Terry Schroeder

Back to the Fundamentals – The Elastic Band

Terry Schroeder
US National Men’s Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics

Volume 3 Number 2November 15, 2010

The Keyword in Real Estate is Location and the Keyword in the sport of Water Polo is Fundamentals!

This month I will outline a simple program with the elastic bands that I would recommend to all water polo athletes.  I first began to use the elastic bands consistently after I was involved in an automobile accident in the March of 1987.  I was a mess.  I had suffered a moderate whiplash and perhaps even more frightening was as a result of the injury sustained in the accident I had torn the labrum in my right shoulder.  I went to a number of orthopedic docs who recommended surgery to repair the labrum.  I was told by the docs that this was my best chance of a quick and full recovery and would help me get back in the water and join the team as soon as possible.  We were heading into a big summer with the Pan Am Games (our Olympic Qualifier) to be held in Indianapolis in August.  We also had just over a year to get ready for the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea.  I really did not like the thought of surgery so I opted for a more conservative route which included chiropractic care and physical therapy.  I was out of the water for about a month and then when I first returned I could only do the dog paddle and breaststroke because the pain and weakness that resulted in restricted movement in my right shoulder.  Eventually, I began to swim with a mask and snorkel because I could not turn my head due to the neck injury.  My shoulder progressed slowly and by the middle of the summer I was back practicing with the team.  I was swimming full strength but not quite throwing the ball with the same velocity that I had before the accident.  I continued to do specific exercises with my shoulder and full recovery did not occur for about 6 months.

One of the most important exercises that I did to help with recovery was the elastic band work.  Since that injury I have done the elastic band work almost daily (I still do it to this day).  It has now been 33 years since that accident and I am happy to tell you that I never needed surgery.  I played in two Olympic Games after the original injury and now as a chiropractor I work my shoulder pretty good on a daily basis. As long as I keep up my daily routine my shoulders have been healthy and pain free. While the band work is great for rehab it is also great for prevention.  I would strongly recommend that every water polo player buy an elastic band and get on a regular routine.  It is great for a pre practice warm up with dynamic stretching and it is also huge in keeping the shoulders (specifically the muscles of the rotator cuff) healthy, strong and balanced.

On all these exercises the cord should be a medium strength band that allows you to do the motion required with only mild to moderate tension.  The motion should be done in a controlled fashion so that you feel some resistance but are not straining at all.  With all the exercises you can adjust the resistance by simply moving your body farther or closer to the anchor of the band.  Keep your posture as close to neutral as you can as you perform all these exercises. Once you get the routine down it really only takes about 12 minutes to do it each day.  I do my band work 5 or 6 days per week.  Make your band work a habit.  You can do it before practice or during your gym time but make sure you are doing it on a regular basis.  It is also a great pre game warm up.  Here is the routine that I have done for years.

  1. Throwing motion – Anchor the band at a height that is parallel to your hand (up above your head). The free end of the band is held in your right hand while you face away from the anchor.  Step away from the anchor so that you creat a medium level of tension on the band before you begin. Now do 12-15 reps of a normal range of motion in the throwing motion.  After you have completed these reps find a spot in the middle of your range of motion (ROM) where you might feel a little weakness.  Find this spot and do 20 seconds of pulsing (short range and fast twitch).  This short range and fast twitch pulsing works the entire neuromuscular element and will improve the rehabilitation of the muscles involved.  You might find 2-3 spots to do this part of the exercise (20 second pulses in each area).  Then finish with 12-15 reps of full range of motion.  After you have done this it is time to switch arms and do the same routine with your other arm.  Working the weak side of your body (the left arm if you are right handed) will actually strengthen the strong side of your body too.  This is do to a normal crossover effect that occurs in the brain when you work one side of the body.
  2. Reverse Throwing motion – now turn around and face the anchor and do 12-15 reps in a reverse throwing motion.  Try to mimic your throwing motion as much as you can but in reverse. Do two sets of this with each arm. This will work the decelerators of the throwing motion. This is a very important exercise for water polo players who throw a ball with no real need to decelerate the arm due to the fact that after you release the ball your arm hits the water and this stops your forward arm motion.  These decelerators are important muscles in the rotator cuff which help to keep balance in the shoulder.  Do not do the short range fast twitch exercise on the reverse throwing motion.
  3. Internal rotation – Move the anchor of the band to slightly above your waist.  Now turn your body 90 degrees to the anchor and step away from the anchor to place medium tension on the band. With the elbow bent at 90 degrees and held close to your side pull the cord across the front of your body (internal rotation of the shoulder).  Make sure that your elbow stays close to your side as you do the 12-15 reps of full ROM.  Now with mild pressure on the band find a spot in the mid range and do 20 seconds of the short range fast twitch exercise.  Once again you might find 2-3 spots in the mid range that feel a little weak.  Work each of these areas for 20 seconds. Then go back and do another set of 12-15 reps.  Now turn your body around and do the same series with the other arm.
  4. External rotation – This exercise is done with the same start position, anchor position and arm position.  The difference is that you are now performing the exercise with resistance away from your body (external rotation of the shoulder).  So the start position is similar but you are facing the opposite direction that you were facing for the internal rotation.  Most people are weaker in the external rotation so make sure that you do these exercises with good form and slightly less resistance.  Do the full ROM and the short range fast twitch routine with each arm. This is a very important exercise to strengthen and balance the often weak muscles of the rotator cuff.
  5. Supraspinatus – this is the muscle of the rotator cuff that is most commonly injured in throwing sports.  It is critical to spend some time keeping this muscle strong.  It is also called the empty can exercise.  The starting position for doing the right arm is to step out with your left foot and step on the cord to anchor it about 8-10 inches in front of your body.  Now with the other end of the band in your right hand pretend that you have a can of soda and turn it upside down (empty it).  Extend your arm out in front of your body but pointing down towards your left foot and the anchor. For the exercise move your arm through resistance up and out away from your body The end point should be with your arm straight out away from your body to the side.  Never go higher with your arm than parallel to the floor.  Also, if you experience pain at any level in this exercise then back off on the ROM and stay in a pain free range.  Do two sets of 12-15 reps on each arm.  Do not perform the short range fast twitch part of the exercise.
  6. Rowing (Pulls) – wrap the cord around a pole or stable object slight above your waistline.  Hold one end of the band with each hand and face the anchor point.  Now step back to provide medium resistance on the band.  Do two sets of 12-15 reps of a rowing motion.  Try to really feel your shoulder blades (scapula) squeeze together as you pull back on the cord.  This is working rhomboids which are very important to helping to keep your posture balanced and your shoulders healthy.

I would encourage you to play around with your band.  You will find that you can also do just about any exercise with the bands.  Just make sure the band is anchored well so that you don’t get smacked in the face or in the back of the head if the band were to come loose.  Also, if you see that your band is wearing down and beginning to crack or weaken stop using it and buy a new one.  If you are not using elastic bands go out and buy one and begin to use it everyday. On of the best things about the bands is that they are portable.  You can keep them in your gym back and take them with you to practice.  They are also very easy to travel with when you go on the road. As always if you have any questions or comments please feel free to email me at [email protected]   Enjoy your holidays.

See you at the pool.

Coach Schroeder