This exercise provided courtesy of Billy Polson, founder and co-owner of DIAKADI Body training gym, voted best personal training gym in San Francisco by CitySearch in 2006.
The dumbbell freestyle swim stroke exercise mimics freestyle swimming to strengthen the shoulders in general and the rotator cuffs in particular. Adding a drop set in which you "rep out" on a decreasing series of weights works your shoulders to the max.
Choose four pairs of dumbbells in decreasing weights. The heaviest should be a pair of weights that you feel you can swim with for six to eight stroke pairs before reaching muscle failure (the point at which you cannot lift the weights in a smooth, controlled way for another repetition). Begin in a standing position with your legs approximately hip-width apart and the heaviest set of dumbbells held in each hand. Lean your upper body forward to an approximately 45-degree angle, being sure to maintain a flat back to avoid injury. Keeping your arms straight, lift the dumbbells out in front of your body so that your arms are parallel to the plane of your upper body.
- From the starting position, bring your right arm back as if you are doing a stroke of freestyle swimming. Your arm will naturally bend as you bring your elbow back. Be careful to keep the dumbbell in close to your body; allowing it to drop out too far can cause injury (see Photo 1).
- As your right reaches the back end of its stroke, begin dropping your left arm to start its own stroke, while simultaneously lifting the right elbow up in an arc over the shoulder and pushing the right dumbbell back out to starting position (see Photo 2).
- Your right arm should reach starting position just as your left arm reaches the back position. (see Photo 3).
- Do the maximum number of strokes first set of dumbbells, then move to the next lighter set of dumbbells and repeat to max. Perform four sets total (such that you have dropped a total of three weight levels and end with a fourth, lightest, set of weights), each time reaching failure before switching weights.