My physiotherapist has told me that slouching for 20 years was the main cause of my shoulder injury last year, and that I had to stand up straight from now on, and only lift a weight if my shoulders were back.

After a few months, when the pain was gone, she discharged me and said to take up swimming. Having got into the water, I did the only stroke I know - breaststroke - and realised that I was spending 90% of the time with my shoulders rounded forwards (i.e. not back as I was told to!). I worried this might be unhelpful. My shoulders are only being pulled back briefly as my hands touch and my head emerges to inhale.

My question is: Is it correct that the shoulders should spend most of the time extended forwards during breast stroke?

I've hunted the slow-motion YouTube videos but they don't happen to mention this specific point, probably because most people don't care.

2 Answers 2


Your doctor probably advised swimming primarily as its great for mobility and is low impact.

Stretching, extension and flexion of the muscles/joints will be infinitely better for you than slouching/hunching over for extended periods.

With regard to the breaststroke the extension (glide) portion of the stroke would be practically impossible to do while trying to pin your scapula back. The only time you may feel it pull back is if you do an underwater stroke from your turns as the glide underwater is the only time the head should be below the streamlined arms (should be around forehead level in normal strokes)

the pull aspect of the stroke will likely be working your mid/lower back, shoulders and lats and you will naturally retract the shoulder blades as when your head comes out of the water your back will arch upwards slightly. but i don't think you need to over emphasise this as it may impede your stroke.

You might benefit from a few pointers from a swim coach if you only know breaststroke at the moment. As swimming with proper technique will blow your mind how streamline a human can become in the water.

Freestyle and backstroke are also wonderful strokes to learn also. (perhaps not butterfly at this time)

If i was you i'd advise stick to enjoying your swimming and new found health benefits from improved posture.

All the best

*Source - over a decade of being a competitive swimmer *


Hitchmo gave a very well rounded answer for you. I'd like to mostly emphasize and add to it.

Be sure you clearly understand that recreational and fitness/competitive swimming are totally different. You are being asked to take up swimming for fitness. This means you must be able to do the strokes correctly for two reasons:

  1. Improper stroke techniques will not allow you to apply your muscles, momentum, body streamline, timing enough to make use of your time in the water for any meaningful workout. When you get your techniques to a certain level of efficiency, you'll be able to build on the exercise part of it a lot more. This doesn't mean you shouldn't "just swim." It simply means you should seek help to get your techniques correct and efficient as soon as you can, because it pays back handsomely and quickly.

  2. If you are new to this, you will not be able to "see" better than trained eyes, and so seek out coaches to explain to you. Swimming involves a lot of elements, from your own body to the physics/hydrodynamics of its moving relationship to water. Fortunately, these matters are not complicated and have been studied very well already at this point in time. The knowledge is there, solidly. Nearly all competitive swimmers are taught these things, or at least trained on them by their coaches. There is no excuse not to seek it out and learn them well if you're going to use swimming as a fitness tool.

Swimmers also need to supplement with strength and agility training on land. These are often very good calisthenic movements that you can also use to gradually adapt to your workout. Swimmers do not isolate movements like weight lifters but rather combine dynamic movement training.

As you heal enough, you may want to try the pullups bar. This simple bar is incredibly helpful for swimming, core, and just about one of the best thing you can use for shoulders and lats.

  • My physiotherapist banned me from ever doing chin-ups again! I couldn't decide if I was disappointed or relieved (as I was rubbish at them). Commented Jan 13, 2017 at 8:38
  • I had a shoulder injury that lasted for more than 3 years and took a decade to recover. I am doing pullups (not chinups) as one of the more preferred movements in all the routines. I would not advise against your therapist, but would not rule out the pullups in the longer run either. It's one of the best movement you can do for major muscles and core (using pull up variations). Commented Jan 14, 2017 at 18:51
  • @người Sàigòn Well said :)
    – Hitchmo
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 13:17

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