This post is courtesy of Abbie Fish of RITTER Sports Performance. From qualifying for the Olympic Trials to working at USA Swimming’s headquarters, Abbie has been on all sides of swimming. Abbie is a stroke mechanics guru and believes anyone with the heart to train can benefit from technical advice! [CLICK HERE] for a FREE stroke technique lesson from Coach Abbie!


If you are a swimmer, you’ve definitely experienced shoulder soreness and/or shoulder pain. With the nature of sport (predominately) in the forward range of motion, most swimmers experience some sort of shoulder dysfunction within their career.

Since this soreness is often inevitable, wouldn’t you love to know a way to decrease your soreness level, but not actually add more into your routine? Well, get ready for our next blog series on the Best Way to Sleep with Sore Shoulders!

In this series, we discuss the BEST sleeping position for sore shoulders and WHY this sleeping position helps reduce your soreness (or pain) level. I mean, cmon, the best way to get something done is by not really having to do anything at all, right? 😉

Let’s get started...

Most masters teams swim anywhere from 3,000-6,000 yards per day. While age-group and collegiate swimmers swim anywhere from 10,000-15,000 yards per day. If on average, most swimmers take 12-20 Freestyle strokes in a 25-yard Freestyle—the number of estimated (forward) arm rotations each workout are below:


12 Strokes:

15 Strokes:

20 strokes:


















With the lowest number in our table being 1,440 strokes and the highest 12,000 strokes—swimming is NOT an easy workout on your shoulder joints. It is, in fact, very, very stressful. Obviously, not all practices are built solely on the Freestyle stroke, but MOST range anywhere from 60-80% Freestyle based--depending on your team. Remember as a triathlete and/or competitive swimmer, it is OKAY to train other strokes. In fact, it is actually healthy for your shoulders!

Word to the wise: Next time you are feeling tight in the pool—flip over to your back or swim some breaststroke. Or man—even work on your kick! Woohoo! :)

Back to business...

 If you are a swimmer and want to continue to swim—let’s look what position you’re sleeping in to see if there’s a way to REDUCE unneeded stress on your shoulder joints!

The average American sleeps anywhere from 6-8 hours a night--that’s equivalent to 1/4-1/3 of your day! Wouldn’t it be awesome to use this time and let your shoulders recover—as opposed to adding any unneeded stress to the joints? Let’s dive deeper into the 3 most common sleeping positions and see!

  • 1) The Stomach Sleeper:

  • Sleeping on your stomach, no matter what position you put your arms in—is downright awkward on your shoulders and your neck. The pillow has a tendency to prop up your head which adds unneeded strain to your lower back.

    Specifically, with this position your shoulders roll forward (towards the mattress)--which mimics the forward motion you are already doing in the pool. Stomach sleepers beware—this forward position is NOT ideal for shoulder health!

    If you absolutely cannot sleep in any other position than on your stomach, put a small pillow under your pelvis and lower abdomen (below your belly button area) to help elevate your lower back and better align your spine. Also, keeping your elbows at your side (below your shoulder level) is better for sore shoulders.

  • 2) The Side Sleeper:

  • Just like the stomach sleeper, sleeping on side puts your spine out of alignment and adds unneeded stress to your shoulder joints. When you are sleeping on your side, your shoulders have a tendency to roll forward and your chest caves in.

    Side sleeping is especially bad for people with an imbalance in shoulder soreness. You want to avoid rolling towards the more sore shoulder and sleeping on top of it.

    If you absolutely cannot sleep on your side, try putting a pillow in between your knees to better align your spine. Plus, try to keep your shoulders stack on top of each (vertically) instead of allowing the top shoulder to roll towards your chest. You can even try sleeping with your top arm extended straight along your side (opposite from the picture above) to avoid being tempted to roll towards the mattress.

  • 3) The Back Sleeper:

  • There is NO doubt that sleeping on your back is your BEST bet if you have sore shoulders. Not only does a fairly firm mattress keep your spine in good alignment, but gravity pushes on the front of your shoulders and keeps your chest open (as opposed to being rolled forward in swimming).

    When you sleep on your back you want to rest your arms comfortably on your chest or at your sides. Avoiding keeping the arms above your head and rotating the shoulders externally (as shown below). This external rotation of the shoulder joint can put extra pressure on the nerves in your upper back and shoulder joints—which in turn can worsen shoulder pain!

    If you experience any lower back or hip discomfort while sleeping on your back, put a pillow underneath your knees to help further improve your spinal alignment and alleviate any spinal curvatures seen.

    Overall, changing your sleeping position may take some time. You may start out on your back and eventually end up on your stomach. But remember--just with any change, it takes time. If you feel you definitely cannot sleep in any other position than you are currently in—use some of our extra hints to help improve your body position while sleeping!

    After all, if you add an extra pillow for support AND see a 30% decrease in shoulder soreness—you’re already on a faster trajectory to your swimming goals. That’s what we all want do to do, right?

    Until Next Time,

    -A. Fish

    Learn more from A3 Performance Partners Abbie Fish and Ritter Sports Performance on Social Media:

    The Best Way To Sleep With Sore Shoulders @AB Fish & @Ritter Sports Performance
    The Best Way To Sleep With Sore Shoulders  @afish1 & @rittersp
    The Best Way To Sleep With Sore Shoulders  @theafish1 & @rittersp
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    April 12, 2018 — A3 Performance

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