describe the movements of the arms and shoulder when throwing a water polo ball.

Flexion- Bending movement that decreases the angle between two parts. Flexion of the  shoulder moves the arm forward and away from the body. Flexion of the elbow is similar to performing a biceps curl exercise that brings the forearm and the arm together.           

Extension- The opposite of flexion; a straightening movement that increases the angle between body parts. Extension of the shoulder moves the arm backward towards the side of the body (while swimming, pulling the arm straight down from the surface to the leg). Extension of the elbow is when a player extends his arm forward to release the ball at the end of the throwing motion, moving the forearm away from the upper arm.

Abduction- A motion that pulls a structure or part away from the midline of the body Raising the arms laterally to the sides is an example of abduction.
Adduction- A motion that pulls a structure or part towards the midline of the body, or towards the midline of a limb. Dropping the arms to the sides is an example of adduction.

Horizontal adduction-extend the arm out to the side, keeping it horizontal, bring the arm around to the front of the body.

Rotation- Circular rotation around an axis. Rotating the trunk from right to left, or left to right, is rotation of the trunk. The spinal cord is the axis.

Internal rotation (or medial rotation) of the shoulder is when the flexed forearm (held at the side of the body) turns inwards (towards the midline of the body). The upper arm is the axis. Internal rotation when the arm is held at a 90-degree angle from the side of the body (shooting position as arm is coming forward) is bringing the forearm forward by rotating the upper arm along its axis.
External rotation (or lateral rotation) is the opposite. It would turn the flexed forearm outwards (away from the midline). External rotation of the arm when it is held at 90 degrees away from the side of the body is the opposite of internal rotation. The forearm is brought up from a horizontal position to a vertical position by rotating around its axis.  

Posterior- behind, in back of

Anterior- front, in front of


Pectoralis major (Pecs)- major muscle of the chest
Latissinus dorci (Lats)- major muscle of the back
Trapezius and Rhomboids- muscles of upper back
Deltoid- muscle covering the outside of the shoulder (anterior, middle and posterior)
Rotator Cuff- muscles and tendons immediately surrounding shoulder joint
Triceps- back of the arm
Biceps- front of the arm
Obliques- muscles of the side of the stomach that help rotate the trunk



The early stage of bringing the arm back involves shoulder external rotation and adduction, with muscle action supplied primarily by the deltoid muscle. Outward rotation of the trunk/torso is rotated in the same direction as the throwing arm (right rotation - right-handed throw) until the non-throwing shoulder is perpendicular to the front of the goal.

  Picture 1: Cocking Phase

This action continues until maximal external rotation and adduction of the shoulder is achieved, and the arm is fully extended high above and behind the head. The rotator cuff muscles are also active during this phase, especially the subscapularis, which contracts and acts as a dynamic stabilizer. (See picture 1 above)

THROWING THE BALL (Acceleration phase)

The kicking motion of the legs initiates the uncoiling of the torso, which is transferred and accelerated up through the vertebral column and shoulders. A strong extension of the front (left) leg, provides the platform and impetus that helps start the acceleration of the trunk, and along with the contraction of the abdominal and oblique stomach muscles, makes a significant contribution to the resultant ball velocity.  

  (Picture 2: Initiation of
acceleration phase)

During this phase the contraction of the pecs and lats and the front of the deltoid starts the arm moving forward in conjunction with the rotation of the trunk. This forward movement and acceleration begins with internal rotation of the upper arm and ends with pronation of the forearm, and contraction of the wrist flexor muscles. During this phase the muscles of the rotator cuff are inactive. The elbow leads the hand and ball until about half-way through the throwing motion, when the triceps contracts and extends the elbow.

  Picture 3: Mid-point of
acceleration phase


The contraction of the triceps muscle moves the hand and ball past the shoulder and elbow, and extends the arm in front of the body, adding to the forward velocity of the ball.

   Picture 4: Decleration and
extension of arm.

FOLLOW THROUGH (Deceleration phase)

Deceleration is the slowing down of the arm prior to release of the ball, and the follow through after the ball is released. Contraction of the posterior deltoid, rhomboids, and trapezius, along with the muscles of the rotator cuff, start decelerating the arm just prior to release; which increases the time period for an accurate release, while maintaining the shoulder and elbow joint integrity.(See picture 4 above)


Following ball release, the elbow continues to extend, the shoulder flexes, the forearm continues to pronate, and the wrist continues to flex to ensure that peak ball velocity is achieved at release. The body segments should slow down gradually over the greatest time and distance possible to prevent overuse injuries to the throwing arm. These injuries could include rotator cuff strains, impingement syndromes and elbow muscle strains.(See picture 5)

During this phase, the rotator cuff muscles and the posterior deltoid are most active, especially in providing shoulder integrity and slowing down the arm. 

Picture 5: Follow through-wrist flex  



Of the nine muscles that cross the shoulder joint the four deep muscles of the shoulder---subscapularis, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, and teres minor---strengthen and stabilize the shoulder joint. The muscles join the scapula to the humerus. The tendons are arranged as to form a nearly complete circle around the joint. This arrangement is referred to as the rotator cuff and is a common site of injury in water polo. (See previous article on shoulder rotator cuff muscles).

Throwing motions involve the rotator cuff in two ways. First, throwing a ball is basically an attempt to throw your arm away from your body. The rotator cuff muscles, along with several others, prevent you from succeeding. As a player throws the ball, the front of the shoulder accelerates the arm forward while the back of the shoulder is relaxed. The muscles of the back of the arm and the rotator cuff muscles must then contract to decelerate the arm after the ball is released.

Second, although throwing involves several actions at the shoulder, it really amounts to a case of high-powered internal rotation. It is the external rotators—the infraspinatus and teres minor—which are responsible for deceleration of the arm. An  imbalance in strength between the major muscles involved in throwing the ball, and the smaller muscles involved in stabilizing and decelerating the arm, is one of the causes of injury to the smaller muscles involved. Consequently, strengthening the rotator cuff muscles must be part of any dry-land resistance program.


The muscles used in the overhand shooting motion are similar to the muscles used in throwing a baseball. There are differences in the two actions that change the relative contribution of different muscles to the throwing motion. (See Chart A on next page)

Since baseball players can push off a solid piece of ground rather than water, they can generate more power for shoulder and trunk rotation from pushing off the ground. Because a player is pushing off the soft water, only about a third of the speed in throwing a water polo ball is generated from the rotation of the shoulder. Whereas, throwing a baseball gets about two-thirds of the speed from shoulder rotation. This underscores the importance of a strong egg-beater kick to generate more power to throw the water polo ball with more velocity. 

A water polo player has to rely on other muscles to generate ball speed. Another one-third of speed comes from the muscles of the shoulder that cause internal rotation and horizontal adduction of the arm. Internal rotation of the arm makes the biggest contribution to the standard overhand throw in both baseball and water polo. Internal rotation can be described by holding the arm out to the side, parallel to the ground, with the elbow bent at a 90 degree angle. Rotate the forearm forward and hand down by rotating the upper arm along the axis.

Elbow extension where the arm is extended in front of the body also contributes to ball speed in water polo, about 20-22 % of the total. The primary muscle used in this movement is the triceps muscle located in the back of the upper arm. Wrist flexion also contributes to ball speed in both sports, about 8-10 % in water polo and more in baseball, perhaps over 20 %. This is because throwing the smaller baseball gets more speed from a wrist snap than the larger water polo ball does. 
In summary, the faster velocity of throwing a baseball can be attributed to both the size of the ball and to more power that is generated by the thrower pushing off the solid ground. The baseball player relies more on shoulder rotation and wrist snap to throw the ball, while water polo players rely more on the combined effects of all four muscle actions; with more speed coming from internal rotation/horizontal adduction and elbow extension than in baseball. (See Chart A below)


SIZE OF BALL   Small   Large
VELOCITY OF BALL (MPH)   80-100   30-50
TRUNK ROTATION      60%   35%
ELBOW EXTENSION   10%   20-25%
WRIST FLEXION    20%   10%
  10%   30%

Chart A: Comparison of throwing a ball in baseball and water polo.


As shown in the chart above, wrist flexion is an active contributor to developing ball speed and ball control in water polo players. A study done in 1988 before different ball sizes were developed, found that males, but not females, used wrist flexion and extension during the throwing motion. Males would begin with a flexed wrist at the top of backswing, extend it as it passed by the head, and then flex it again as the ball came off the palm and fingers.

The difference between males and females was primarily due to the smaller hands of female players, making it more difficult to control the ball. The advent of the smaller ball for female players eliminates the “small hand” obstacle. Although recent studies have not been conducted, it is probable that some female players can throw the smaller ball at speeds (50MPH) approaching the top speed of male players using the larger ball. Wrist flexion probably contributes more to throwing the small ball for females, similar to the effect of throwing a smaller baseball. 


When shooting from a vertical position in the water, the shooter should use a rapid egg-beater kick, with his non- shooting hand in a sculling motion in the water to get up into a high vertical position. At the same time, he should have his body in a perpendicular position in relation to the goal, with his non-shooting shoulder pointing towards the goal and his shooting arm holding the ball high above his head. The shooter should bend his trunk at the waist so that the non-shooting shoulder is positioned lower than the shooting shoulder.

  Picture 6: Starting position.




Trunk lean is also an important aspect of the shooting position. As the arm actions are occurring, the trunk leans to the left, away from the throwing arm. This position will increase the lever arm for rotation of the arm around the axis through the spine, and increase the velocity of the trunk around that axis. Most skilled throwers will lean at least 30 degrees away from the throwing arm at release; some lean even more than 30 degrees. (See picture 7)

As well as maximizing the lever arm for trunk rotation, leaning will also increase the height of release of the ball. A higher height of release will allow a flatter angle of release and greater horizontal velocity of the ball towards the goal. In studies conducted in 1989, skilled throwers were found to have greater angles of lateral trunk lean than unskilled players, and females were found to have more vertical trunk positions than males

Note that the left shoulder has dipped down to create a longer axis for faster rotation of the shooting (right) shoulder into a forward position.

Picture 7: Extreme
trunk lean.


The larger muscles of the trunk act first, producing trunk rotation in the direction of the throw as well as trunk flexion forward during the throw. This trunk motion can also assist in producing ball velocity during the throw. The most important muscles in the trunk are the anterior oblique stomach muscles that pull the right side of the trunk around to face the target, as well as those stomach muscles that are active in flexing the trunk forward. Trunk strength is a critical aspect of the water polo shot, as the contribution of the trunk to the speed of the shot is up to 30-35% of ball speed. As the player rotates the trunk (shoulder girdle) forward to face the goal, the ball and the throwing arm are left behind.

The speed of lateral trunk movement was found to be related to the velocity of the ball at release. A study of faster and slower throwing groups of elite water polo players revealed that the faster throwers had a significantly greater lateral trunk speed at release. The faster throwers had a trunk lateral velocity of .77 m/s at release, while the slower throwers had a lateral trunk velocity of .406 m/s. Factors that may contribute to faster trunk rotation (faster shot) include 1) forceful extension of leading (front) leg, 2) leaning trunk to increase vertical axis of rotation, 3) stronger contraction and strength of oblique stomach muscles, and 4) pulling down of leading (non shooting) arm to the body.


The action of the non-throwing arm can help produce more forceful trunk rotation and forward movement of the body. This translates into more trunk velocity, and the resultant increase in arm velocity. Initially, as the throwing shoulder is rotated backwards, the position of the non-throwing arm is in front of the body, in a bent arm position above the water surface. This action helps to balance the body as the upper torso rotates backwards.
Picture 8  

If the player immediately takes the shot, the front arm enters the water and pulls down forcefully (tucks in to the body). This action helps to start the forward rotation of the shoulder, adding to the speed of shoulder and arm, and consequently to the velocity of the ball.
Picture 9  


If the shooter does not shoot immediately, the forward arm and hand performs a sculling motion in front of the shoulder, which may assist (along with the legs) with maintaining body support in a vertical position in preparation for the shot. (See picture 10).

The arm is then pulled downwards to help initiate the forward movement of the body as the shoulder rotates forward. Besides the initial impetus to trunk rotation, the pulling action of the arm downward also helps to lower the leading shoulder, and add to the trunk lean that is important the increasing the vertical axis of rotation. (See “trunk lean” above)

Picture 10: Sculling motion
with left hand


The legs also have an important role in force production in the overhand throw, as they are forcefully extended during the throw. As the shoulder rotates backwards to prepare for the throw, the eggbeater kick increases in speed and helps to raise the body out of the water in preperation for the throw. Hips, knees and trunk are flexed maximally just before the shot, then are forcefully extended to raise the upper body out of the water for the shot- called the boost.

This forceful extension and abduction of the hips and knees, especially the left hip and knee, also provides the necessary reaction force (along with pulling the lead arm down) required to initiate the rotation of the trunk and throwing arm. Skilled throwers exhibit very forceful extension movements of the legs, primarily the front leg; which is flexed at the hip, and extended at the knee to take up trunk rotation while the trunk is rotating forward.


The body acts like a whip with larger body parts (legs and trunk) developing momentum, which is transferred to the arm, then hand and finally to the ball - this process is called the “kinetic chain”. It is a sequential movement pattern that is initiated with contraction of muscles that act to accelerate the more massive body segments (e.g. the hips). The torques produced around the hip result in acceleration of the hip segment. The kinetic chain is influenced by the amount of momentum each segment (eg.trunk) can produce as well as the number of segments that contribute.

For an effective shot, all of the parts of the chain have to act together in sequential order. The sequence should be 1) elevation and pick up – backswing, 2) forward hip rotation (throw arm hip moves forward relative to the non-throw arm hip), 3) forward shoulder rotation (throw arm shoulder moves forward relative to the non-throw arm shoulder) with trunk flexion, 4) arm extension and 5) wrist flexion. The sequence should be smooth, as breaks or jerky movements indicate inefficient technique.

Although the third segment in the chain (i.e. the shoulder and trunk) initially lags behind the hips, the momentum generated by the movement of the hips also tends to accelerate the trunk. The sequence of ‘whipping’ actions continues throughout the upper extremities, finishing with the ball being released from the finger tips. Therefore, the greater the number of segments used in a sequential pattern (assuming their activations are timed correctly), the greater the velocity of the ball at release.


One of the biggest differences in throwing a ball in water polo, and other overhead throwing sports such as baseball, is that water polo players have to throw the ball around the arm of a defender who is stationed in front of them. When no defender is present (as in taking a penalty throw), the shooter can take the standard overhead throw from a vertical position. As described above, internal rotation of the arm contributes the most to the standard overhead throwing motion. (See diagram (a) on next page)

When shooting around the arm, the player has two choices; side-sweep motion around to the right-side, or a leaning throw around the left-side. The side-arm sweeping motion to the right involves bending the arm 90 degrees, and dropping the elbow down until the arm is parallel to the ground; and then sweeping the arm forward in order to release and shoot the ball. Horizontal adduction contributes more to a side-arm sweep throw than the internal rotation involved in the vertical overhead throw. Horizontal adduction can be described as extending the arm out to the side, keeping the arm straight, and bringing the straight arm to the front of the body. (See diagram (b) below)

Trunk rotation and elbow extension also contribute to both techniques and produces similar ball speeds. However, the side-sweep technique requires greater muscular effort and produces greater peak stresses on the elbow (sideways bending, affecting the inside edge of the elbow; which may increase the chance of injury).

Shooting around the defender to the shooter’s left, requires leaning to the left by bending at the waist, and then taking the vertical overhead shot. (See diagram (c) below).

     013     014

a) Vertical overhead b) Side-arm c) Leaning overhead
(View from behind a right-handed shooter who is facing goal)


Coaches are often heard telling their players to get “higher” in the water when taking a shot. Does that mean that the higher you are in the water, the more successful your shot will be? Not necessarily! In several studies that were conducted on water polo players, height in the water was unimportant in generating ball speed. As long as the arm and shoulders were clear of the water, height of the body did not make a difference.

This may seem to contradict the idea that good players have to have strong legs to shoot a water polo ball. Not at all! Strong legs provide the base of support that is necessary to generate the force to rotate the shoulders, and the ball, at greater velocity. The fact that stronger legs can also elevate the player higher in the water is irrelevant to the success of the shot

Height of the arm prior to shooting the ball may be another matter, however. Increasing the height that the ball is held can result in throwing a straighter ball, making the shot much more accurate. In addition, increasing the height of the ball by lowering the opposite shoulder, increases the axis of rotation of the shoulder; thus helping increase the speed of trunk rotation (speed of shot). Holding the ball in a higher position may also give the shooter the ability to shoot over the top of a defenders arm.


When shooting or throwing a water polo ball, muscles primarily function as movers of the arm, or stabilizers of the arm. Strength of the primary movers of the arm is just one of the parts of the equation that helps the arm move forward at a faster speed. Using proper form (see kinetic chain above) and having strong legs are also important factors in shooting the ball, perhaps even more important than muscle strength. There are many water polo players who can shoot the ball hard, just as there are many baseball pitchers who can throw the ball 100 MPH. Not all of them are large athletes with big muscles.

One of the hardest shooting players that I ever coached was only 5’8” tall and weighed 155 lbs. This is not big by today’s standards. Over the years, many of the hardest shooters that I have coached all had one thing in common, an excellent eggbeater kick; no matter what their size was. One of the fastest throwing pitchers in the history of baseball was the great Sandy Koufax of the LA Dodgers. He was slightly built, but could throw the ball 98 MPH. The same is true for the 2008 and 2009 Cy Young award winning pitcher, Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants.


One of the biggest unanswered questions about water polo is “can strength training improve the speed of your shot”? A review of the literature has found numerous research studies that have tried to determine a link between dry-land strength training and performance of a skill that involves movement (jumping, swimming, running, throwing, etc). In most of the cases studied, all athletes performed their normal training for a season; but only some of them performed dry-land strength training in addition to their normal training for their sport.

In most of the cases studied, the athletes who performed additional weight training exercises got stronger when performing those exercises; but there was little or no increase in the performance of the actual movement skills of the sport. In a classic study on water polo players (Bloomfield, B.A. et al, Australian Journal of Science and Sport) studied the influence of strength training on overhead throwing velocity of elite water polo players. Following strength training, no change in throwing velocity was observed in either the normal training group, or the strength-training group. In the strength training group there were significant increases in arm girth (muscle size) and arm medial rotation strength.

The implications of the study shows strength training on unrelated activities does not improve speed actions. Strength training had no carry over to the skill tested; because it was not specific enough to improve the neuromuscular reaction to the stress imposed on the muscles. It is possible that this group of elite water polo players already possessed optimum levels of upper body strength, and that strength gains might have been more beneficial to players of lower caliber and with poorer overall physiques.

In analyzing the data from many other studies, we can come to the following conclusions about weight training and performance: 

Implications: There is little likelihood of carry-over value of strength-training effects derived from simple activities to "actual applied-strength" in complex activities.


It is difficult to complete a successful shot on goal, without also having the proper form and a strong eggbeater kick. The structure of the shoulder and elbow joints probably contribute to shooting ability; although definite tests have not been conducted to determine if this is true or not. Shoulder and elbow structure most certainly plays a part in the success of small framed Major League Baseball players who can throw 100MPH. Add the structure of the legs and proper form, and the same is probably true for water polo players.  

Taller players that are common in today’s game of water polo, have an advantage over shorter players because of their long arm. In shooting the ball, the long armed player can hold the ball higher and shoot over the defender, and in a more direct and straight line to the goal. Add great legs and other shooting skills that have been acquired from years of playing water polo, and you can see why the Slavic countries (Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro) of genetically-tall people are dominating the sport of water polo. While these players are naturally strong because of their size, IT IS THERE LENGTH THAT GIVES THEM AN ADVANTAGE IN WATER POLO, NOT THEIR STRENGTH.


The major mover muscles of the shoulder contract to bring the arm forward at high speed and contribute to the power of the throw. Since muscle strength is not a major contributor to overall shot speed, exercises for the mover muscles only need to be moderate in intensity, with 1-2 sets of 8-12 repetitions for each exercise.

Listed below are the primary muscles involved in the different phases of shooting the ball, and exercises to strengthen those muscles:

pectoralis major (bench press, fly machine)- cocking phase
serratus anterior (rope climbing, dips on parallel bars)- acceleration phase 
latissiumus dorsi (lat  pull-downs)- acceleration phase
trapezius and rhomboids (seated row)- deceleration phase
deltoids (arm raises, upright rowing, military press)- cocking and deceleration phases
biceps and brachialis (arm curls )-deceleration phase
triceps (pushups narrow hand position, dips, pull downs)- acceleration phase
stomach obliques- (on back, feet off ground, side to side with weighted ball (acceleration)


The importance of strengthening the stabilizer muscles has already been established. It is  primarily to correct the imbalance between the stronger prime movers and the stabilizers; and also to help avoid injuries to those muscles. These muscles are the ones responsible for deceleration of the throwing arm, and the stabilization of the shoulder joint when the arm is in an overhead position. They include the rotator cuff muscles and the muscles that help stabilize the scapula (scapular stabilizers). The stabilizer muscles are described in detail in a previous article on “Strengthening the shoulder to prevent injuries”.

Most of muscles that must be strengthened to prevent injuries are also the muscles that stabilize and decelerate the arm during the throwing motion. The reason for this is the front shoulder (accelerator muscles) is repeatedly trained from resistance training exercises (as described above for MOVERS) and from daily repetitive throwing of the ball; more so than the rear shoulder (decelerator muscles). As a result of this imbalance, nearly 72% of all throwing injuries occur during deceleration, especially rotator cuff related. In addition to strengthening the primary mover muscles, a program for strengthening the stabilizer and decelerator muscles must also be implemented in the water polo players strength program.

The following thrower’s exercises are designed to strengthen the major and minor muscle groups involved in throwing. The strength program requires four training days per week. Players’ alternate between 2 workouts (Series A and B) and allow at least 48 hours of recovery after every two series. Each workout has a different emphasis so that each muscle is challenged. Many of these exercises are described in the preceding article on “STRENGTH TRAINING TO PREVENT SHOULDER INJURIES). All exercises utilize stretch resistance cords unless otherwise specified.

Strength Training Exercises (Table 1)

Series A (Mon,Thurs)     Series B (Tues, Fri)
1. Internal/External Rotation   1. Diagonal Pattern (D1) Flexion
2. Internal/ External Rotation 90 Abduction    2. Diagonal Pattern (D2) Flexion
3. Medial Deltoid Exercise    3. Diagonal Pattern (D1) Extension
4. Supraspinatus Exercise   4. Posterior Deltoid Shoulder Flexion
5. Prone Shoulder Extension for Latissimus Dorsi   5. Seated Row for Rhomboid Strength
6. Prone Shoulder Abduction for Rhomboids   6. Serratus Anterior Strengthening


A1-Internal and External Rotation  (Elbow tucked in to side) These exercises are described in the previous article on “Strengthening the Shoulder To Prevent Injuries”. (Sets of 20-25 reps)

A2-Internal and External Rotation (Arm at 90°) These exercises are described in the previous article on “Strengthening the Shoulder To Prevent Injuries”. (Sets of 20-25 reps)

A3-Deltoid Exercise- Arm raises (Dumbbells or resistance cord). Stand with arm at side, elbow straight and palm against the side. Raise arm to shoulder height, lower slowly. Perform this exercise in three positions, Picture 11a) side, 11b) front and 11c) bent over for a) middle, b) anterior and c) posterior deltoid. (sets of 12-15 reps)

Pictures 11a. middle deltoid 11b. anterior
(front) deltoid
11c. posterior (back) deltoid

A4-Supraspinatus Exercise- Coke can exercise
Described in previous article on “Strengthening the Shoulder to Prevent Injuries”.
(Sets of 20-25 reps)

A5- Prone Shoulder Extension for Latissimus Dorsi with dumbbell (12-15 reps per arm).
Lie on table, face down, with involved arm hanging straight to the floor and palm facing down. Raise the arm straight back as far as possible. Hold 2 seconds and slowly return.

A6-Prone Shoulder Abduction for Rhomboids (dumbbells or stretch cord)
Starts by assuming a 90º bent over position with the back flat, chest parallel to the floor and arms hanging fully extended in front of the body. Then lift the dumbbells (stretch cord handle) up parallel to the floor with a forward motion. Hold 2 seconds and slowly return. (similar to bent over side arm raises, but with more forward motion). (20-25 reps)

Picture 12: A6-Prone shoulder abduction


B1- Cross-over/Diagonal Pattern/Flexion (Start arm on same side as band)
Described in previous “Strengthening Shoulder” article . (20-25 reps)

B2-Cross-over/Diagonal Pattern/Flexion (Start arm on opposite hip)
Described in previous “Strengthening Shoulder” article. (20-25 reps)

B3-Diagonal Pattern/Extension

Attach tubing behind and above shoulder. Hand will grip tubing handle overhead and out to the side. Pull tubing down across body to opposite side of the leg. During the motion lead with your thumb. Hold 2 seconds and slowly return. (20-25 reps)

020 021
Picture 13: B3-Diagnoal extension

B4-Posterior Deltoid Shoulder Flexion (dumbbells)
Starts by assuming a 90º bent over position with the back flat, chest parallel to the floor. Bring elbows to shoulder height first, then extend arms straight out until parallel with ground. Keep arms for 2 seconds and slowly return to starting position. (20-25 reps)

B5-Seated Row
Described in previous “Strengthening Shoulder” article (15 reps)
B6- Serratus Anterior Strengthening Exercise
Start in a push up position on the floor with hand position under chest and armpits, with elbows at 30º from torso. Press the torso up while maintaining a flat back. Hold 2 seconds and slowly return. (12-15 reps.


Besides the internal rotation and abduction exercises described above, the throwing muscles could probably benefit from exercises that are more “specific” and more closely duplicate the throwing motion. Following are several “throwing motion” specific exercises for the shoulder:

*  Exercises such as dribbling a basketball or weighted ball (up to 6 lbs) against a wall with the arm abducted (out to the side at a 90 degree angle) will target the mechanism that tells the stabilizer muscles to slow down or stop the forward motion of the arm.

*  Exercise to strengthen the muscles that hold the ball in the socket as the arm swings forward at high speed. Hold the arm out to the side at a 90 degree angle with the hand holding the handle of the stretch cord that is attached at shoulder level and behind the athlete. Rapidly pull the cord back and forth about 3-4 inches, moving the hand and elbow together (Picture 14a). Repeat this exercise by starting the arm at shoulder level (Picture 14b), and then repeat again by starting the arm at a position that is in front of the shoulder (Picture 14c). Repeat 20-25 times at each position.

022 023 024

Picture 14a: Start behind shoulder,
pull forward and then back.

025 027 026
Pictures 14b: Start at shoulder level,
pull forward and then back.

028 030 029
Pictures 14c: Start in front of shoulder, pull
elbow and hand forward and then back.

*  Exercise for arm extension. Hold arm in front of shoulder, parallel to the ground, with elbow flexed and holding handle of resistance band a (tied behind you at shoulder level). Cup elbow with other hand. Extend hand completely in front and then slowly return to starting position. (See picture 15 below)

031 032
Picture 15: Arm extension.  

* Bent arm fly machine- Sitting down, arms 90 degrees out to the side, elbows bent with forearms in a vertical position and resting on pads. Squeeze arms together in front of chest. 15-20 reps


Use enough so that the last few repetitions of the exercise are difficult to do. If you can easily perform the required number of repetitions, then it is time to increase the resistance. Increase the resistance by using heavier dumbbells or by using heavier resistance cords. You can also increase the resistance on cords by shortening the length of the cord (The distance from where it is attached to the handle).

FOR A STRONGER SHOT, STRENGHTEN THE LEGS                                                      

A unique demand for throwing a ball in the water, as opposed to throwing the ball on dry land, is that water polo players are required to build their own base of support. While the baseball player or javelin thrower can generate force by pushing off the solid ground (base of support), the water polo player must generate force by pushing down on the water using the eggbeater and breaststroke kicks.

A player can only do so much to generate force by using his arm and shoulder rotation. In order to utilize muscle strength in the shoulder to throw the ball, he must have a solid base to generate that force; and that comes from pushing down on the water with the feet and the legs. Proper shooting technique, proper leg technique and strong legs all figure in to the ability to shoot the ball hard; but by far the most critical element is the ability to generate force with the legs. Leg conditioning should be part of every water polo players training regimen. Following are specific drills that will help strengthen the legs for shooting the ball:


  1. Factors that contribute to faster trunk rotation (bringing ball forward faster)
    1. forceful extension of the leading leg
    2. increasing vertical axis by dipping front shoulder
    3. pulling down (tucking in) the non-shooting arm close to the body
    4. contraction of oblique stomach muscles
  2. Proper form in shooting has to do with the sequence of the kinetic chain
    1. elevation and pick up – backswing
    2. forward hip rotation (throw-arm hip moves forward relative to the non-throw-arm hip)
    3. forward shoulder rotation (throw-arm shoulder moves forward relative to the non-throw-arm shoulder), with trunk flexion
    4. arm extension
    5. wrist flexion.   
  3. Factors that contribute to strong shot on goal
    1. strong legs (eggbeater)
    2. proper shoot form-sequence of kinetic chain
    3. strength of primary movers and stability muscles
    4. genetics-structure of shoulder and elbow joint
  4. Strength training can help increase the speed of the shoot if:
    1. the strength training is specific (resembles) the throwing motion
    2. the actual skill of throwing the ball is practiced with correct form
    3. the legs are also strengthened by using added resistance in the water
    4. the player is young and inexperienced and has not developed full muscle strength
  5. Weight training for major movers-contraction of the primary movers help bring the arm forward and aid in trunk rotation . Use moderate weight, 1-2 sets of 8-12 repetitions)
  6. Weight training for stabilizer muscles
    1. strengthens the muscles responsible for deceleration of shooting arm and holding shoulder in place when arm is an extended position above the shoulder
    2. helps prevent injuries by correcting strength imbalance between movers and stabilizers
  7. Resistance throwing exercises that closely resemble the throwing motion can help to increase arm speed

[Click Dante's photo to learn more about his water polo experiences and
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