Keeping your Shoulders Healthy
4 Tips for the Water Polo Athlete

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.


What is the most common site of pain and injury in Water Polo players?

Big drum roll please .... The shoulders!!!!!

You do not even have to look at the research. If you have been involved in the game as a player, coach or even parent you are probably very aware of the importance of shoulder health and how common it is for Water Polo athletes to experience some kind of shoulder pain or injury during their career.

In this article I will discuss some very valuable tips and tricks for keeping your shoulders healthy.


Yes, we all know this, warm up first.

There are many phases of a warm up that I think a Water Polo player should be doing before every practice or game. I will focus on somethings to do before even getting in the pool.

Before getting in the pool spend 10-15 minutes doing movement drills which can also include some ball handling.

Purpose is to work on individual mobility issues and/or common areas associated with shoulder pain or injury but also to wake up the nervous system and activate the body. I believe you should enter the water feeling energized not sluggish.

Below is a video of a mobility warm up which was published in a previous article.

Video Link: Mobility Warm Up for Water Polo

The next video is of some ball handling drills you can do on land. These are great for not only warming up your shoulders and hands but also working on some sport skill at the same time. These kind of on land drills are also useful for the athlete who may have only a very short warm up in the water prior to matches. I have had times when in tournaments, usually at the youth age categories,  that you only have 5-10 minutes in the water to warm up. Not ideal, but this is one place some of these on land warm ups become very useful.

Video Link: On Land Ball Handling & Passing Drills


Being stronger in the shoulders is a good thing but if you do to much training of only your pushing muscles then your shoulders will be hurting more then feeling better. Part of what makes up my philosophy regarding the purpose of strength training for Water Polo is first and foremost to maintain or improve the health status of the players. Trying to improve some part of game performance like shooting velocity is actually near the end of my list of priorities and actually can take care of itself when things like pain or restricted movement are addressed.

Undoing everything you do in the sport is the first step to keeping your body healthy or another way of thinking about it is to work on everything that doesn't get lots of work on in the sport. Water Polo offers a great stimulus to the musculature on the front side of the body with very little on the back. So, train more pulling and external rotator cuff exercises in your training, basically everything that you cannot see in the mirror.

Below are three videos of some exercises that train the upper back musculature and can be done with just your bodyweight. Of course you can add load to this with small hand held weights of 1-2 lbs. Try doing each exercise with a slow tempo for 30-60s/set.

Video Link: Prone Shoulder Press

Video Link: Bent Over T's

Video Link: Iso Bent Over Y's


We spend most of our life sitting and with this sitting comes negative adaptive changes to the body. Basically, if you hold a position long enough, your body will begin to shorten and stiffen up in some places while lengthening in others in order to more effortlessly hold those positions or postures.

Lets look at a typical posture of sitting in front of the computer which could also be watching TV or even sitting in the classroom. Upper back is rounded, head forward, shoulders rounded, hips flexed, lumbar spine is flexed, elbows bent and that is just the start. With respect to shoulder health, well actually health in general but looking specifically at shoulder health this kind of posture will tighten and loosen up all the wrong areas, it's a recipe for shoulder pain or injury.


Try sitting in this posture and raising your arm overhead like you are going to shoot. Did you feel a pinching or tightness in the shoulder?


Read this previous article about this “test” & why it hurts

Some of you may have even felt some pain and certainly all of you should notice a greatly reduced range of motion. This is not very good for shoulder health or performance. Now remember, if you hold this posture everyday, your body will become very good at doing this to the point where you will walk around like you are an old Grandpa or Grandma at the age of fifteen.


The picture above should really be updated, because as you can see the individual is getting poorer posture with age but what I am seeing now are kids walking around like they are in stage 3 or 4 of the above picture when they are just in their teens!

What can you do about this?

First, look at the stimulus that is creating this potential problem. This kind of posture applies a very low load to the tissue but it is usually held for very long periods (1-3+ hours). Low loads + long duration is all your body needs to adapt to that posture. The good news is that exercise is a great equalizer BUT only if you do the right kinds of exercise. One way to combat a constant stimulus of low loads + long duration (e.g. Sitting in school for 6-8 hours a day) is to do the opposite. By opposite, I mean high(er) loads + short duration + opposite movement (more extension and pulling). I published a blog post a while ago related to this concept called

Rehab Tip: do the opposite”.

Some of you may wonder why I recommend exercises like squats and deadlifts all the time for Water Polo athletes; this is one of the main reasons. Do the opposite to maintain health and balance in your body.

Another key ingredient is to break the cycle of sitting for long periods. Change how you sit every 10-15 minutes or alternate between sitting and standing. You can't always get rid of the “bad” stuff but you can certainly dilute its negative affect on your health. Check the video below for an Thoracic Spine Mobilization that you can do either seated on the floor or on a chair, try doing this throughout the day with a particular focus on extending the spine (straightening).

Video Link: Active Thoracic Spine Mobilization


The fire I am talking about is the constant sitting and relevant problems (see #3 above). By fuel I mean performing the wrong exercises to often.

What are the wrong kind of exercises?

Anything that promotes the increased shortening of the same musculature that is shortened while sitting. The number one culprit would have to be the abdominal crunch. Do your shoulders a favour and stop doing them, completely unnecessary. But if you want to trash your lower back, shoulders and neck then go for it!


The fuel that feeds the fire

By the way, do you still want to work you abs or core? Just do some Squats or Deadlifts with a challenging load which research has shown activates your trunk musculature more then traditional abdominal exercises (I wrote about this here).


There you have it, four tips for keeping your shoulders healthy, now stand up from your computer and change your position so you break that cycle of poor posture.

If you have questions you want answered please leave them in the message board category “Physical Training with Mike Reid"

Do you have a specific question(s)? Please ask away, I am here to serve the Water Polo community.

I can also be contacted through my website:


Hamlyn, N., D.G. Behm, and W. B. Young. Trunk muscle activation during dynamic weight-training exercises and isometric instability activities. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 21(4), 1108–1112. 2007.

[Click Mike Reid's name at top of page to learn more about his
strength training & conditioning experiences and his web sites.]