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Matej Grožaj
Personal coach
Z-Health Practitioner

Compensatory swimming after an injury

In this blog I would like to tell you the story of a young hockey player. His parents decided to use compensatory swimming as a rehabilitation tool in order to improve their son's health and allow him to return to the ice sooner. The young hockey player was on the ice after repeated fracture of the collarbone, which happened shortly after each other during sports activity.

This kind of serious injury left multiple marks on the athlete's body. The change in the position of bone structures (chest, pelvis) in the axial skeleton, loss of muscle mass as well as limitation of the range of motion of the shoulder girdle on the side of the injury were noticeable with the naked eye. Taking a deeper look at the functionality of an athlete's body, we revealed a deterioration in stability and body perception. The decrease in body perception of the athlete was subsequently the cause of the deterioration of balance, which in turn was closely related to a decrease in fitness and coordination.



We used warm-up excercises to diagnose functional changes..

In statics - standing - the athlete could see a change in the curvature of the spine, which was the result of a change in the position of the ribcage on the side of the injury (for more information on the issue of the position of bone structures and their influence on the curvature of the spine, see the previous post entitled Compensatory swimming).

On the side of the injury, it was possible to observe the deterioration of breathing mechanics and a change in the state of tension of the surrounding tissue. Breathing performance naturally adapted to injury. The healthy side showed a more pronounced expansion of the ribcage during inhalation. Such changes negatively affect the mobility of the body on the side of injury.

In general, it was difficult for the athlete to consciously inhale or direct the inhalation and its speed to the side of the injury. The same feeling as he could not recognise the side, he felt it worse. This is because his brain has lost important sensory information from the side of injury. The brain seems to lose them naturally after an injury, actually deliberately limiting them. Its natural reaction is to increase the tone (tension) of the surrounding tissue with a decrease in flexibility, as well as limiting the mobility of joints and bone structures. This mechanism is intended to prevent further unwanted movement in the injury area to prevent further damage.

Therefore, it is important that the rehabilitation process at the beginning includes the conscious recovery of sensory information from the site of injury. In order to successfully restore the full functionality of the rehabilitated part of the body, the brain needs to be constantly clear about what is happening to our body.


In order for the concept of compensatory swimming after injury to be successful, I needed to achieve a situation where the hockey player would be interested in information from each of his warm-ups. These subsequently supported him in learning specific swimming imitation techniques on dry. He had to be aware of the difference in quality, clarity and accuracy of movement of the left and right sides of the body.

The warm-up itself placed considerable demands on his peace of mind, since only in a state of full concentration was the athlete able to consciously manage his own body and listen to it. It's kind of like when you send a signal and then concentrated waiting to see what and in what form it will come back. The correct mental setting from land supported him during difficult moments in the water. We have created prerequisites for building independence, healthy self-confidence and taking responsibility for our own movements on land and water. This important phase of training will test the mental abilities of each athlete. Mental maturity and self-awareness in space and time is a key factor on which the speed and level of effectiveness of mastering complex imitation swimming exercises will depend.

The awareness of his health condition and the very reverberations of the injury boosted the mental maturity of the young athlete, which allowed him to approach compensatory swimming training responsibly.

We have set clear goals that through the correct mastery of breaststroke swimming technique and specific exercises, we want to achieve an improvement in the mechanics and functionality of the respiratory system, an improvement in fitness and coordination of the whole body, and the restoration of self-confidence in his own body.



1. Dry training

At the beginning, the athlete got acquainted with a complex warm-up system, which was primarily supposed to help him realize the changes caused by the injury on his own body. He learned to read his own body effectively while moving, learned a new way of thinking and connecting context in movement between drought and water. He discovered his own limits and a way to safely push them forward.

Based on the initial diagnosis, we focused dry training on the injured part of the body. One of the main priorities was to teach the athlete to be aware of where he was breathing. We focused on consciously feeling the breathing phases to the side of the injury and the degree of expansion of the rib cage.

The goal was to restore the mechanics of breathing in terms of fitness and coordination. We adjusted the intensity of the training with a focus on breathing to the injury.

In practice, this means we were trying to find out what we can afford and what we can't, to avoid irritation that could trigger acute pain. Furthermore, when setting up training, it is important to remember that perceptions about one's own body - from dry training - are difficult for most athletes to process. The reason is simple - they did not have to undergo this type of training before, and in essence they do not understand it very much yet.

Underdeveloped body perception makes it difficult to match new findings after injury to individual body parts.

It requires time and patience, by repeating certain movements, the athlete gradually gets to know his own body, penetrates into its depths, realizes the differences between the left and right sides of the body, and is able to realize the connections regarding its changes.

Dry Training Videos

You can find out more about how I use Ashtanga Yoga in my blog How Ashtanga yoga has influenced me.

Dynamic neuromuscular stabilisation
Practicing exercises from the DNS system

DNS = Dynamic neuromuscular stabilisation

2. Training in water - compensatory swimming itself

The ability of a hockey player to effectively master various technically demanding swimming exercises depended primarily on the degree of knowledge and perception of his own body on dry. From this further depended its ability to consciously influence the movements of individual parts of the body in an unstable aquatic medium at different speeds. This knowledge was crucial for him, from the perspective of the future.

The philosophy of the training consisted in the fact that the athlete should be able to complete the training in the water after some time independently - without the supervision of a trainer.

Here it is very important that the athlete has a good understanding of the acquired swimming technique and is able to use it safely for rehabilitation or fitness purposes.

Choosing the right swimming technique is the first step to success.

In our case, at the first training the hockey player demonstrated various techniques of movement in the water. Based on the assessment of several factors, I decided to choose the breaststroke swimming technique for further training.

At the beginning, I always try to choose the technique of swimming that the athlete understands best. In a relatively short period of time, it will help us to start the required changes in the technique of movement expression, which are necessary to achieve a positive effect of compensatory swimming on the athlete's body. In addition to the technique of swimming breaststroke, we incorporated crowl and backstroke exercises into compensatory swimming training.

During water training, we also used simple isolated swimming exercises, which aimed to highlight changes and limitations in the athlete's body. Why? During dry conditions, athletes do not always fully realize what they have lost as a result of injury.

The aquatic environment will test the ability to stability and reveal weaknesses.

Loss of body position in water on one side, inability to fully stretch one upper limb and complications with awareness of one side of the body during sliding in the water – all these sensations helped the young hockey player to be more aware of the current state of health and increased the quality of his own body perception.

In the process of rehabilitation, the initial moment is decisive, when the post-injury and weakened part of the body is strained.

It is not uncommon for athletes to feel insecurity and fear, which is triggered by memories of pain when they tried to strain the post-injury part of the body in the initial training, in our case it was dry training.

Due to an injury in the upper part of the rib cage, we specifically focused on the technique of breast arm, without using the lower limbs. This technique allowed him to isolate the upper limbs with the upper torso. After swimming 25 meters, the hockey player found that he could safely lean himself against his arms and shoulders, without any pain, which helped him overcome fear and uncertainty. Other swimming sections focused on playing with speed and breathing rate, which allowed him to know the current load limits without pain.

In the course of further cooperation, the athlete achieved significant improvements in the mobility of the injured part of the body. And significant progress has been made during water training. Practice confirms that the aquatic environment is a strong teammate in eliminating the consequences of injuries.

The young hockey player also went through some kind of mental training in the water. The latter allowed him to penetrate deeper into the understanding of his own body, which was the precondition to achieve an improvement in his health.

Through targeted training and willpower building, he was able to restore perception on the side of the injury and minimize the differences between the healthy side of the body and the post-injury part. Subsequently, we focused on building fitness and coordination separately for each of the body sides.

Photo and videos of water training

Records of water training (pictures and videos) are aimed at comparing the quality of motor expression or the effectiveness of the breaststroke swimming technique.

breaststroke swimming technique first training
breaststroke swimming technique before compensatory swimming training
breaststroke swimming technique first training

Picture 1 and 2:

At the first training, the athlete was not consciously able to influence the movement expression of the technique. The reason for this was an underdeveloped perception of one's own body and, as a result, the inability to set individual parts in motion in isolation in different time and speed sequence. The technique was convulsive and lacked a relaxation phase.

corrected breaststroke technique in compensatory swimming

corrected breaststroke technique in compensatory swimming
corrected breaststroke technique in compensatory swimming

Picture 3 and 4:

Through targeted training, the hockey player managed to gain control over his own body, which was positively reflected in his ability to effectively master the technique of swimming breaststroke. The technique got a boost and the swimmer was able to slide effectively in the relaxation phase.

A comparison of the performance of the entire swimming method of breaststroke, before and after targeted training, can also be seen in the video:

During the training and rehabilitation process in the water, we primarily focused on learning an effective technique of moving the upper and lower limbs, in isolation. We actively used combinations of breathing rate, which allowed the hockey player to discover the current limits of the respiratory system, which clearly defines his ability to relax during swimming.

The ability of a hockey player to achieve a state of muscle corset relaxation, with peace of mind, is the result of strenuous training in water. The aquatic environment offers athletes, compared to dryland, unique conditions in which they can achieve peace of mind faster and consequently learn the necessary movement patterns more easily.

Demonstration of lower limb training:

In the water, the hockey player gained important theoretical and practical knowledge regarding the connection between the performance of the respiratory system and the state of relaxation of his own body. His active approach, in the sense of conscious control of his own body, made it possible to minimize the activity of the brain, which during dry training tried to stabilize the injured area by increasing muscle tone, which resulted in deterioration of range of motion and reduced tissue flexibility in various parts of the body.

Demonstration of upper limb training:

The achieved level of dry warm-up, breaststroke swimming technique and complementary training exercises now gives the young hockey player the choice of how or in which direction to use compensatory swimming to restore the health of his own body.



In a short time, the hockey player managed to master an effective technique of swimming breaststroke. Changing the original technique may seem easy, but the opposite is true. The ability of an athlete to consciously intervene in the time flow in order to rearrange the movements of individual parts in the correct order, with different speed and resistance, is very difficult. It mainly requires willpower and discipline towards oneself.

Comprehensively focused training on dryland as well as in water allowed the hockey player to discover the current limits of his own body, but what's more, he acquired the necessary knowledge, both theoretical and practical, thanks to which he learned to safely push his own limits to a new level.

Changes in the body would not be possible without a change at the mental level.

Despite significant progress, in his case, it is still necessary to continue the rehabilitation process with a focus on increasing the functionality (stability, mobility) of the entire spine. It is necessary to focus training on improving joint functionality in isolation and subsequently in movement chaining. At the same time, it will be important to check the functionality of sensory systems in statics, dynamics, without load, as well as with load. But that's already a potential topic for the next blog😉.


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