I've had a shoulder operation a little while back, and now I'm barely allowed to use my arm the coming 6 months. This is standard procedure for this type of surgery, as it needs time to heal.

I'm a triathlete doing sprint distances and Ironman 70.3, on an amateur level. I won't do any triathlons until next spring / summer, but I need to keep in shape.

My biggest problem is I can't swim. As that is my weakest discipline, that is a problem. I don't expect to do any technique training the coming 6 months, but is there anything I can do to keep my upper body strength and core muscles in tact, without using my arm(s)? I would prefer if it doesn't require a gym membership, but if that's what it takes I'll get one.

For now I can't run as the movements are not good for my shoulder. I guess I can start doing easy runs in a month or two, so that shouldn't be too much of a problem.

I can bike, as long as it's indoors on a spinning bike and I keep my body as if I'm on a chair.

  • Ouch! Another SLAP surgery...
    – Mephisto
    Nov 12, 2014 at 16:48
  • @Mephisto, yup. It's been 15 weeks and I still can't lift my arm higher than 90 degrees (with help!). Hopefully, physiotherapy twice a week and general carefulness will make it heal in the end =) I'm signed up for Ironman 70.3 next summer. Now I'm only crossing my fingers, wishing, waiting. In the mean time: Indoor VR biking. Nov 16, 2014 at 21:50
  • Don't rush it! Elite athletes (mostly pitchers) return to full throttle only after ONE full year, but for the normal people it takes 18 months. Mine was a Slap II (labrum detachment just under long biceps tendon). Please read physiodc.com/… to have an idea of the timeline. At the 6 months mark I started running, at 8 months I started swimming, and at 10 months I changed swimming by soft callisthenics (and still running).
    – Mephisto
    Nov 17, 2014 at 11:39

3 Answers 3


Not much you can do. If you are restricted enough that you can't run, and can't even lean on the bars (Much less get into aero position), its going to be just trying to keep in the best shape you can.

What I would honestly do (Especially considering swim is your weakest point), is do the trainer for now. Sign up for Trainerroad, or get some of the Sufferfest videos, and work the bike as much as possible with the restrictions. When you can add the run, do that as well. Get a lot of base work in that you can build on later.

For upper body, you'll probably just have to take your lumps. See how your doctor feels about situps on a bench where your feet are anchored, and make sure that you don't use your upper body at all.

Once you are cleared to swim, I would get with a good swim stroke instructor (Which may or may not be a masters coach, they are not always one and the same), and work drills and distance in a 8 week(ish) swim focus, while doing maintenance work on the bike/run. A bad swim stroke can be very hard on the shoulders, so if you can correct technique now and drop your times for the swim leg at the same time, it's win/win.

  • Thanks! I'll have a look at Trainerroad/Sufferfest. I guess it can help keep motivation up while working out on the trainer the coming months =) Sep 23, 2014 at 9:21

You can probably try and work around the restrictions your doctor has set and train in the coming months and do this triathlon - and maybe you'll do ok, but maybe training too early will weaken it, and you'll do irreparable damage and never do a triathlon again. Maybe you'll injure your arm so bad that you can never lift anything heavier than a paper cup overhead.

I'm not trying to scare you, but this is the risk you are facing. I understand the desire to stay in shape, but if you aren't even allowed to run, your body is in a state where it needs to repair. Training causes microtears and requires energy, which moves vital nutrients from where your body needs it most - healing that shoulder.

If you really, really, want to keep training speak with a physical therapist who specialises in sports injury and recovery. Your doctor may not be a fitness enthusiast, and might have been overly cautious based on his knowledge of the general populous, and there might be shortcuts, but to do it well you need professional advice. It might be expensive, but its the only way to do it safely.

  • Thank you for answering. Those were some good advises, and I've had enough problems with my shoulder so I won't do anything my doctor advises against. However, I want to keep in the best shape possible, without risking hurting my shoulder. (And 8 weeks after the operation, I don't think the doctors estimate was overly cautious... Unfortunately.) Sep 23, 2014 at 9:16

To be honest, reading your question (I know it is old, so you probably are healthy now, but perhaps others can benefit), not having the ability to use ones arms is a blessing when it comes to improving your swimming. Let me explain.

You mention that your weakest point is swimming, so you have a lot to gain if you learn to swim efficiently right? Since you cannot give into the temptation to put on your paddles and go for a grueling swim session from which you get almost nothing out of in terms of swim efficiency, you can actually learn to swim properly and be good at it :). I can tell you that focusing on your upper body strength is not the way to go (as you probably found out after 6 months of strengthening:)), so forget gym memberships and such, go daily into your local pool and you will see a difference.

Now, the good news is, efficient swimming is mainly about proper body position for which you actually do not need any arms at all (just have them relaxed by your body), so my suggestion for you would be to take it as a blessing that you cannot use the arms and go back to the basics. Improve your body position and at the same time kicking efficiency and effectiveness and when you are ready, you will come out of the next triathlon swim fresh and ready to do some mad biking and running afterwards. This should get you started: http://blog.swimator.com/2011/01/how-to-swim-faster-easier-learning-to.html

Hope this helps to someone in the same position as you. Good luck.

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