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Matej Grožaj
Personal coach
Z-Health Practitioner

Compensatory swimming

For a better understanding of the importance of compensatory swimming in athletes and the general population, in this article I elaborated on its use in practice with my clients. I believe that specific examples, supported by training videos, will convince you of the benefits of compensatory swimming as an additional sport for athletes or - for those who do not have athletic ambitions - as an additional exercise.

You can find a general introduction to compensatory swimming HERE.


An example of the use of a specific exercise in water

In order to achieve a compensatory effect by swimming, I include various swimming exercises in my training. The choice of exercises and swimming techniques in the water always depends on the specific need for compensation - for example, overload from a unilateral load during a specific sport or problems with the mobility of the spine or chest, which arose from a sedentary job or lifestyle...

As an example for this article, we, for various swimmers, will use the swimming coordination exercise backstroke with arms together, which I include in training in cases of problems with correct body posture.

It is a complex movement pattern of the upper and lower limbs performed by a swimmer in a position on the back. The arms perform a circular movement simultaneously backwards, and the legs subsequently perform the technique of swimming breaststroke kick:


A little bit of anatomy

The successful placement and mastering of the backstroke technique with arms together is directly dependent on the curvature of the spine and the position of the ribcage. We will therefore explain in more detail a deeper understanding of the issue of spinal curvature.

In practice, I am often contacted by the parents of child athletes, as well as adult athletes or non-athletes, who suffer from thoracic collapse and pathological curvature of the spine. The above-mentioned changes are often the result of lifestyle, profession and specialization in sports and negatively reflect on the poor performance of the respiratory system and on their overall condition.

Pathological curvature of the spine can be caused by a change in the position of the ribcage and the loss of its natural mobility. We consider chest locking in the sagittal, frontal, or transversal plane to be pathological. It means that it is not allowed to expand and move freely.


In the sagittal, anterior-posterior plane, the ribcage is often slumped forward without the possibility of further movement backwards or vice versa. We can often come across the terms anterior tipping without the possibility of posterior tipping.

The given person is not allowed to take a full breath and thereby achieve a state of straightening the spine, i.e. own posture. A prominent feature is the collapse of the sternum - sternum axis - towards the inside of the chest, as a result of surrounding pressures. In such a case, we can say that the collapse of the ribcage into its own interior has already begun.

If in this state parents try to admonish the child to straighten up and shoot, it is already relatively late. Verbal commands will no longer lead to positive change, and the disabled person is frustrated as a result of them, as he can no longer help himself. It should be remembered that an individual's effort to straighten the spine "in a layman's way" can also lead to pain in another part of the body in such cases. Bad posture itself often causes pain. This is a natural reaction of the body, when it signals to us that there has been a long-term overload of a certain tissue, which is the result of inefficient straightening of the spine. Of course, there can be several reasons why pain occurs.

Correct posture should be natural and not forced. It is necessary to work on the remedy gradually.

The forward collapse of the ribcage is often accompanied by anteversion of the shoulders and intrarotation of the arms. This is a significant forward movement of the shoulders with their significant internal rotation. A frequent phenomenon is the individual's inability to move the ribcage in another direction in isolation (joint movement with the help of the shoulders and sometimes arms) and vice versa. These negative changes can be seen with the naked eye. The rounding of the spine is visible, or one-sided bumps appear in the area of the thoracic part of the spine. If the condition is neglected for a long time, surgery is necessary - to reverse the pathological position of the chest.


In the coronal plane, i.e. towards the left or right side, the ribcage can also show signs of a significant slump to one of the sides. The arm that is higher to the ear is in elevation and the opposite arm is in depression. Increased muscle tone (trapezius muscle, sternocleoidomastoid muscle and others) is a common accompanying phenomenon when the body tries to stabilize itself in the earth's gravitational field.


In the transverse plane, the ribcage can be curved in a different combination of the above-mentioned changes in position and even rotated more to one of the sides.


Preparation for the use of the "backstroke with arms together" exercise in compensatory swimming

Due to the possible changes in the position of the ribcage in three planes, it is not ideal to include the swimming exercise in the backstroke in the training process immediately at the beginning. It requires consistent preparation of the athlete's body, first on dry land and then in water.

Dry preparation is focused on complex movement preparation, which includes warm-up, imitation swimming and strength exercises.

The importance of the warm-up lies in the athlete's awareness of what parts his body is made of and in the ability to introduce individual bone structures (head, chest, pelvis) and joints (shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, ankles) into a variety of movements.

Subsequently, it is possible to start training with a focus on mastering complex movements on dry land (imitation swimming exercises) and other strengthening exercises that are based on quality and solid foundations obtained from the warm-up. And therefore, within the entire training process, I recommend investing time in developing a variety of warm-ups.

Correctly set training preparation for dry training from the very first training allows athletes to realize and especially feel the change in the quality of their own movement of different parts of the body.

And most importantly, dry preparation starts the process of releasing the ribcage from its own muscle corset jacket.

Why do we actually have to wait until the spine gains a significant degree of freedom?

The ability to effectively adopt the backstroke technique with amrs togehter depends on the degree of mobility of the spine, mainly in extension, i.e. bending or retroversion of bone structures. This is the exact opposite of a forward chest slump. Without the swimmers being able to perform these backwards movements, we would run the risk of not reaching the goal we are pursuing, i.e. effective acquisition of the given swimming technique for rehabilitative and compensatory purposes. Practice confirms that people are afraid of bending movements. Moving the head into flexion or forward bending is also a challenge for many. And these challenges are easier to overcome on land.

If the swimmers adopted an inefficient execution of the given technique, it would ultimately contribute to the deterioration of the individual's health.

The moment we release the spine and ribcage from the pathological position, the individual is again able to develop full-fledged breathing into the ribcage. The fact that it is a very pleasant feeling is reflected on the swimmer's face by showing positive emotions and relief. At this point, it is already possible to include the backstroke swimming exercise in compensatory training.


Practical examples of the "backstroke with arms together" exercise in compensatory swimming

This special part of the post is focused on practical demonstrations, where athletes from various fields demonstrate the successfully mastered technique of the sign of competition and its modifications.

For each of the four athletes, the adaptation/deformation processes on the body that are the result of the specialization of their sport/life are briefly described. At the same time, I will explain in what sense the acquisition of the bacstroke technique with arms together is beneficial for the compensation of specific adaptation changes of individual specializations.

After clicking on the image, a video recording of the specific athlete's training starts, so you can watch and compare the performance of the compensatory swimming exercise by different people.

1. Female swimmer

age: 12 years


adaptation/ deformation processes: kyphotization of the thoracic part of the spine

goal: correct guidance of the development and compensation of sports specialization

In the past, the swimmer was actively engaged in gymnastics, and is currently engaged in wall climbing. Parents are worried about the influence of climbing sports on the development of their daughter's figure. A frequent accompanying phenomenon is the rounding of the spine, defined in the professional sphere as kyphotization of the thoracic part of the spine. In order to prevent this in time, we use the water environment and the joy of moving in it, to compensate for the specialization from the dry.

click on the image for a video preview

2. Male swimmer

age: 12 years

specialization: KUNG FU

adaptation/ deformation processes: none

goal: prevention

This swimmer started individual swimming training at about the age of 5. As a child, his spine was intact, so it was able to move naturally. We took advantage of this developmental and age advantage and the swimmer relatively quickly and effectively mastered various swimming techniques of backstroke, backstroke and breaststroke. Thanks to our young age, we were able, by the correct dosing of swimming exercises of varying difficulty, to reach a state in a completely natural way where the swimmer is able to move freely in the water without signs of fear - more info in this blog.

Around the age of 8, the swimmer also started practicing kung fu. We currently use swimming training as a compensatory element to kung fu training. Swimming primarily guides his proper development on a physical and mental level during adolescence. Secondly, it helps him to preemptively compensate for kung fu specialization.

click on the image for a video preview

3. Male swimmer

age: 12 years

specialization: JUDO

adaptation/deformation processes: rounding of the spine with a hint of the ribcage falling forward

goal: correct guidance of the development and compensation of sports specialization

This athlete has been practicing judo since an early age. His parents approached me with the intention of having their son learn the correct swimming technique. Since they are both athletes and have knowledge of the positive impact of the water environment on the human body, they also showed an interest in compensating in the water for the one-sided overload of the specialization from judo training.

The parents noticed that, due to the combination of rapid growth and the training load, their son's spine is rounded with a hint of the ribcage falling forward. For this swimmer, we therefore used movement in the water to guide development and compensate for sports specialization.

In this case, the run-up to training was much more demanding than for the first swimmer. The reason is simple. We started training at a later age, and the boy has been actively involved in judo for several years. When testing movement on dry land, changes in movement were seen as a result of judo specialization. That's why we focused on thorough movement training, and thanks to it, this athlete later also mastered the necessary level of various techniques of swimming methods, which allow him to effectively compensate for the overload from the specialization on dry land.

click on the image for a video preview

4. Female swimmer

age: 45 years


adaptation/deformation processes: curvature of the spine as well as a change in the position of the chest from sitting

goal: regaining the mobility of the spine and chest

A sedentary lifestyle takes its toll on an adult swimmer, which is a change in the curvature of the spine as well as a change in the position of the chest.

In parallel with swimming training, this swimmer completed a 2-year dry training with me, focusing on functional training (more of functional training here). I dare to say that these two years helped her push her own limits of movement possibilities far beyond her original expectations.

During the dry training sessions, we devoted ourselves to special training focused on regaining the mobility of the spine. From the beginning, the athlete had to overcome fear, which naturally protected her from possible injury, but also prevented her from making positive progress. That's why we proceeded patiently and very carefully chose exercises on dry land. It is important to remember that in the beginning, even a little forward movement is better than none.

In the water, we decided to train with a focus on the swimming technique of the backstroke, as it was necessary for the swimmer to have a technique in her equipment with which she would be able to compensate for the overload from the profession that supports her. The training of this technique allowed her to push the limits of spinal movement into extension even more significantly.

Regaining the mobility of the ribcage also had a positive effect on improving the quality of recreational running, which the swimmer likes to do in her free time.

This swimmer owes her very good results in mobility and fitness mainly to her tenacity, determination and regularity in training and her willingness to expand her comfort zone.

click on the image for a video preview


In conclusion...

The ability of male and female swimmers to master this demanding and very beneficial swimming exercise for the human body requires, first of all, trust in their own body in the water. I mean overcoming the fear of laying on the surface of the water in a supine position, being able to deal with inhalation or unwanted water coming through the mouth and nose, as well as being able to float freely on the surface of the water without having to dig.

This process and change in thinking to believing in your own body requires time, patience and lots of repetitions. And in the end it always pays off, the results will come :)

If you like my training system, do not hesitate to contact me and book your first trial training. I will look forward to!

See also more information about my swimming trainings HERE and regarding children training HERE.


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