Injury Rates in College Swimmers

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The NCAA has The NCAA has sanctioned championship events in the men’s swimming and diving since 1937 and women’s swimming and diving since 1982. Over the 2013-2014 academic year, 9,630 men and 12,333 women participated in NCAA swimming and diving. Unfortunately, the rate of injuries is not well documented in the sport. This study assessed the injury rates within the sport of swimming and diving. This study collected data from nine varsity swimming programs.

Men’s Swimming and Diving

Overall, there were 149 injuries reported in the college men’s swimming and diving. Of these, 133 were swimming injuries and 25 were diving injuries. Most of the injuries occurred during the regular season 61.7%. Most were non-severe injuries, as 77.2% did not require time off, while 2.7% required surgery. The injury rate was 1.54/1000 athletic exposures.

Women’s Swimming and Diving

A total of 208 injuries were reported for college women’s swimming and diving. Of these, 171 occurred in swimmers and 37 in divers. Like the men, most occurred during practice during the regular season. The severity of the injuries were similar to the men, with only 1.9% requiring surgery. The injury rate for women was 1.71/1000 athletic exposures.

Time Trends

There was no trend for the men’s swimming and diving injuries, while the women had a reduced injury rate in the 2012/2013 – 2013/2014 season.

Injury Location

The most injured site was the shoulder in men’s swimming (34.7%), men’s diving (32.0%) and women’s swimming (31.3%). The trunk/low back had the largest injury rate in women’s diving (37.8%). Of the injuries, the majority were strains.

Classification of Injuries

The majority of the injuries were classified as overuse. Overall, these injury rates are encouraging, as previous research suggests higher injury rates within the sport. However, the culture of swimming likely under reports injuries, as many swimmers believe shoulder pain is “normal”. In fact, a recent study by Dr. Lucas Wymore reports active swimmers without an injury have a lower subjective functional score than injured baseball players. Clearly, further education and a shift in culture is necessary for further decreasing the rate of shoulder and low back injuries, the two most common sites of injury in swimming.


  1. Kerr ZY, Baugh CM, Hibberd EE, Snook EM, Hayden R, Dompier TP.Epidemiology of National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s and women’s swimming and diving injuries from 2009/2010 to 2013/2014. Br J Sports Med. 2015 Jan 29. pii: bjsports-2014-094423. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2014-094423
  2. Wymore L, Fronek J. Shoulder Functional Performance Status of National Collegiate Athletic Association Swimmers: Baseline Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic Scores. Am J Sports Med. 2015 Mar 19. pii: 0363546515574058. [Epub ahead of print]

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Long Course vs. Short Course Swimming: Part III

Take home points

  1. The difference between long course and short course times remain consistent in different events (Free, IM, breast)
  2. Gender differences decreased with distance in the IM (consistent with freestyle events) but increased with breaststroke
  3. Research comparing those with dedicated short course seasons with those who focus on long course would provide more answers for optimal training

Comparing long course and short course swimming is always a popular topic here.  Though many swimmers succeed in long course while training mostly in short course, most would agree events can be quite different when the pool length changes.  This discussion is now timely with the end of short course scholastic championships and the transition into summer long course season (as hard as that may be to fathom with part of the US still dealing with snow!).

We have covered this topic in several posts, with Part I and Part II of this series, along with leading an interview from Dr. Knechtle, one of the leading researchers in this area.  While our previous entries have focused on largely on freestyle swimming, recent research provides insight into differences in IM and breaststroke events.

In one recent study, Wolfrum (2014) studied over 26,000 swims by Swiss and international swimmers in the 200m and 400m IM events.  Not surprisingly, short course times (SCM) were superior to long course times (4.3±3.2%).  Other notable conclusions included:

  • Sex-related differences in performance by FINA swimmers were significantly greater in short-course events than in long-course events, while sex-related differences in performance of Swiss athletes were not significantly affected by course length
  • Sex-related differences in swimming speed decreased with increasing race distance
  • Swimming performance by international (non-Swiss) men competing in either course length and international females competing in 200 m and 400 m short-course events improved during 2000–2011.

Koch-Zeigenbein (2014) applied similar analysis to breaststroke events for both Swiss and international swimmers finding:

  • Elite breaststroke swimmers were ~3% faster on short course compared to long course.
  • The sex difference in breaststroke swimming speed from 50 m to 200 m events was ~11% (with significance at national level on 200 m long course and on international level on 100 m short course)
  • Sex difference appeared slightly greater in long course compared to short course

Note, the latter finding (greater difference in long course to short course) contrasts with other research in freestyle events showing that females close the gap as distance increases, though part of that result may be skewed by the addition of 400m and longer events in freestyle.  In breaststroke, distance is capped at 200m and with potentially less depth in the female ranks (just a supposition, not a fact), gender differences may be more exposed in a less popular event like the 200m breaststroke.


One interesting line of research not yet pursued (to my knowledge) would be to assess performance of swimmers who prioritize short course swimming compared to those for whom short course is less important.  In the US college system, short course can be THE priority even for international level swimmers, whereas short course is minor in other countries.  For now, it is clear that despite mountains of data, there are still many unanswered questions in making an optimal transition between course lengths.


1) Koch-Ziegenbein P, Knechtle B, Rüst CA, Rosemann T, Lepers R. Differences in swimming speed on short course and long course for female and male breaststroke swimmers: A comparison of swimmers at national and international level. OA Sports Medicine 2013 Sep 01;1(2):18.

2) Wolfrum M, Rüst CA, Rosemann T, Lepers R, Knechtle B. The Effect of Course Length on Individual Medley Swimming Performance in National and International Athletes. Journal of Human Kinetics. 2014;42:187-200.

Written by Allan Phillips is a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) and owner of Pike Athletics. He is also an ASCA Level II coach and USA Triathlon coach. Allan is a co-author of the Troubleshooting System and was selected by Dr. Mullen as an assistant editor of the Swimming Science Research Review. He is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Physical Therapy at US Army-Baylor University.

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Race Analysis: Caleb Dressel 18.67 at Men’s 2015 NCAA Championships

Caleb Dressel won the 50-yard freestyle at the Men’s 2015 NCAA Championships. During this race, he broke his National Age Group record of a 18.94, which we analyzed recently.

At NCAA’s Dressel dropped 0.27 seconds, touching the wall with a 18.67. Despite this improvement in time, Dressel’s stroke count was the same:

Strokes to 15 m Strokes Last 8.6 yards
2 7
7 8

If Caleb’s stroke count didn’t change, how did he improve 0.27?

When we further look into the analysis, we see Dressel was ~0.2 seconds faster on his breakout. This improvement was also noted on his turn, breaking out ~0.1 seconds faster. These two areas of improvement steam from improving his underwater dolphin kicking, which he has clearly been improving, as his 100-yard butterfly has greatly improved in time over the past year.

Now, with his NCAA win, many are suggesting Dressel can make the Olympic, but I am unsure about, still due to his high stroke rate. Such a high stroke rate is hard to maintain during LCM, especially when other elite competitors have a distance per stroke (meters/stroke) of 1.2, compared to Dressel’s 1.07. Nonetheless, he should still improve 0.2 in his long course time, based off his start alone.

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Paralympic Swimming Dryland Improves Start Performance

This is an interview with Andrew Dingley, a top Paralympic swimming researcher. Here is the link for his latest article and here is a list of his current publications.

1. Please introduce yourself to the readers (how you started in the profession, education, credentials, experience, etc.).

In 2008, while completing the final year of my undergraduate degree in Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Sports Science) at Edith Cowan University and doing some work experience at the West Australian Institute of Sport, I applied for an Occupational Trainee position in the Physiology department at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). This position enabled me to work with a number of different elite sports programs, including swimming. Six months into the position, a Paralympic swimming program was started and I was the link between the Physiology department and the swimming coach. At the end of the year’s placement, I began my Doctor of Philosophy working with the AIS and Australian Paralympic swimming programs. This opportunity saw me expanding my knowledge by working closely with different fields of sports science (biomechanics, performance analysis, physiology and strength and conditioning). My passion is the continued improvement of the Paralympic swimmer, the keys are improving swimming performance through biomechanical and performance analysis and implementing dry-land training programs to enhance movement patterns. This is even more challenging and thus exciting in Paralympic swimmers given the particular physical, biomechanical and physiological characteristics of each swimmer.

2. You recently published an article on resistance training and Paralympic performance. How much research exists on this subject?Paralympic Swimming Dryland

In 2010, when data collection started on my studies, there had been only a few studies on Paralympic swimming performance, however over the last 4-5 years a number of researchers have begun to investigate this topic. Despite this, our knowledge on resistance training and Paralympic swimmers is very limited with this research being the first peer-review published study examining the effects of a dry-land intervention program on Paralympic swimming performance. I am excited to see more work in this area in the future.

3. What did your study look at?

Dingley, A.A., Pyne, D.B., Youngson, J., and Burkett, B. (2015). Effectiveness of a dry-land resistance training program on strength, power, and swimming performance in Paralympic swimmers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29 (3), 619-626.

This study evaluated the effectiveness of a six-week dry-land resistance training program designed to improve strength, flexibility and control of the three main movements in swimming: the start and turn, postural control in the water, and the pull and kick functional qualities, while also developing power. Whether these improvements transferred to improved swimming performance in Paralympic swimmers was investigated through a number of clinical, laboratory and pool tests.

4. Were there any other swimming tests you considered?

When the study was being proposed, a number of other tests were discussed, but we considered that tests showing improvements to coaches and swimmers should remain a priority. Therefore from a swimming perspective, we concentrated on the time trial and timed dive starts. In future studies, I would like to investigate changes to functional movement from a clinical perspective. In terms of swimming performance I would like examine changes that occur to the swimmer’s asymmetrical swimming patterns, their turns and active drag profile.

5. What were the results of your study?

The main findings of the study were that following a 6-week dry-land intervention; 50-m time trial performance improved by 1.2% start times to the 5-m by 5.5%, and 15-m by 1.8% marks and there was a very large (r= 0.78) correlation between dive start velocity and the counter movement jump mean velocity. These improvements in swimming performance indicate that changes in power and strength that occur in dryland for swimmers training should positively influence swimming performance. This effect was most evident by the improvements noted in the dive start of the swimmers to 5-m and 15-m, most likely due to their ability to produce greater power (6.1%) and generate quicker acceleration (3.7%).

6. What were the practical implications for coaches and swimmers from your study?

Dry-land for swimmers training programs can improve strength, power, dive starts and the free swimming velocity of Paralympic swimmers over a short period at a critical time of a season. These improvements should translate to improvements in sprint times (50-m) and if these resistance programs were implemented throughout the season, improvements can be maintained and developed.

7. If a Paralympic swimmer was looking to begin a resistance training program, what would you suggest?

I would suggest the implementation of dry-land resistance training into their training program. A generalized program that focuses on the lower body for development of control and power through the gluteals, upper body for strengthening of the stability of the shoulder girdle, and the trunk for activation and control of the core, would be a good start. However, to get the maximal benefits of a dry-land resistance program, the swimmer should work with a strength and conditioning coach to develop an individualized program based on their underlying disability to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.

8. What are your views on resisted swimming devices and implementation for strength training of Paralympic swimmers?

This is an interesting question, personally I feel that resisted swimming devices have a place in swim training, but I understand that there are people against them. Many people point out that the swimming bench measures how much force or power the muscles can apply during a similar swimming action without the resistance of the water, but it does not replicate the specificity of the swimming movement which is dependent on technique. However, a swim-bench ergometer does target swimming-specific muscle groups and enables coaches and sport scientists to directly quantify bilateral measurement of hand force generation without the confounding drag forces associated with in-water swimming, which is often a lot more difficult, time-consuming and expensive to measure. This method allows the a ssessment of a swimmer’s force or power profile and their ability to generate symmetrical muscular power which is fundamental for swimming performance.

My position on strength training for Paralympic swimmers is that every Paralympic swimmer, no matter the severity of their disability could benefit from resistance training to some degree, even if it is to improve movement patterns and recovery rather than strength and power per se.

9. Do you think Paralympic swimmers would respond with post-activation potentiation?

While I think post-activation potentiation would be beneficial to Paralympic swimmers, the biggest problem with this idea in competition is the time period between warm-up and competition usually spent in the marshalling area. Working at the Australian Institute of Sport, we attempted to do something along these lines, but the swimmer’s found it very difficult to put into practice. I think more research has to be done in this area, with the work on able-bodied swimmers showing that a traditional warm-up is just as effective for sprint swimmers.

10.What research or projects are you currently working on or should we look from you in the future?

I am currently working with a number of different swimming coaches, evaluating different training methodologies and their effect on swimming performance. I am interested in putting together another research project to investigate the long-term development of Paralympic swimmers from both a symmetrical and swimming performance point of view.

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SSP 017: Season Swimming Planning, Swimming Workout Design and Much More with Paul Yetter of T2 Aquatics

This episode of the Swimming Science Podcast features Paul Yetter, head coach of T2 Aquatics.

Paul Yetter joined T2 Aquatics in May 2010 as the club’s Head Coach.  Before coaching with SEC Champion Auburn University (2009-2010), Paul spent the previous 9 years at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club working with athletes of all ages and ability levels.

A 7-time member of USA Swimming’s National Team Coaching Staff, Paul has represented the USA as an Assistant Coach at the 2008 Olympic Games, the 2007 Japan Open, the 2006 Pan Pacific Championships, and the 2005 World Championships.  Additionally, Paul served as the Head Women’s Coach of the 2007 Pan American Games, leading the team to 14 of 16 possible Gold Medals.

In 2013, Paul served as the Head Men’s Coach for Team USA’s World Junior Championship Team, competing in Dubai, UAE; and most recently Paul served as the Head Men’s Team Coach of USA Swimming’s National Select Camp held in Colorado Springs in October 2014.

Prior to his time spent on the USA National Team Staffs, Paul gained experience assisting National Coach of the Year Bob Bowman during NBAC’s 2001-2002 season.  From 2002-2004, Paul lead NBAC’s Harford County Site, and from 2005-2009 Paul guided the NBAC’s High Performance Training Group at NBAC’s Meadowbrook Site.

Coach Yetter’s athletes have represented the USA in International Competition each year from 2004-2011, winning medals at the Olympic Games, World Championships, Pac Pacific Championships, World University Games, Pan American Games, Junior Pan Pacific Championships, and the FINA World Youth Championships.

Yetter has guided 7 different athletes to “USA Swimming National Team” status; in addition, a total of 14 different athletes, under Paul’s guidance, have qualified to represent the United States in International competition.

Yetter was Katie Hoff’s coach in 2004 when she qualified for the Athens Olympics at age 15, and again in 2008 when she qualified for the Beijing Olympics.  From 2005-2008, under Yetter’s guidance Hoff set 2 Long Course World Records and 18 American Records, while earning 3 Individual Olympic Medals and 6 World Championship Gold Medals.  During the 2007-2008 season, Hoff set at least 1 American Record in 9 different events.

Following the 2008 season, Yetter guided 15 year old Elizabeth Pelton to the 2009 USA Rome World Championship team, where she finished 6th in the 200 Backstroke.  Pelton qualified for the US Team in 3 individual events — more than any other female swimmer from the United States that year.

In October 2011, one year after T2 Aquatics was formed, Coach Yetter’s T2 Aquatics swimmers Elizabeth Pelton and Erika Erndl won a total of 9 medals at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Since 2002, Yetter’s swimmers have set more than 75 US National Age Group records in 13 different events, while 12 different athletes have achieved more than 90 No. 1 National Age Group rankings. Recently, Coach Yetter’s T2 Aquatics athletes Elizabeth Pelton (2011) and Matthew Limbacher (2013) set National Age Group records while representing T2 Aquatics.

Coach Yetter has a proven track record of coaching large groups at the Highest-Level meets in the United States; in 2008 he led a group of 12 North Baltimore Aquatic Club athletes to the US Olympic Trials, and the 2012 he led a group of 8 T2 Aquatics athletes to the Olympic Trials.

For his efforts in coaching, Yetter was named the 2007 USA Swimming Developmental Coach of the Year as well as the United States Olympic Committee Developmental Coach of the Year for all Olympic Sports.

Coach Yetter’s athletes have gone on to swim for some prestigious Universities, including:  Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, Penn, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas, John’s Hopkins, North Carolina, Florida State, South Carolina, Southern California, Tennessee, LSU, Georgia Tech, Williams College, Lewis University, and Richmond.

Yetter is a 1998 graduate of the University of Wisconsin where he earned a degree in English.


  • Season swimming planning.
  • Swimming workout design.
  • Early season speed training.
  • Individuality.
  • Training differences between high school and post-graduate swimmers.
  • Deception training.
  • Mental contribution in high school swimmers.

Right click here and save-as to download this episode to your computer.



Thanks for joining me for this episode. I know the conversation broke up a few times and I apologize, I’m still very new with this! If you have any tips, suggestions, or comments about this episode, please be sure to leave them in the comment section below.

If you enjoyed this episode, please share it using the social media buttons you see at the bottom of the post.


If you enjoyed this podcast, tell Paul thanks on Twitter!

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Dryland For Swimmers: What It’s All About

For any sport, training doesn’t just include practicing the skills of that sport. For instance, a basketball player doesn’t just practice shooting baskets and a gymnast doesn’t just practice cartwheels. To truly maximize your swimming performance, dryland exercises should be an essential part of your training routine.

While swimming by itself is a fantastic form of exercise, we firmly believe that dryland for swimmers can make a huge difference in performance. Not only do dryland exercises improve swimming performance, these exercise can help prevent injuries and even improve recovery time.

One of the advantages of dryland exercises is that you can continue training even when you don’t have access to water. You don’t even need a bunch of expensive equipment. A medicine ball, a resistance band and a jump rope might be the extent of it until you are ready to consider serious weight training.

You might be worried about finding time for dryland. For swimmers, practices in the pool take up a lot of time, and it can seem hard to fit in dryland training. However, with dryland exercises, it’s quality that counts and not necessarily quantity.

For example, five perfectly executed squats can bring about more benefit than 10 squats that were done quickly, but with poor form. When it comes to dryland for swimmers, it’s all about precision. Each squat, push-up or shoulder extension needs to be purposeful and exact. When you’re in the water, it might be all about speed and power, but dryland is just the opposite.

At Swimming Science, our goal is to educate swimmers about the best and safest ways to train. When it comes to dryland for swimmers, our techniques and tips combine the latest academic and scientific research and provide practical options for your personal training.

Take a look around our website and you’ll find tons of helpful information regarding dryland for swimmers as well as other tips and helpful information to improve your swim performance.

Under the Resources tab, you will find dozens of articles with topics ranging from dryland for swimmers, warm-up exercises, asthma and swimming, tools for injury prevention and recovery and much more. You also find a link to the book “Dryland for Swimmers.” This comprehensive guide will get you started with dryland, helping you set up a progressive program that is safe and effective.

Don’t forget to also sign up for the free newsletter, which also includes access to a popular video regarding Shoulder Pain Perception in Swimmers.

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Masters Swimming: 2014 FINA World Top-10

Take Home Message on Masters Swimming Performance:
1. The aim was to compare the performance in some of the most popular events across different master´s age-groups and elite counterparts (50, 100, 200 and 400 LCM freestyle);
2. The average race speed decreases with age in the four selected events;
3. Elite swimmers are more homogeneous than remaining age-groups. The coefficient of variation (an index of how competitive is an event within an age-group) is rather low (i.e. highly competitive) till the 65-69y for the sprints and by 50-54y and 55-59y for long-distances events;
4. The partial difference between elite and master swimmers increases with the distance. Master swimmers are able to keep a difference up to 10% of elites´ performance till their 40-44 years-old. The sharp decreases happen from this age on.

Masters swimming competitions are increasingly popular these days. It is all about racing, competitions and bonding Not your typical masters swimmerfor a lot of middle-aged people (some are former competitive swimmers and others that never were). A little bit more of belly hiding the 6 pack, not as bulky as they used to be, but the same desire to touch the wall in the first place as 2-3 decades ago. The number of competitions in US, Australia, Europe and Asia is increasing at fast-pace. For instance, in Japan (and probably in other countries) almost every weekend is held at least one master competition. Checking the times posted by people in their 40s-50s one will be surprised how fast these guys still are. I will showcase with two swimmers in the 2014 FINA Master World top-10 ranking (LCM): (i) Brent Barnes (SIN, 55-59) ranked 1st in the 50 free with 25.83s; (ii) José Freitas (POR, 50-54) ranked 2nd in the 200 free with 2:07.64s. And yes, the nationalities were not chosen randomly, you are right…

Determinants of Masters Swimming Performance

As far as research concerns, there is a major drawback. Of the papers published on masters swimming, fitness-oriented and recreational subjects are often recruited for research on performance. It is just like assessing a saloon (some countries named it as “sedan”) to learn how to improve a GT car. The GT car resembles a sedan, have similar car body design, but completely different components under the bonnet. Well, that´s my two cents. Others are entitled to their opinion and I respect them. Only a few research papers share evidence on “competitive” masters swimmers, including those that retired as competitive athletes and shift to master swim (e.g. Mejias et al., 2014). There is a lot to learn on masters swimming. Probably this is one of the most interesting topics to carry out research and only now we started to gather some insights.

As happens with elite and young counterparts, master´s performance is related to the biomechanical and energetic profiles (Ferreira et al., 2014; 2015). You can always re-cap some of these factors referring to the pieces published here on the Swimming Science by Allan Phillips #1 #2. Today, though, I will focus on the main outcome: performance. My aim is to compare the performance in some of the most popular events (men´s 50, 100, 200 and 400 LCM freestyle) across different master´s age-groups and elite counterparts. Times were retrieved from the 2014 FINA master world top-10 rankings and 2014 FINA rankings for the top-10 elite swimmers.

Analysis of Masters Swimming Top-10

As expected the average race speed decreases with increasing age in the four events (Fig 1). Comparing elite swimmers with the 25-29 age-group we can see a sharp decrease, even though both are somewhere in their 20s. In an earlier piece I reported the same findings. In sport science, there is a discussion about nature and nurture. Here we have a clue that albeit nature is important, other factors play determinant roles. Age might have a significant effect, but something else is also involved in the performance impairment over time.

The vertical lines represent the data dispersion i.e., how competitive is an event within an age-group. Narrow vertical lines represent low dispersion (hence, times are very close together being a very competitive event). Overall, it seems that as the distance increase, likewise the dispersion also increases (i.e. less competitive). However in a given event, the competitive level is not homogeneous. For example, refer to the 400 free (red line): the 35-39 and 45-49 age-groups are less competitive than the 40-44 and following ones. With that said, the main trend is to the performance dispersion increase with age (e.g. 50 free, 100 free and 200 free). At least in these three events younger master swimmers deliver more consistent performances than the older counterparts. I am confident on that all the way till the 90-94y. From this age onwards we find less than 10 swimmers per event, therefore not so sure.

Figure 1 with legend

To have a deeper insight I will report three basic statistics to quantify the changes (table 1): (i) the mean; (ii) the median – it splits the data into lower and upper half. If I report that the median income in a country is 2,000 dollars it means that at least half of the population earns that much and the other half more than 2k. Hence, if in a group of 10 swimmers the median is 2.00m/s it means that at least 5 swimmer race at that speed or faster; (iii) coefficient of variation – it is a standardized measure of dispersion. It enables us to learn how competitive the swimmers are within an age-group. The parameter ranges between 0 and 100%. If theoretically all the 10 swimmers have exactly the same time this is extremely competitive and the coefficient returns the value of 0%. So, lower the coefficient of variation, more tightly and close together are the performances (0% means very competitive; 100% not so competitive).

Now, I will explain how to interpret the data for the 45-49 age-group in the 400 free event and then you can do it yourself for the remaining events and age-groups (table 1). On average, the 2014 top-10 45-49y swimmers raced at 1.63m/s (mean), half of them at least at 1.52 m/s (median) and there is a data dispersion of 19.83% (coefficient of variation). Obviously elite swimmers are more homogeneous than remaining age-groups. The coefficient of variation is rather low till the 65-69y for the 50 and 100 free, by 50-54y and 55-59y for remaining events.

tabe 1 with legend

Another way to do the analysis is comparing the partial difference (i.e. %) instead of the absolute values (i.e. m/s). So, we must consider that elite swimmers show the best performances (100%). From here I did the calculation of how much does represent the performance at a given age-group in percentage. The top panel are the average values and the bottom is the same data after modelling it. When we read a good textbook most of the times we find nice, smooth and beautiful graphs because it is data modeled. It is easier to understand a concept having the “smoothed” data, there is little variance and random noise in the dataset. Today I am providing both ways to depict the performance change over time.

The partial difference is higher in the 400 free and lower in the 50 free. So, the partial difference increases with the distance. According to the model (Fig2, bottom) master swimmers are able to keep a difference up to 10% till the 40-44y. At 80-84 and 85-89y the swimmers deliver 50% of the elites´ performances. Between mid-20s and late 40s swimmers are able to keep a fairly stable performance (i.e. slight decrease over these 15-20 years). The sharp impairment happens from this age on; despite there is no clear inflection point. Hence, we cannot set a milestone as “this is the age when everything shifts so we must pay extra attention”.

figure 2 with legend
As shared at the beginning, energetics is a major player. For instance in one of our research projects, aerobic metabolism was the major contributor to total energy expenditure in the 200 free in both genders, albeit the partial aerobic contribution was higher in women and the partial anaerobic contribution greater in men (Ferreira et al., 2014). It is not clear if this is completely due to the gender or the performance level. Because men posted were better times than women. So it might be a gender effect, a performance effect or an interaction between gender and performance level. However, in masters swimming it is very challenging to improve the energetics if they are already in shape. To build-up further these parameters one must increase the external training load i.e., train more often or for longer to increase the training volume, intensity and elicit such energetic pathways. This is a big challenge for a masters swimmer that has to juggle work and family commitments. If one manages to train a little bit more and harder, on the flip side of the coin are the overuse injuries due to the increase in the external training load. With aging, the odds of an injury increase significantly. Another strategy might be to preserve the energetics as much as possible and concurrently improve the technique (Ferreira et al., 2015). However, at least “young” masters that were former elite swimmers showed to be able to have the same swimming efficiency (Mejias et al., 2014). In comparison to elite swimmers, these masters clearly impaired the energetics (V4, vVO2max, peakVO2, total energy expenditure), but kept the stroke length and propelling efficiency.

It seems that there are several ways to enhance the performance in masters swimming and one should tailor a solution that best fit his/her specific characteristics, background and goals. Nevertheless, we are still in an early stage of gathering knowledge on masters swimming. Research is eagerly needed so that we are in conditions to design more effective and efficient training programs to these swimmers.

1. Ferreira, M. I., Barbosa, T. M., Neiva, H. P., Vilaça-Alves, J., Costa, M. J., & Marinho, D. A. (2014). Changes of the energetic profile in masters swimmers over a season. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness. Online-first.
2. Ferreira, M. I., Barbosa, T. M., Neiva, H. P., Marta, C. C., Costa, M. J., Marinho, D. A. & Bolama, R. M. D. A. (2015). The effect of gender, energetics and biomechanics on swimming masters performance. Journal of strength and conditioning research. Online-first.
3. Mejias, J. E., Bragada, J. A., Costa, M. J., Reis, V. M., Garrido, N. D., & Barbosa, T. M. (2014). “Young” masters vs. elite swimmers: comparison of performance, energetics, kinematics and efficiency: original research article. International SportMed Journal, 15(2), 165-177.

By Tiago M. Barbosa PhD degree recipient in Sport Sciences and faculty at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

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Relay Starts: Technique and Championship Implications, Part II

Take Home Points
1) Male elite swim relay starts have consistently had faster relay exchanges than elite females
2) Relay exchanges are a skill that should be accompanied by measurement to optimize practice
3) Relay exchange time has been shown to be a more determining factor in female events than among males

With NCAA Championship season upon us (and the womens’ championship already complete), relay performance takes center stage more than any other domestic meet. Indeed, many teams are shaped with relays in mind due to the profound influence relays can have on overall standing (see NCAA Championship Relay Performances).

In previous posts we have addressed some key issues on relay performances. To recap some key points:
*Relay performance appeared more related to overall standing in the 2014 men’s championship than in the women’s meet
*Track to two feet jump start has been most common at by US Swimmers at international meets (Relay Starts and Championship Implications)
*The introduction of the kick plate to starting platforms has required technical modification to swimmers starting techniques. [C]onsidering a kick start technique in place of a traditional step-up relay start may lead to greater success for relay exchanges on these new starting platforms. (Omega Starting Blocks and Relay Performance)

One recent study from Saavedra (2014) has added to the body of literature on relay starts performance. Authors studied 827 relay performances at international competitions from a 13 year period in the 4 x 100 free, medley, and 4 x 200 free.

Some notable findings:
*Men’s exchange block times were shorter than those of the women
*Exchange block time was especially relevant for the women’s relay medalists in the 4 × 100-m freestyle and 4 × 100-m medley (this makes sense as we’d expect the start to be less important in a 200m event).
*The relationship between exchange time and placing for men in the 100m events was tightest among non-medalist teams

What to take home from this information? First, it may suggest there is more room for improvement among female swimmers in relay starts, as exchange time in relays is largely a matter of team coordination (a gender-neutral trainable skill). Another notable fact is how exchange times were more meaningful for the women’s races than for men. Interestingly, in our analysis of last year’s NCAA Womens Championship, U of Georgia captured the title despite performing worse than other teams on relay starts, though this may have been more a function of overall swimming performance than relay starts.

Future data collection should measure swim times in smaller chunks of each race to determine pace consistency. Now, this may be an inexact science without touch pads mid pool, but data may be useful to establish if swimmers are indeed approaching the wall at consistent paces. A good relay exchange not only includes a good exchange, but also a well swum race in which the swimmer paces himself/herself throughout the event to hold a consistent speed between the flag and the wall, rather than going out too hard any dying at the wall, no matter one’s best intentions to swim hard to the finish.

Relay Starts Summary

Relay exchanges are often overlooked in practice (much like starts in general) but can be the difference between winning and losing a race, especially in the shorter events. Though the swimming portions comprise a much larger percentage of the race, relay exchanges are more about skill and coordination between team members than physical capacity. Teams will have surely gained valuable experience with teammates during the regular season, but like any skill it must be practiced for constant improvement.


  1. Saavedra JM, García-Hermoso A, Escalante Y, Dominguez AM, Arellano R, Navarro F. Relationship between exchange block time in swim starts and final performance in relay races in international championships. J Sports Sci. 2014;32(19):1783-9. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2014.920099. Epub 2014 May 23.

Written by Allan Phillips is a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) and owner of Pike Athletics. He is also an ASCA Level II coach and USA Triathlon coach. Allan is a co-author of the Troubleshooting System and was selected by Dr. Mullen as an assistant editor of the Swimming Science Research Review. He is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Physical Therapy at US Army-Baylor University.

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More on VO2 Max in Swimmers with Ana Sousa

Below is an interview with Ana Sousa on VO2 max and Vo2 kinetics. If you have any questions, please ask them in the comments. For all of Ana’s research articles, click here and for the articles discussed in this paper, see below:

Exercise Modality Effect on Bioenergetical Performance at VO2 max Intensity.

O2 kinetics and metabolic contributions whilst swimming at 95, 100, and 105% of the velocity at VO2 max. [free full text article]

1. Please introduce yourself to the readers (how you started in the profession, education, credentials, experience, etc.).

My name is Ana Sousa. When I was 6 years old I became familiar with swimming since my parents enrolled me in swimming lessons. This moment would eventually define my future options. In 2006 I graduated from Faculty of Sport at Porto University in Sports and Physical Education – Specialization in Swimming High Performance. Few years later, in 2010, I earned at that same university my Master Degree in Sports Science – Specialization in High Performance Sports, having conducted my academic thesis in Swimming. However, I started my career as a Physical Education teacher and concomitantly as a swimming coach in 2005. Currently I am just finishing my PhD, also in Porto University, during which I have worked with high level athletes from different cyclic sports, being full committed to academia.

2. You recently published an article on oxygen uptake (vo2 max and vo2 kinetics) in swimmers. How did your study measure oxygen uptake?

A crucial aspect in training evaluation and control is to provide reliable feedback to athletes and coaches. Therefore, evaluations should occur in ecologic conditions for all athletes, which mean that swimmers should be evaluated in the swimming pool. Having this is mind, the swimmers oxygen uptake evaluation performed was conducted in the swimming pool with a breath-by-breath portable telemetric gas analyser (k4b2, Cosmed, Italy) which was connected to the swimmer by a low hydrodynamic resistance respiratory snorkel and valve system (Aquatrainer, Cosmed, Italy). This apparatus was suspended over the water in a steel cable following the swimmer along the pool and minimizing disturbances of the normal swimming movements.

3. How important do you think maximal oxygen uptake is for swimmers of various distance specialties?

A sustained period of research in human exercise physiology emerged since the 1920s, and for many years VO2 max was considered as the primary area of interest in training and performance diagnosis. However, the capacity to sustain the minimum velocity that elicits VO2 max in time is a recent topic of research and has received little attention in cyclic sports. In fact, this capacity to sustain efforts at the VO2 max intensity has been described as a new criterion for duration and intensity training sets establishment. In this sense, more important than knowing the relative/ absolute VO2 max value of a swimmer is assessing the velocity that corresponds to this intensity and for how long this intensity can be sustained in time. Knowing these parameters, more than knowing the specific relative/ absolute VO2 max value, would help swimmers, particularly those who swim from 200m on, preparing themselves in the aerobic power (VO2 max) training sets.

4. The complexity of maximal oxygen measurement in swimmers has limited the research on this Katinka Hosszu flysubject, what assumptions on maximal oxygen uptake from other sports are applied to swimming with false pretenses?

VO2 research in swimming was scarce during the first half of the twentieth century, and for several years, early studies were conducted in non-ecological swimming conditions (e.g. cycling or running) or used untrained swimmers performing at paces different from the competitive ones (sub-maximal intensities). Moreover, research was limited by the availability of technology, particularly the inability to follow a swimmer along the pool. Notwithstanding, Liljestrand and Lindhard collected expired air and other physiological parameters (eg, blood pressure and cardiac output) in a subject swimming freely in a lake. This study was conducted 2 years before Hill and Lupton in 1922 proposed the concept of VO2 max during exercise in humans (running). In this sense, even during this time, very few assumptions on VO2 from other sports were applied to swimming research. In recent years, research has progressed as technology has evolved, and new methods have been used to assess VO2 in ecologic/real swimming conditions, allowing more reliable and valid results.

5. What were the results of your study?

In the last year (2014) I was fortunate to collaborate with other excellent researchers of Physiology of Exercise. Therefore, we had the opportunity to publish some scientific papers, where swimming exercise was analysed in two of them. From the first study it was possible to conclude that performing time to exhaustion exercises from rest to 95%, 100% and 105% of VO2 max intensity do not influence the adjustment of the cardiovascular and/or pulmonary systems that determine O2 delivery and diffusion to the exercising muscles (VO2 kinetics), with the exception of the VO2 slow component kinetics metabolic profiles (higher in 95 and 100% compared to 105% intensity). From the second study it was possible to conclude that the VO2 kinetics profile in swimmers was characterized by a slower increase towards the steady state phase (higher values of the temporal constant) at 100% of VO2max intensity, compared with runners, rowers and cyclists.

6. What were the practical implications for coaches and swimmers from your study?

From the first study, the understanding how subtle variations surrounding the VO2 max intensity (± 5%) impacts on oxidative metabolism and performance from coaches and swimmers will have important implications for optimising high-intensity interval training whenever VO2 max intensity is enhanced. By presenting a slower VO2 kinetics compared with the other exercise modes, it is suggested that swimmers would benefit more from a longer duration (~90 s) of each set of exercise for optimising high-intensity interval training whenever VO2 max intensity is enhanced.

7. Do you think the results would be different if you had differently trained swimmers?

As stated in the related literature, the adjustment of the cardiovascular and/or pulmonary systems that determine O2 delivery and diffusion to the exercising muscles depends on, among other factors, the physical fitness level of the subjects. It is expectable shorter times of adjustment of the systems in highly trained swimmers, and vice versa. Moreover, the VO2 max and VO2peak values obtained in highly trained swimmers are higher compared with low-level swimmers, and they have a better capacity to maximise their energy input. Therefore, if the studies were conducted with low level athletes, the results found would possible be different in a way that the adjustment to the VO2 supply in the beginning of the exercise, as well as in the end of it (VO2 slow component), would be slower, as well as the VO2 values found  would be higher.

8. How does oxygen uptake alter for different race distances and strokes?

The majority of studies conducted in the related literature have analysed the front crawl technique in short distance efforts (≤400m). The VO2 max has its physiological maximal expression in the 400m distance, i.e., the mean VO2peak value found here is similar to the VO2max value assessed through an incremental protocol until exhaustion. Therefore, it is common to find higher values of VO2 in shorter distances than the 400m, but this must be interpreted with careful since it represents the highest VO2 value found in that specific distance, not corresponding to the VO2 max of the subject. The kinetics of VO2 should be faster in shorter distances comparing to longer distances, since the intensity performed in this later would be lower. As previously mentioned, there is a paucity of data regarding VO2 assessment in other strokes. However, from the few studies available it is possible to conclude that the front crawl is the most economic technique (lower VO2), followed by backstroke, butterfly and breaststroke technique for every swimming velocities.

9. Who is doing the most interesting research currently in your field? What are they doing?

To avoid the risk of forgetting someone, I would prefer to contrast the work that has been done by many researchers in the Swimming Department of the Faculty of Sport – Porto University since the end of the last century, consolidating this way as one of the most expressive research focus in Europe. In fact, and with the collaboration of other research centres, we have been able to identify the main variables that contribute to, and hence predict, swimming performance. Considering this as highly dependent of physiological and biomechanical factors, it has been our greatest potential to assist swimmers and coaches to enhance their performance and achieve high levels fin competitive swimming.

10. What makes your research different from others?

In my opinion, the most important issue to take into account in swimming research is the respect for the ecological environment of the swimmers. Therefore, in all studies conducted, the swimmers were analysed in their natural ecological environment – swimming pool. For that, the apparatus used, alongside with the portable telemetric breath-by-breath gas analyser that allowed respiratory and pulmonary gas-exchange variables direct assessment (K4b2, Cosmed, Italy), was suspended over the water in a steel cable following the swimmer along the pool and minimizing disturbances of the normal swimming movements. The majority of swimming studies are conducted in no-ecological conditions without direct assessment of the respiratory and pulmonary parameters.

11. Which teachers have most influenced your research?

Two important teachers influenced my research: (i) Prof. João Paulo Vilas-Boas, who is currently a Full Professor at Faculty of Sport, University of Porto and he is also the Director of LABIOMEP – Porto Biomechanics Laboratory. He was a pioneer in VO2 measurement in free swimming by studying high-level breaststroke swimmers during a simulated swimming event. He analysed and quantified the relationship between speed fluctuations and energy cost in 3 variants in breaststroke technique; (ii) Prof. Ricardo Fernandes, who is currently a Professor at Faculty of Sport, University of Porto and he is also the Head of the Swimming Department of this faculty. He was a pioneer researcher in assessment of time to exhaustion tests in free swimming, analyzing swimmers of different genders and expertise levels.

12. What research or projects are you currently working on or should we look from you in the future?

As I said previously, currently I am just finishing my PhD during which I have worked with athletes of different cyclic sports, and often I am responsible for their training control. Also, I am a current Post-Graduate Student in Rehabilitation Medicine in Exercise and Sport in the Faculty of Medicine of Porto University, and therefore, in the future I intent to intervene in this important intervention area. My future project is applying for a Post-PhD in Exercise Physiology, possibly in other Europe country. Meanwhile, I will continue my research in academia.

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SSP 016: USRPT, HCLF, and Self Experimentation with the Screaming Viking, Shawn Klosterman

This episode of the Swimming Science Podcast features Shawn Klosterman, aka the Screaming Viking.

Shawn has his  BS in Ed for PE with K-12 certification and my Masters in Athletic Administration. He swam for the Viking Swim Club in Petersburg, Alaska (’83-92) and the Missouri State Bears (’92-96). I am currently making my swim comeback with the club I started from scratch, Jasper County Killer Whales. He has written for various websites, and my current home base is


  • USRPT for swimmers.
  • LCHF for swimmers.
  • Self-experimentation.
  • USRPT implementation on a swim team.
  • The principle of specificity.

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Thanks for joining me for this episode. I know the conversation broke up a few times and I apologize, I’m still very new with this! If you have any tips, suggestions, or comments about this episode, please be sure to leave them in the comment section below.

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