In this monthly series of articles, Mike will discuss the science and practice of physical training for Water Polo. Strength, flexibility, Water Polo science, rehab and other areas of interest with respect to the physical development of the Water Polo athlete will be covered.
Look at the picture below; you don't need to be a brain surgeon to realize that this range of motion (ROM) in the shoulder will not be conducive to a powerful shot or a healthy shoulder.
But what about this next picture, looks a lot better, but what has changed?
The body works as a complete unit all the time, it is never isolated. What the picture above shows is the relationship between the thoracic spine position and the arm position you are able to achieve. If the thoracic spine is stiff or unable to extend (straighten) then shoulder motion will be reduced and health of the shoulder will be greatly compromised.
In this article I will show some examples of exercises that you can start using today to improve your shoulder ROM, improve shoulder health and ultimately aid in your development as a world class shooter.
As you might expect, the exercises I am going to recommend DO NOT focus on the shoulder but the surrounding areas. There is an exception and that is with the more sport specific drills which is a means of integrating your new found motion in your Thoracic spine and neck with the shoulder joint complex.
The Thoracic spine has gotten a lot of attention in the last few years in the rehab and strength training communities. Hence, why there are a ton of videos on mobilizing your thoracic spine and increasing its ROM. The main ingredient in these next few videos are that the lower back is locked into position so that most if not all the motion will be focused on the Thoracic spine. I have organized them from simple or relatively easy to more challenging drills.
All the drills can be performed for 10-20 reps/side or ~30-60 seconds. They are great to do as part of a dryland warm up before your pool or land training sessions.
Side Lying Trunk Rotation – Focus on trying to get the back of your shoulder to the ground.
Foam Roller Thoracic Extension - This can also be done over a Water Polo ball. You really need to limit lower back involvement while trying to get all the movement to occur in the Thoracic spine.
Tennis Ball Thoracic Mobilization - Very similar to using the foam roller but much more focused on each segment of the spine. This is a very good option if you are really stiff in the spine. It is hard to see in the video but you actually use two Tennis balls taped together (or you can place them in a sock) placed on other side of your spine.
3-Point Trunk Rotation - Very similar to the side lying rotation except you are on your hands and knees. This version is much more active and requires greater involvement of your shoulders and trunk musculature to hold you in the proper position. What I like about this drill is the shoulder of the hand that is on the floor gets some nice stabilizer work as you go through the movement.
Side Lying Rotation II – Requires much more effort then any of the previous exercises. The bent knee is being pressed into the ball and the arm that is straight up in the air (left one in the video) is actively pushing up to the ceiling as you bring your other arm up and across your body.
The "Brettzel" Stretch – The nice thing about this drill is that it incorporates some hip mobility at the same time. Once you have done this one on land try it in the pool in deep water. Just throw it in during the warm up or as an active rest between drills or swim sets during your pool sessions. The video is a few minutes long but has some great information in it; watch, listen and learn.
Seated Thoracic Spine Mobilizations – This drill requires a lot more postural control because you are not lying on the floor but now sitting up. Progress the drill by loosening the grip of your hands on your knees and eventually doing it standing. Many athletes will need specific coaching on doing this exercise standing so don't worry about keeping them on the seated version for a while.
Chicken Necking (Cervical Protraction/Retraction) – This is an active mobilization of the neck. It is meant to accomplish improved motion as well as awareness of your neck position. While sitting or standing up tall, slide your chin forward, then pull it back so as to give yourself a double chin. Move at a moderate tempo with each repetition taking ~2-3s.
When the neck pokes forward (protraction) it will negatively affect your throwing motion if it stays in that position. A retracted position (the 2nd photo) will allow more freedom of movement in the shoulder joint. It should also be noted that neck position and thoracic spine position and mobility are very closely link. If you carry your head forward all day you will more then likely also display an increased Thoracic curvature (or even a hump). When you hold these positions for long periods of time your body becomes very efficient at holding them. This is definitely not good for throwing performance and shoulder health.
Ball Hand Transfers – This is approaching a more sport specific drill for increasing your shoulder ROM. The simple but effective motion of transferring the ball back and forth between your hands. When you are doing this you want to get into that big wind phase position or as Jim Solum's calls the “long arm cock”. This arm position is essentially one that is high and far behind the head and body. This is an integration drill so first perform it on land focusing on extending and rotating the Thoracic spine as you wind up with each arm. You should also feel a nice “stretch” through the chest area. The next step is to do the same drill but in the water.
All of the above exercises are geared toward improving your shoulder ROM while at the same time sparring the shoulder of any additional abuse.
I highly recommend working on some of these exercises starting today. Don't wait till you start having shoulder pain and decreased performance to start doing something, be proactive. Pick one or two of the drills and add them to your warm up before your dryland and pool sessions.
If you are injured or in pain consult with your medical professional with regards to which exercise(s) will be suitable for your situation.
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