Swim to Live – Part 1

This is a three-part educational blog about swimming. I’ve broken it down simply because there is so much to say I can’t possibly fit it into one! The first part is mostly personal experience, the place, the people, the open water, the biomechanics and neurodynamics, but mostly about my great love of wild, open water swimming.

The second part will be a more detailed blog on the biomechanics, and latest evidence on the most common injury of swimming, the rotator cuff (the shoulder). The third part will be a pre-and rehabilitation mat based exercise program that addresses all the problems highlighted in the early parts. It’s not that I see myself as an expert on swimming, absolutely not, every day I get into the cold water I am learning. It is one of my true passions and because of it I am a calmer, more level headed, happier and energised person.

It just so happens that I live in one of the top Open Water Swimming training grounds in the world. Yep, there’s a smugness to that statement! Sandycove Island is 2 miles outside the beautiful town of Kinsale, Co. Cork. Ned Denison is the boss in these parts and runs an internationally famous distance week, a swim camp for the marathoning elite!

Ned’s top5 open water 5km swims in Cork, Garnish, Speckled Door, Sovereign Islands, thru the tunnel at Old Head Kinsale and Fermoy.


Sandycove Island .                                               Photo Riana Parsons


The Sandycove swimmers have been an established club since 2010, with an active Facebook Group and a dedicated team of people wholly obsessed with the landscape and seascape they inhabit. The community here has been swimming for decades. We have skins swimmers and wetsuit swimmers, each with their own unique take on what it is to experience the island while bobbing in its waters.

I talk mostly of open water swimming here simply because it’s what I do most days. All the techniques that I discuss and associated injuries with the sport, can be applied to pool swimming too.


6am Sunrise swimmers .      Photo Daemo Dams

These fantastic swimmers rarely groan, but every now and then, I overhear a complaint that their addiction to the Island causes pain, discomfort, imbalance, and drag. Being a Physio (basically a body obsessed bio mechanical analyst!), I never switch off.

I watch their stroke, their breathing, the way they kick too hard, too soft, where they hold their heads, what their shoulders do or don’t do. Even when I’m swimming in the cold Atlantic waters myself, I’m analysing my movement, asking myself, what’s required from my body to make my swimming more efficient, to make my swim more satisfying?

Efficiency in swimming is everything. The good news is that if you’re efficient with your energy expenditure and breath, you can swim forever. Let me show you how…


Why swimming works for mind and body


The physical health benefits of swimming are well documented. Not so often written about are the mental health benefits of being immersed in the water. This complete mind body exercise, with no distraction other than your breathing to control, is the best meditation I have experienced.

When swimming causes pain

In my clinical practice, I see many injuries, including fellow swimmers with old shoulder injuries. I have researched to death the mechanics of shoulder injury, because it’s my job and I am a total swimming addict. What I know is that it is never just ‘the shoulder’.

I like to think about the pelvis as the fulcrum for the shoulders. I’ll put money on about 90% of the readers right now having an A-ha moment! Rarely do people connect the two. The reality is that the pelvis creates three-dimensional movement to power the shoulder’s work. Power and freedom of movement from the pelvis is a superpower in swimming. The good news is there is a very simple, enjoyable, relaxing technique that you can practice on this ‘rotational 3D orientation’ that can be mastered on dry land and then applied to the water. I’ve found Mindful Movement techniques to be of great benefit for greater awareness and efficiency in open water swimming.

In Part II and III I will address some of the above complaints and help you experience an even more intoxicating, productive open water swim.

My swim buddies on Instagram are worth a look, @theafish1, @theswimmingsisters, @thewildswimmingbrothers, @adamoceanwalker.




‘The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonders, forever’

Jacques Yves Cousteau


My next Mindful Swimming Workshop  – Saturday 7th October – Kinsale

1-5pm The Friary, Contact Karenwildphysio@gmail.com to book.