ISCA Coach Education Program

We are thrilled that after about a year of production and development, the ISCA Education Program has officially launched!

The program is available online internationally and features evidence-based curriculum developed by sport scientists specifically for swim coaches. Our modern education portal is easy to navigate and secure, with transcript tracking and interactive course content.

ISCA Certification is available for coaches that are ISCA members and also complete the six core science-based courses (Biomechanics 101 & 102, Physiology 101 & 102, and Sport Psychology 101 & 102). The science behind swimming is something that all coaches need to understand to be effective and successful–and we look forward to providing this crucial piece of education to coaches around the world.

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4 Fundamental Shoulder Exercises for Swimmers

Fundamental shoulder strengthening exercises for competitive swimmers

Written by Behnam Liaghat, recognized specialist by the International Federation of Sports Physical Therapy, based in Denmark at the University of Southern Denmark. Email:

Following my recent blog about identifying joint hypermobility in swimmers, in this blog I will go through some of the top shoulder exercises for the competitive or elite swimmer to develop fundamental strength and neuromuscular control of the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers.

In our recent research about young competitive swimmers with joint hypermobility (Liaghat et al., 2018), we found that swimmers with inherent shoulder joint hypermobility displayed reduced internal rotation strength and a tendency to poor activation of the scapular muscles. Another interesting finding was that swimmers with joint hypermobility not only display reduced absolute internal rotation strength, but these swimmers are weaker through the entire range of shoulder rotation. The suggested dry-land exercises in this blog can be designed to be beneficial for both hypermobile and non-hypermobile swimmers with few adjustments in range of motion, i.e. by increasing shoulder rotation to be as close as possible to the individual end range.

What are the benefits?

The four exercises specifically aim at improving shoulder retraction (refers to moving the scapula towards the spine), internal rotation and external rotations strength. To avoid injuries, it is important to target muscles on both sides of the shoulder to achieve a balanced intermuscular function. This is the rationale for including exercises for both internal and external rotation movements. Adequate strength in these movements has, besides injury prevention purposes, a positive effect on swimming stroke performance.

General guidelines

Some general guidelines for these exercises include performing them without producing any pain or discomfort and slowly through the entire range (approximately 6-8 seconds per repetition) to engage all important muscles. As there are no golden standard number of repetitions, you may want your swimmers to start with 3 x 30 seconds for the first 2-4 weeks and then move on to 3 x 8-12 repetitions with heavier resistance. Depending on the load applied and experienced level of muscle soreness, the exercises can be performed 3-5 times weekly. Make sure your swimmers breathe in a relaxed manner and engage the whole kinetic chain in all exercises.

When introducing these exercises to your swimmers, be certain that they can control the shoulder so excessive movement of the tip of the shoulder in either upward (towards the ear), backward or forward directions is avoided. In principle, reducing resistance and/or decreasing the range of movement may be applied to increase quality of shoulder control.

Fig. 1. Infraspinatus muscle on the posterior side of the scapula

Active release of muscles before you start

Before instructing swimmers in performing these exercises, it is recommended to do some active release of the posterior rotator cuff muscles by standing against a wall with the arms perpendicular to the trunk and putting a pressure to the mid-point of the scapula with a lacrosse ball to target the infraspinatus area (Fig. 1). From here the swimmer can simply roll on the ball and add a shoulder external and internal rotation movement for up to two minutes to release tight and sore muscles (Fig. 2 A-C). The active self-release can be performed in supine for adding more pressure.

Fig. 2 A-C. The Danish swimmer Matilde Lerche Schrøder showing an active release of the posterior rotator cuff muscles.

Now let us move on to the top dry-land exercises for fundamental shoulder strength


Exercise 1: Prone 1-arm diagonal lift

Either lie on the floor or on a gym ball supporting with your feet and one arm. Apply resistance with an elastic band. Slightly retract and depress your shoulder before lifting your arm with a 45 degrees angle away from the trunk´s midline. While lifting the arm, a maximum external rotation is performed in the arm so the thumb points towards the ceiling.

Level down by lifting the arm perpendicular to the trunk’s midline.

Level up by adding a back extension in the movement or lifting the opposite leg.


Exercise 2: Supine internal rotation 1

Either lie on the floor or on a gym ball supporting with your feet. Apply resistance with an elastic band. Slightly retract and depress your shoulder before turning one arm at a time internally as far as possible without losing shoulder control (e.g. protracting the shoulder towards the ceiling).

Level up by adding oscillation (fast movements back and forth) through the movement.


Exercise 3: Supine internal rotation 2

Description: Either lie on the floor or on a gym ball supporting with your feet. Apply resistance with dumbbells. Slightly retract and depress your shoulder before slowly turning one arm at a time externally in cranial direction and then back to vertical position in the underarm without losing shoulder control (e.g. avoid pushing the shoulder towards the ceiling).

Level up by adding more load and increasing range of external rotation.


Exercise 4: Prone external rotation

Lie on a gym ball supporting with your feet and one arm. Apply resistance with a dumbbell. Slightly retract and depress your shoulder before externally rotation your arm with the upper arm perpendicular to the trunk.

Level up by adding more load and increasing range of external rotation.


Every swimming coach should be familiar with these top shoulder exercises and include them in some content as part of the dry-land routines for injury prevention and for enhancing swimming stroke performance.


A special thanks to the Danish swimmers Matilde Lerche Schrøder and Line Virkelyst Johansen for giving their photo consents.


Liaghat, B., Juul-Kristensen, B., Frydendal, T., Marie Larsen, C., Søgaard, K., & Ilkka Tapio Salo, A. (2018). Competitive swimmers with hypermobility have strength and fatigue deficits in shoulder medial rotation. Journal of Electromyography & Kinesiology, 39, 1-7. DOI: 10.1016/j.jelekin.2018.01.003

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Swimming Coach Education

Take home points on Swimming Coach Education
1) Little formal structure exists to develop coaches in the United States.
2) Education programs are critical for coaching to gain respect as a profession, which will help advance swimming performance.
3) Better swimming coach education is key, but intrinsic motivation is the most important factor.

“It is the coach’s responsibility to balance the intensity of psychological and physiological stress in such a way that the swimmer achieves optimal performance, to provide an environment that is conducive to positive motivation of the swimmers, to have a thorough knowledge of training methods and stroke mechanics, to communicate enthusiasm to the athletes, and to cooperate in a team effort with other personnel, such as the managerial staff, the sports publicity department, and support personnel (Counsilman 1986)”.

Coaching is often described as a “profession” rather than merely a “job,” and rightly so. With insanely long hours, a highly varied skill set, total commitment, and the potential to shape lives of young athletes, the coaching profession is one of the most important elements in all sports, not only swimming. But despite the position of influence in the sport, many would agree the pipeline for future coaches is often haphazard.

Now, the lack of a formal pipeline for coaching is neither good nor bad; it simply describes the current state. On-the-job learning opportunities that predominate the coaching pipeline are more important than book knowledge. Back in the old days, on-the-job training was called the apprenticeship system, and historically has worked very well for numerous professions. Yet, what’s wrong with an infrastructure that values BOTH book knowledge and practical experience in coaching development?

To their credit, ASCA and USA Swimming have increased swimming coach educational resources for coaches and made the process more efficient with online offerings, minimizing the need for time away from your squad. Despite this evolution, it is possible the real issue is not swimming coach education, but overall culture. We addressed some of these issues in previous articles Coaching Burnout and Coaching Opportunities for Females. In particular, the survivalist culture that shapes the athlete side is also reflected in coaching development.

While national bodies can provide resources, ultimately motivation from the coaching side must exist. However, it is no secret that many young coaches enter the field without the intention to become coaches and are merely putting in some time until finding another job. In a study of 469 USA Swimming age group coaches, Raedke (2002) found that “less attractive options” was one of the motivating forces for coaches surveyed. But on a positive note, they did find a significant relationship linking satisfaction and investment with commitment (“You get out of it what you put into it,” as the old adage goes). It is true that the long hours of coaching are not for everyone, but intrinsic motivation is the driving force in anyone’s desire to improve their craft.

Conclusion on Swimming Coach Education

One reason for the birth and subsequent growth of this site has been to bridge the gap between formal science (which is often seen as distant from the “real world”) and best practices on the pool deck. As Williams (2007) noted in a survey of elite coaches (not only swimming) respondents, “perceived a need for more research in the area of sports psychology, dissemination of research findings via coaching clinics and sports-specific magazines, and the use of more appropriate “lay” language in information dissemination.”

Ultimately, the key for continued long term development in the coaching profession is for both the demand and supply sides to intersect: coaches must enter the system with a keen desire to learn and the system must create the right learning opportunities for success both for coaches and swimmers.

1) Williams SJ, Kendall L. Perceptions of elite coaches and sports scientists of the research needs for elite coaching practice. J Sports Sci. 2007 Dec;25(14):1577-86.
2) Raedeke TD, Warren AH, Granzyk TL. Coaching commitment and turnover: a comparison of current and former coaches. Res Q Exerc Sport. 2002 Mar;73(1):73-86.
3) Counsilman JE. The role of the coach in training for swimming. Clin Sports Med. 1986 Jan;5(1):3-7.

Written by Allan Phillips is a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) and owner of Pike Athletics. He is also an ASCA Level II coach and USA Triathlon coach. Allan is a co-author of the Troubleshooting System and was selected by Dr. Mullen as an assistant editor of the Swimming Science Research Review. He is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Physical Therapy at US Army-Baylor University.

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