SSP 021: Swimming Biomechanics, Swimmers Shoulder, Swimming Rehabilitation and Much More with Jenni Brozena

This episode of the Swimming Science Podcast features Jenni Brozena.

 Jenni Brozena is the President and Owner of Aqueous, a healthcare education and human performance company specific to the aquatic athlete. The company’s cross-disciplinary approach brings exercise physiologists, physical therapists, athletic training, sports medicine doctors, athletes, and parents together to understand the body/water connection. The evidence-based approach is centered on the deliberate treatment of the unique needs of the aquatic athlete. She also currently serves as the Director of Aquatic Performance at Kinetic Physical Therapy where she and physical therapists utilize video analysis to build a deliberate treatment plan and return to sport goals for aquatic athletes. Her research has been accepted at the Biomechanics and Medicine in Swimming Symposium and the 3D Analysis of Human Movement Symposium. Her current research interests include neuromuscular core control during the body roll and utilizing video analysis as a patient outcome measure in the health care setting.


  • Swimming Rehabilitation.
  • Cycle of Swimming Injury
  • Swimmers Shoulder
  • Swimmers Shoulder Rehabilitation.
  • Role of Coaches and Therapists during an Injury.
  • Aqueous.
  • Continuing Education in Swimming.

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 Jenni thanks on Twitter!

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Swimmers Shoulder – When to See an Orthopedic Surgeon

Shoulder pain is almost universal in swimming, and like most endurance sports, overuse injuries are commonly encountered (commonly called swimmers shoulder).  The difference between routine soreness associated with sports can be had to distinguish from the pain of injuries.  Usually, soreness in the shoulder is relatively mild and associated with training.  It improves with time or the occasional anti-inflammatory medication.  In general, shoulder pain that is progressively worsening, unresponsive to conservative treatments (over the counter medications, ice, etc) or causing significant functional limitations should be evaluated by your team orthopedic surgeon.  Additionally, any shoulder dislocation should be seen managed by an orthopedic surgeon.

All doctor visits will be different, but most follow a similar pattern.  Your orthopedic surgeon will take your history, where you explain your shoulder Myofascial Trigger Points in Shoulder Musclesproblems and perform a physical examination of your shoulder.  X-rays will usually be obtained, and these show valuable information.  Many causes of shoulder pain (including those not associated with swimming) can be identified on x-rays – for example bone spurs, arthritis, avascular necrosis, tumors, or infections.   Depending on the information from your visit, sometimes an MRI or an MRI Arthrogram (where a radiologist injects contrast into the shoulder to show more information) may be ordered to help with your diagnosis.  This can show more detail on soft tissue injuries, such as rotator cuff tears, tendonitis, labral tears, or biceps injuries.

Controversy exists around “Swimmers Shoulder” and what exactly causes it.  It is associated with training volume and is thought to be due to the miles accumulated during a career.  Depending on the exact cause, a treatment program will be discussed.  Fortunately, most of the injuries associated with swimming improve with out surgery.  A short period of rest, with anti inflammation medication, and physical therapy can help with much of the pain. Physical therapy can be extremely helpful to retrain the muscles around the shoulder and the shoulder blade to make you more stable and decrease pain.  Occasionally, cortisone injections can be useful for tendonitis or inflammation that does not respond.  For some injuries, shoulder surgery may be recommended to get you back to optimal performance and relieve your pain.  Your orthopedic surgeon can help make recommendations based on your individual case.

Written by Lucas Wymore. Dr. Wymore is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine.  He attended Notre Dame for college where he swam for the Irish.  He went to medical school at Texas A&M University, completed my orthopedic residency at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a sports medicine fellowship with the San Diego Sports Medicine and Arthroscopy fellowship.   He became interested in sports medicine while in high school.  He loved sports, and because of swimming, he had a desire to remain involved in the sport and work with athletes as a career.  

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Swimming Core Training Interview with Dr. Angela Hibbs

Today is a written interview by Dr. Angela Hibbs. As she described, she is a lecturer and sports biomechanics specialist. Her latest Swimming Core Trainingarticleentitled Isolated core training improves sprint performance in national-level junior swimmers is the topic of this interview. Here is her full list of research articles. If you enjoyed this piece, consider learning more about swimming core training with the Swimming Core Training product.

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

My name is Dr Angela Hibbs, I am a senior lecturer at Northumbria University (UK) specialising in sports biomechanics and performance analysis. I completed my PhD in 2011 which focused on core training in swimmers and developing an effective core training intervention programme. I have over 8 years of experience working with elite sports performers and professional sports clubs both nationally and internationally. I worked at the English Institute of Sport for 6 years and the Australian Institute of Sport for 1 year providing biomechanical and performance analysis support to the athletes and teams.

2. You recently published an article core strength. What do we generally know about core strength and athletic performance? What about core strength and swimming performance?

Generally, it is agreed that core training, whether it be core strength or core stability, is essential for injury reduction and performance enhancement.  The term core strength is very vaguely defined in many articles, with the terms core strength and core stability being used to define the same training in many articles.  Fundamentally, they are two very different processes and both need to be trained specifically. Stability training focuses more on the stabiliser muscles (small muscles for posture and small corrections, not trained when doing heavy strength training).  Strength training focuses on the globaliser muscles (larger muscles which bring about movement).  Both are important to have effective core ability.

Specifically for swimming, core training is seen as essential due to the lack of a point of contact with a solid surface to produce force against.  All of the force has to be produced through the kinetic chain of the body (force developed from shoulders, to elbows to wrist to fingers).  To maximise this transfer of force, the muscles need to be ‘rigid’ and have ‘good posture’, hence ‘core stability’, poor core stability is represented as a weak middle where this force generation is lost in sideways movement of the trunk for example.    

3. What did your study look at?

The aim of the study was to quantify the effects of a 12-week isolated core training programme on 50-m front crawl swim time and measures of core musculature functionally relevant to swimming.  We did this by recruiting 2 groups of swimmers; The intervention group completed the core training, incorporating exercises targeting the lumbo-pelvic complex and upper region extending to the scapula, three times per week for 12 weeks (this core training was performed in addition to the normal pool-based swimming programme), the control group maintained their usual pool-based swimming programme but performed no extra core specific training.

4. Were there any other core exercises you considered?Ryan-2BLochte-2BCore

One of my initial PhD research studies investigated some of the ‘popular’ core training exercises and measured the muscle activity using electromyography to establish which exercises activated which muscles to what extent.  This was to enable us to design a well-planned and balanced core training programme which would target all of the core muscles we wanted to enhance the chance of seeing a performance enhancement.  These initial exercises included static, dynamic, symmetrical and asymmetrical movements of low and high loading on the muscles.

It was decided that a lot of the static exercises were not functional enough to transfer any training improvements into swim performance so they were discarded.

5. What were the results of your study?

Compared to the control group, the core training intervention group had a possibly large beneficial effect on 50-m swim time, this represented a 2% improvement on 50m swim time. Results also showed small-moderate improvements on specific core ability tests; such as the prone-bridge endurance test and straight-arm maximum strength pull-down test. The results showed moderate to large increases in peak EMG activity of the core musculature during isolated tests of maximal voluntary contraction of the core muscles analysed, this suggests that the individuals had gained strength in the core muscles as a result of the core training programme.

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

Our findings suggest that implementing a well-planned and specific swimming focused core exercise programme is a worthwhile addition to the programming of a swimmers dry-land training routine. It can result in muscle stability and strength enhancements which can be transferred to actual swim performance.

7. Do you think these results would show for all the different strokes and longer events?

I believe that for longer events the enhancements would be even greater.  As fatigue sets in, technique is the first thing to go.  This is due to muscles getting weaker and the synchronisation of muscles firing is lost.  This reduced an individual’s technique and makes them less efficient through the water and therefore slower.  If the individual can strengthen the core muscles to be able to ‘hold’ the optimal position for longer then this muscle fatigue will be delayed.

Equally for other strokes, some of the more complex strokes, such as butterfly, would benefit from enhancing the individuals core ability greatly as the coordination and control of the body to produce the movement and force to be successful is hugely important.  The asymmetrical strokes (backstroke and freestyle) engage the core stability muscles differently to the symmetrical strokes (breaststroke and butterfly), the exact differences in requirements of these strokes on the core muscles has not been analysed in great depth, may be a future study!

8. What other core strength and swimming research is needed?

See above! One of the main problems we have with swimming research is that it is at present very hard to measure muscle activity levels during actual swim performance (electromyography data collecting and water do not mix!) so all of the measures regarding muscle activity have to be made on dry land in performance tests and then swim performance measured as time.  It would be great to have a fully waterproof EMG system to specifically measure the core muscle activity during actual swimming for the different strokes.

9. What are the biggest flaws in swimming core training?

It needs to be functional and transferrable.  Swimmers who use swiss gym balls to do core training are not performing functional movements. Equally static exercises have a limited functionality.  The exercises need to recruit and train the muscles in a similar direction and intensity to what they will be doing in the pool.

A lot of the core training is also done after the main swim set when individuals are fatigued and tired. This will not be as effective as if it was done before when the muscles are fresh and able to maintain good posture during the exercises and recruit the muscles as they should during the exercises.

10. Do you think performing spinal flexion exercises increases the swimmers risk of low back pain?

Not if they build up the movements and resistance slowly. Flexibility is important for all of the strokes and it is important to train the body to be able to withstand forces and resistance in all planes of movement to reduce potential injury in that area.

11. What makes your research different from others?

We were one of the first to actual specifically design a swimming specific core training programme and then implement this for 12 weeks (others have done 3-4weeks of a general training programme).  We also include the EMG (electromyography) analysis which added to what others had done in the past.  This allowed us to try and answer why swim performance had improved, was it due to reduction in muscle activity during maximal contractions or improved synchronisation of muscle recruitment for example.

12. Which teachers have most influenced your research?

I would say the athletes and swimmers who I have worked with have influenced me more.  As a sports biomechanist, trying to help them achieve faster performances and be successful that motivates me to try and understand how we can do that and what do we need to do to make that happen.

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

I do not have any swimming specific research on the go at the moment but core training and how it influences sporting performance remains key in my research interests.

The post Swimming Core Training Interview with Dr. Angela Hibbs appeared first on Swimming Science.

SSP 020: Learn if Circumin Reduces Inflammation, Whether Inflammation is Helpful, and If Athletes Take too Many NSAIDS with Dr. David Rowlands

This episode of the Swimming Science Podcast features Dr. David Rowlands.

Prof Rowlands’ research is focused on the role nutrients play in metabolic, molecular and cellular mechanisms that govern skeletal muscle responses and adaptation contributing health and physical performance. The work target nutrients: specifically, protein and amino acids for post-exercise recovery and skeletal muscle adaptation in both athletes and diabetics, nutritional supplements to manage pain and inflammation, and carbohydrate blends for energy-hydration and performance. Recent research also included work on the effect of environmental and technical (titanium impregnated sports garments) interventions on running mechanics, while stable and radio isotopes and nuclear magnetic resonance were employed to determine intramuscular metabolism with reference to starvation, diet and insulin resistance.

In this episode we discuss his latest research article: Curcumin supplementation likely attenuates delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Here is a list of all Dr. Rowlands research.


  • Inflammation and sports.
  • What is circumin.
  • Learn if circumin reduces inflammation.
  • If reducing inflammation benefits sports.
  • The short- and long-term effects of inflammation.

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 David thanks in the comments and if you have any questions, please post them below!

The post SSP 020: Learn if Circumin Reduces Inflammation, Whether Inflammation is Helpful, and If Athletes Take too Many NSAIDS with Dr. David Rowlands appeared first on Swimming Science.

Functional Movement Screen for Swimming Performance

This article is a guest post by Professor Erkan Gunay. This is an abstract on his paper regarding the Functional Movement Screen (FMS)and swimming performance. I presented to USA
about the FMS and swimming for injuries, which you can access here. I also spoke in depth about the FMS and swimming with Allan Phillips here.
Assistant professor Erkan GunayDokuz Eylul Univ. school of Sport Science  and Technology. Dokuz Eylul Univ Swimming Club Head Coach //Turkish Swimming Federation Technical and Educational Board Member / Scientific interest. topics (swimming training and physiology)



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The Importance of Proprioception Training

Below is an interview I had with Dr. José Inácio. Dr. José Inácio is an expert on the importance of proprioception and how strength training influences proprioception. Remember, strength training isn’t solely about improving swimming speed, but injury prevention and health. This was one of my main points in Dryland for SwimmersWe also have to remember there is a lot left to uncover about strength training. As Dr. Inácio points out, it may improve proprioception, but there is a plethora of other items it may influence as well. I wrote about his study about the effect of strength training on shoulder proprioception as well as how proprioception doesn’t improve performance. I hope you enjoy this interview and if you have any questions, please post them in the comments. Thanks again for reading.

1. Please introduce yourself to the readers (how you started in the profession, Strength Training and Proprioceptioneducation, credentials, experience, etc.).

I am graduated in Physical Education and have worked as a Strength Trainer and Conditioning at Brazilian National Volleyball in the Olympics games in Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London beyond 3 latest World Championships. I am currently a member of the committee of coaches of the International Volleyball Federation as well as Director of the Neuromuscular Research Laboratory (Pneuro) at National Institute of Traumatology an Orthopedic (INTO) and Coordinator of the of Biomechanics laboratory of the Olympic Committee of Brazil.

2. You recently published an article on strengthening and shoulder proprioception. Why is proprioception training important for athletes?

A decreased proprioception was seen as a risk factor for injuries. Besides, the improvement of proprioception can help to  develop the sports techniques.

3. What did your study look at?

Our research aims to analyze the impact of the effort intensity strength proprioception training.

4. How did you choose your methods and various training groups?

The method we set for the intensity of effort is based on the standard position of the ACSM and assume the replacement of sense as joint proprioception measure to be widely adopted by the scientific community.

5. What were the results of your study?Weekly Swimming Round-up

Our results indicate that resistance training results in benefits on proprioception which can be optimized when applied through uniform intensity in the muscular structures surrounding a joint.

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

We believe that in sport in general muscle strength is essential and in the case of swimming the joint position sense of the shoulder as proprioceptive approach contributes to more control into the laps of different styles in the sport.

7. Do you think the results would be different if you had older, elite or untrained people?

At Pneuro we have researched the relationship between proprioception and muscle strength with different populations and we observed that this pattern is repeated but with different proportions.

8. Are there any other ways to train shoulder proprioception?

The training of sports techniques are also proprioception training and that can be optimized by training muscle strength.

9. What else is unknown about proprioception training?

We are initiating research projects to understand how it behaves the reconstruction of the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee proprioceptive performance.

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

Scott Lephart, Roger Enoka, and Dylan Morrissey. They are producing knowledge about proprioception , neuromuscular fadigue , and reduction procedures of the risk of injury, respectively.

11. What makes your research different from others?

We are contributing to the research that correlates strength and proprioception through intensity of effort control in muscle strength training program.

12. Which teachers have most influenced your research?

Scott Lephart through its vast scientific literature on the sensorimotor system.

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

We are beginning the study of muscle strength programs to delay knee arthroplasty in patients with surgical indication in the age group of 50-60 years old.

The Importance of Proprioceptive Training

Proprioception – taking a balanced approach to sport

When it comes to sport performance, power, strength and endurance can only take you so far. Whether you’re a footballer dribbling the ball, a gymnast on the bars, or a rugby player diving for the line while fending off tackles, balance is absolutely critical for performance. John Shepherd takes a look at how balance and proprioceptive training and the mechanisms that lie behind this skill can be improved.

Balance in sport involves a complex interplay between numerous factors. A number of these are conscious – such as deciding to move a limb to prevent yourself falling at the same time as performing a skill eg a basketball shot – while many more are unconscious. The unconscious element involves the ‘use’ of in-built sensory mechanisms and programmed responses. This is known as ‘proprioception’. Proprioception has been called the ‘sixth sense’ and is basically a mechanism (or, more accurately, a series of mechanisms) that keeps track and control of muscle tensions and movement in the body.

When you consciously make movements or are subjected to external forces, your muscles, ligaments and joints will be making their own ‘judgments’, based on the information that they receive from their own sources. These judgments are then used to invoke mechanisms to control movement (more about this later). These mechanisms are known as sensorimotor processes, and scientists have been investigating how the senses consciously and subconsciously react with one another to control movement (known as sensorimotor research). Sports scientists now believe that sensorimotor ability and proprioception can be enhanced by specific practices.

Mechanics of proprioception

Proprioception is achieved through muscles, ligaments and joint actions using messages that are continuously sent through the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS then relays information to the rest of the body literally ‘telling’ it how to react and with what amount of tension/action. Some of these instructions go to the brain, where more often than not they are acted on unconsciously, whilst others go to the spinal cord, where they are acted on automatically.

Proprioceptors are basically ‘sensors’ that reside within muscles, joints and ligaments. These respond to pressure, stretch and tension and are key in initiating what is known as the ‘stretch/reflex’. You will probably be familiar with the stretch/reflex as a mechanism in the everyday sporting context when trying to stretch a muscle beyond its sticking point – a point will be reached when the muscle will not want to stretch any further. This is the result of the stretch/reflex mechanism kicking in and trying to prevent the muscle from being stretched further.

Although not so readily apparent, the stretch/reflex also provides control over other functions eg your postural muscles, which maintain the balance of the body against gravity. This makes it a global as well as specific site muscle mechanism. An example of this is if you were holding a weight in your outstretched hand and then had more added; the stretch/reflex would attempt to make the adjustments necessary to allow you to continue to hold the added load by ‘tweaking’ all the supporting muscles and influencing your posture.

Injury can impair proprioception

Injury can reduce the effectiveness of an athlete’s proprioception, something that the athlete and coach may not be fully aware of even when rehabilitation seems complete. A team from the University of Pittsburgh looked at the role of the sensorimotor system as it relates to functional stability, joint injury and muscle fatigue of the shoulder and the restoration of functional stability after shoulder injury (1). They noted that to fully restore shoulder stability, deficits in mechanical stability, proprioception and neuromuscular control are needed.

Specificity and proprioception

The rule of training specificity states that the greatest sports improvement gains will be derived from the most sport specific exercises for that sport. Thus for example, a sprint athlete will get greater returns from plyometric training, in comparison with weight training. However, it is possible that even these specific training means may not fully develop proprioceptive ability.

Mark Alexander, writing for PP’s sister publication Sports Injury Bulletin, notes that a focus on speed and power exercises, with their emphasis on fast-twitch muscle fibre may in fact disrupt proprioceptive ability (3). He indicates that fast-twitch muscle fibre is less adept at monitoring and controlling muscle tension when compared with slow-twitch fibre because of the quicker speed of neural impulses being sent and interpreted through muscle spindles and spinal motor neurons.

Thus it is argued that balance type exercises need to be performed at slower paces to optimally enhance proprioception. These allow postural stabiliser muscles, with their greater predominance of slow-twitch muscle fibre, to supply enhanced movement control. An example of a stabilising muscle is the soleus muscle of the lower leg, while the other major calf muscle (the gastrocnemius) is the ‘fast-twitch fibre rich prime mover’.

Balance type drills are seen to improve not only proprioception, reducing potential injury, but also the ability of an athlete to express power. To explain this, think of a high jumper planting off their curved approach to leap dynamically skyward. The forces going through the athlete’s prime mover leg muscles need to be controlled by the stabilising muscles. The more effective these muscles are, the more effective the power output will be from the prime movers. This is akin to the fine-tuning of a race car’s suspension (which can be equated to the stabilising muscles), where small tweaks can greatly enhance the geometry of the car and therefore the speed produced by its prime mover – the engine.

To counter the thoughts of those who might still advocate faster movements for the development of proprioception, it is necessary to differentiate between proprioception and kinaesthetic awareness. Kinaesthetic awareness is about the ability of an athlete to perform a dynamic sporting skill, perhaps from an unstable position, and involves the conscious control of the body in space and time in order to affect a sports skill. This differs from the more automatic nature of proprioception responses.

The post The Importance of Proprioception Training appeared first on Swimming Science.

How to Analyze Breaststroke Swimming

As a take home message:
1. In this piece we did the analysis of three age-group breaststrokers.
2. Modeled data sometimes does not fit completely the individual data of a specific swimmer.
3. After benchmarking the swimmers against data retrieved from the literature we have learned that one of the swimmers is able to reach a high speed (strong point), but with a high speed fluctuation (main concern).
4. Several analyses were carried out to run a full diagnosis, prescribe what to change and predict the outcome of such improvements. He would be able to increase the speed by 0.1 m/s (faster) and decrease the speed fluctuation by 10% (more efficient).

In my latest piece eventually I shared a picture that depicts modeled and real data. At that time, it was explained that most textbooks and even research papers share modeled data because: (i) it will be easier to understand a concept having “smoothed” data and; (ii) the modeled curve aims to represent the main trend across all subjects assessed.

Unfortunately, there is a huge drawback of this. Most of the times the theoretical model does not fit in the data of one particular subject. In academia, this falls under the topic “universal versus individual data analysis” (Barbosa et al., 2010). I.e., data from a pooled sample of swimmers does not represent what is the best for my swimmer. Indeed, the inter-individual variability is a concern for several researchers (Seifert et al., 2011).

A very good example is the assessment of the speed fluctuation. The academic jargon for speed fluctuation is “intra-cyclic variation of the velocity”. Meaning, it is how speed changes over one fig1single stroke cycle. As you are aware the swim speed is the result of the balance between thrust (propulsion) and resistance (drag). So, over one single stroke cycle the speed goes up whenever the thrust is higher than the resistance. The speed goes down if the thrust is lower than the resistance.

Let’s apply these two concepts (universal v. individual analysis; assessment of the speed fluctuation) to breaststroke. Figure 1 (top panel) depicts what would be the typical speed fluctuation at breaststroke reported in a textbook. At the begging of the stroke cycle the speed goes up due to the kicking and eventually reaches a first peak (thrust by the kick is higher than the water resistance). After the kick the swimmer will glide in the streamlined position. Because there is no thrust, only passive drag is acting upon the body, the speed decreases and we can find that “valley”. After the glide it is performed the arms’ stroke and the speed increases once again (second peak). With the legs’ recovery the resistance increases significantly and speed goes south sharply.

Now, that we did the re-cap of the stroke cycle at breaststroke, I must share with you that this curve is the modeled data of three age-group breaststrokers. Figure 1 (bottom panel) depicts the variations in the modelled curve considering the individual differences among the three swimmers. For instance, at the beginning of the stroke cycle (the first upward slope, i.e., kicking) the vertical lines are rather small. That means that the three swimmers are quite similar, little difference can be found among them. But, the vertical lines on the second peak are big. So, it seems that the three are doing thing in a different way at this phase of the stroke cycle.

So far, we did the analysis of the pooled and modeled data of three swimmers (i.e. universal analysis). Moving on to the individual analysis. Figure 2 depicts the individual curves of each subject. One seems to be a top-tier age-group breaststroker (blue line), the other two a mid- and a low-tier swimmers (red and green lines, respectively). Now, you understand why I told you at the beginning that unfortunately the modeled curves most of the times do not fit the individual curves. Figure 1 was computed based on the data of these three swimmers represented in Figure 2. We can see that at the beginning the curves of the three match almost perfectly, but then start to drift away from each other. This is why the variation is low at the beginning of the cycle and high at the end as shared earlier (vertical lines, i.e. standard deviation, in figure 1 – bottom panel).



Now, we are ready to do the quantitative analysis. For the kinematic analysis, I selected the average swimming velocity (v), stroke frequency (SF), stroke length (SL), maximal velocity (v-max) and minimal velocity (v-min) within the stroke cycle. Two other variables were selected as efficiency estimators, and this includes the stroke index (Costill et al., 1985) and the speed fluctuation (e.g., Barbosa et al., 2005).

Based on the average speed over the cycle it is easy to follow that we are assessing swimmers of different competitive levels. The green swimmer has a lower speed, SF, SL, dv and v-max. What makes the difference between the blue and red swimmers? The SF is slightly higher, but the SL shorter for the later breaststroker. The red swimmer has a lower speed fluctuation than the blue counterpart. So, this deserves some further investigation.


First things first, we should benchmark the swimmers against other subjects in our database or data retrieved from the literature. Today I will benchmark the swimmer against the data reported in a research paper (Barbosa et al., 2013). The black dots are the data reported in the paper, the coloured dots are our swimmers. We are benchmarking the relationship between speed fluctuation and swim velocity. Now, we are sure that the green swimmer is an average breaststroker, the red a mid-tier-almost-top-tier and the blue a top-performer. The main concern is that the blue swimmer despite reaching a high speed also shows a big speed fluctuation in comparison with two other counterparts that race at similar paces (1.2-1.3 m/s, black dots). These two reach the same speed with speed fluctuations lower than 40% though. Being the bigger picture, now we should do the analysis of the individual curve of the blue swimmer.


The top-left panel (figure 4) depicts the kick. The blue swimmer is the one reaching the highest speed (2.01m/s). The rate of speed development is the same for the three, but the kicking action is 0.03s longer for the blue swimmer (the kick took 0.28s). So, one might say that the kick power (or mechanical impulse) is quite nice for the three, the main difference might be in the legs’ insweep. This is the end of the kick, when the swimmer squeezes up the water between the calf and feet, the plantar surface almost touches each other and toes point backwards-inwards.fig4

The top-right panel (figure 4) is related to the glide. This seems to be a major drawback for the blue swimmer. The speed drops 0.99m/s in 0.32s. Probably the glide is a little bit too long and the body position not the best. For instance, the red swimmer does not have such a significant decrease in speed. One should have arms fully extended and horizontal, head in a neutral position between the upper-arms and looking downward-forward, hips high close to the surface, legs fully extended and horizontal with no sinking of the feet.

The bottom-left panel (figure 4) reports the arms’ action. That took 0.26s and he reached a maximal speed of 2.09m/s. The blue swimmer is very balanced because the ratio between the maximal speed reached by kick and arms is 2.01 v. 2.09m/s. Several breaststrokers are more kick-driven and neglect the arms’ stroke. Both the red and green swimmers are not able to reach the same speed over the arms’ stroke they did at the kicking. I.e., the second peak (arms) is smaller than the first (kick). If they improve the arms’ action, the average speed would increase even though at the cost of the efficiency (i.e. probably speed fluctuation would increase). With that, they would reach the performance level of the blue swimmer. After reaching such level, would be time to think about the speed fluctuation (which is what we are doing right now to the blue swimmer).

The bottom-right panel (figure 4) help us to have a deeper understanding of the legs’ recovery, when the knees and hips bend. This should be another concern for the blue swimmer. In 0.34s he loses 1.83m/s reaching the lowest speed (0.25m/s). I.e., for tenths of a second he almost stopped in the water. Avoid dropping the thighs. Less bend by the hip and keep the knees high. The end of the arms’ insweep and legs’ recovery happens at the same time. Head moves as one with the torso (spine completely aligned). Do not bend or extend the neck. This phase is all about tempo and sync between upper and lower limbs.

An analyst must be able to answer a few questions:

  1. What is happening?
  2. What can we do to improve?
  3. How much will be the improvement?

Well, the diagnosis is done. So we can try to help the blue swimmer to be one of the finest breaststrokers.

Time to re-cap what we’ve learned so far: his propulsion is very good. Let’s keep this good work. The resistance after the glide and legs’ recovery are two concerns and deserve special attention.

Good coaches will suggest a set of drills in order to improve the gliding position, the tempo (notably the duration of the glide), the thigh and shank positions over the legs’ recovery and timing between arms and legs. Follow the link for a comprehensive list of drills (WARNING: the original paper is in Portuguese. Sorry for the inconvenience. If you speak a Latin language it is easy to understand. Alternatively I have a nerdy solution for you: 1. Install the “google translate” in your smartphone or tablet; 2. Set the app to translate from Portuguese to English; 3. Below the field to type the word to be translated you will find the camera icon. Press that icon/button. 4. Point the camera to the text and the app will automatically translate the text for you. 5. To clarify: you need a hardcopy of the piece or softcopy being displayed in a second device. E.g., display the piece on a laptop and use the phone for the automatic and real-time translation).

A good analyst will try to predict what happens with the changes advised. He will have to work the math, do some modelling, signal processing, chunk the numbers and provide a result. My prediction for the blue swimmer is as follows. If over the legs’ recovery the speed does not decrease up to 0.25m/s but 0.33m/s, the speed fluctuation improves to 36.03% and the speed to 1.36m/s (i.e. 0.1m/s faster). Figure 5 includes the real glide (blue line) and the “optimal” glide (magenta line). If the swimmer improves his glide, the speed fluctuation reduces to 35.29% and the speed to the same 1.36m/s.

So, if the swimmer and the coach embark in only one of these two solutions, the dv-v will be 35%-1.36m/s. End of the day, shifting the blue dot in the figure 3 to the coordinates (35; 1.36) one can learn that the swimmer not only becomes the fastest but also the most efficient.


1. Barbosa TM, Keskinen KL, Fernandes RJ, Colaço C, Lima AB, Vilas-Boas JP. (2005). Energy cost and intra-cyclic variations of the velocity of the centre of mass in butterfly stroke. Eur J Appl Physiol. 93: 519-523.
2. Barbosa TM, Morouço P, Jesus S, Feitosa W, Costa MJ, Marinho DA, Silva AJ, Garrido ND (2013). Interaction between speed fluctuation and swimming velocity in young competitive swimmers. Int J Sports Med. 34(2): 123-130
3. Costill D, Kovaleski J, Porter D, Fielding R, King D (1985). Energy expenditure during front crawl swimming: predicting success in middle-distance events. Int J Sports Med. 6: 266-270
4. Seifert L, Leblanc H, Herault R, Komar J, Button C, Chollet D. (2011). Inter-individual variability in the upper-lower limb breaststroke coordination (2011). Hum Mov Sci 3:550-65

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

The post How to Analyze Breaststroke Swimming appeared first on Swimming Science.

Dryland Mistake: V-Ups

Take Home Points on V-Ups
1) V-ups can induce poor habits when prescribed in high volumes
2) V-ups are not inherently dangerous, but quality control is difficult
3) The body saw is one safer alternative that produces high abdominal muscle recruitment while preserving spinal integrity

V-ups or pikes are a common exercise seen on pool decks. They are a favorite of many coaches and swimmers because they can be difficult, are thought to contribute to aesthetically appealing abs, and are seemingly easy to assign to large group. If you could jump in a time machine to visit the same pool decks 20-30 years ago, you’d likely see the same exercise performed back then (note, there are many time-honored practices that persist because they are indeed best-practice…but some items clearly fall into the “because we’ve always done it” category…)

Now, a common theme with most exercises in the “dryland mistake” series is not that exercises are inherently bad, but rather that better choices are available. Visit most leading strength facilities and you’ll see very little of this exercise being performed. Yet because sport coaches are often insulated from best-practices in the strength field, certain “favorite” exercises get recycled for generations on the pool deck, often with good intention but causing a divergence from modern thinking. (See, Why Your Team Needs a Strength Coach)

As for the V-up, there is no doubt that it generates high muscle recruitment compared to several other exercises, as confirmed by Guimaraes (1991) more than twenty years ago. More recent evidence (Escamilla 2010) has shown that performing a similar exercise on the stability ball (pikes with feet balanced on ball) presents a greater core challenge than a group of other common stability exercises.

The main problem with the V-up or pike is not the exercise itself, but rather how it is delivered. A slowly performed V-up while preserving spinal integrity may present minimal harm, as Dr. John discusses in his latest product Swimming Core Training. But, the same exercise performed quickly in high repetitions in a large group competing with each other may lead to poor posture, compensations, and even worse, potential exacerbation of pre-existing back conditions. This latter concern is especially important with low back pain so common among swimmers.

Rather than simply bash an exercise, I will offer potential alternatives. One way is by working up to hanging leg raises or, even safer, the body saw. The hanging leg raise is also commonly performed incorrectly, but when done properly can instill many similar principles discussed in Pull Up Progressions relating to lat engagement and pelvic positioning. Recent evidence (McGill 2015) has compared the body saw and the hanging leg raise and found that although both resulted in high levels of abdominal activation, the body saw was most spine friendly.

Conclusion on the V-Up

Another key point to remember in choosing core exercises is that maximal output with the core muscles is not always desirable. Though many swimmers want to “feel the abs burn” to feel like the exercise is working, in the pool the goal is to perform the most work with the least effort. In fact, a better sign of core function may not be how much does it burn, but how much can you accomplish without noticing effort. Though high repetition V-ups can remind swimmers how hard they are working, the exercise might not be the best choice within a dryland program to complement swimming.


1) Guimaraes AC, Vaz MA, De Campos MI, Marantes R. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 1991 Jun;31(2):222-30. The contribution of the rectus abdominis and rectus femoris in twelve selected abdominal exercises. An electromyographic study.

2) Escamilla RF, Lewis C, Bell D, Bramblet G, Daffron J, Lambert S, Pecson A, Imamura R, Paulos L, Andrews JR. Core muscle activation during Swiss ball and traditional abdominal exercises. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2010 May;40(5):265-76. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2010.3073.

3) McGill S, Andersen J, Cannon J. Muscle activity and spine load during anterior chain whole body linkage exercises: the body saw, hanging leg raise and walkout from a push-up. J Sports Sci. 2015;33(4):419-26. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2014.946437. Epub 2014 Aug 11.

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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7 Ways to Reduce Swimming Low Back Pain

The shoulder is the primary site of injury in swimmers, but the low back is the second most commonly injured site. In fact, ~8% of those competing at a 2001 International competition experienced low back pain. Kaneoka (2007) noted thirty-eight (68%) elite swimmers and 11 (29%) controls had degenerated discs at various levels. Disc level L5-S1 was more frequently degenerated in the elite swimming group. However, there was no significant relationship of low back pain symptoms associated with this increase in disc degeneration. Swimmers had a lower rate of low back pain, but back pain was more debilitating. Now, degeneration and pain don’t always correlate as Allan Phillips has discussed, but if someone has pain, then modifying their swimming biomechancis is one potential method to reduce stress and alleviate pain.

I’m sure not all of the readers will agree with these biomechanical corrections for swimming propulsive reasons. However, I recommend them because they will put less stress on the low back joints and muscles, essential for recovery. Here are 7 ways to reduce swimming low back pain.

7 Ways to Reduce Swimming Low Back Pain

  1. Swimming “Up Hill”: Swimming with the chest elevated is a common error in swimming. In fact, many swimmers feel they are swimming in a streamline position, when in fact their chest is too high. This is likely from the lungs and prone position in swimming. Unlike other sports, the lungs act as two balloons under the chest of the swimmer. This creates the illusion that the swimmer is in a streamline, when they’re actually swimming up hill. Overall, this position overactives the low back muscles, putting them under higher stress. Solution: Press the chest down, feeling like you’re swimming down hill.
  2. Forward Breathing: Breathing in freestyle should be smooth motion, directly in the horizontal plane towards the side. Unfortunately, many unskilled or young swimmers, and even some elite swimmers, lift their head and breathe forward. Breathing forward increases the stress on the low back. Solution: Smoothly turn the head to the side when breathing, barely bringing it out of the water for the breath. Until this is mastered, consider using a snorkel.
  3. Hyper Undulation During Dolphin Kicks: Although most of the swimming research suggests otherwise, many swimmers and coaches believe dolphin kick should be a full body movement for maximum force production. Disregarding ideal biomechanics for speed, performing a large undulation places excess stress on the low back, from the extra flexion and extension. Solution: Decrease the body motion during the dolphin kick and perform more of a knee oriented kick.
  4. Lifting Chest During Butterfly: Once again, coaches can debate the ideal breathing method in butterfly until the cows come home. However, if a swimmer breathes forward and lifts their chest too high, they will overactive their low back muscles and increase their risk of injury. Solution: If breathing forward, keep your head as low as possible, cutting through the bow wave. Also, consider swimming with a snorkel or using a side breathing if pain persists.
  5. Spinal Flexion Turns: The flip turn undoubtedly causes spinal flexion. However, if a swimmer is having pain during their turn, they can attempt to use more hip flexion than spinal flexion for a simple method of reducing low back pain. Solution: When approaching the turn, bring the knees towards the chest and minimally flex the spine.
  6. Low Back Breath Breaststroke: Many elite breaststrokers keep their hips low and arch their low back as they rise for their breath. Unfortunately, this causes high stress on the low back. Solution: When breathing in breaststroke, move the hips forward for the breath, opposed to arching the low back. 
  7. Rounded Back Start: Like the turn, one must round their spine for a start. However, pressing the hips back and keeping the chest and head in a neutral position can reduce the degree of stress on the low back, making the start more manageable. Solution: Keep the hips high during the start, by extending the front hip. Also, keep the chest and head in a relatively neutral position.

Remember, if you don’t have swimming low back pain these adjustments are not needed. Only make these adjustments if they will increase your Swimming Core Trainingswimming velocity or if you have swimming low back pain. Good luck, stay healthy!

Like I said, I’ve also got a discount for you! If you pre-order this product, you’ll receive $10 off the purchase price of $49.99 if you order before April 15th! 

By Dr. G. John Mullen received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California and a Bachelor of Science of Health from Purdue University where he swam collegiately. He is the owner of COR, Strength Coach Consultant, Creator of the Swimmer’s Shoulder System, and chief editor of the Swimming Science Research Review.

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Swimming Hopes Dashed

I can’t get away from it; the same story over and over again, and it bothers me no end.

A young swimmer has managed to achieve “success” in the form of medals, won all the competitions he has entered and even qualified for the National Championships in his category for the first time.

You cannot ask for more as a coach; your predictions have come true and you feel on top of the world. His family, teammates… everyone – without exception – lavish praise on you and foresee great success at the event.

You feel supremely confident and are not shy in making your predictions known. Through results, you have demonstrated your quality as a professional, your enormous power of persuasion, your powers of foresight and the superb level of your training programme – planned to the very last detail with precision and wisdom.

You are a coaching genius!

But what am I saying?!

You are the GREATEST COACH OF ALL TIME and – as if that wasn’t good enough – the swimmer under your wing is the latest big thing in the water. You are a perfect team, nobody can beat you, you’ll bring home a bunch of medals from the Nationals and you aren’t about to miss the opportunity to let everyone know!

You are in no doubt, you will be the shining stars of your dreams.

The day arrives, you enter the pool and the scene overwhelms you. Over one thousand swimmers fill the aquatic centre and share a similar goal; to demonstrate their worth and achieve victory on the biggest stage there is. The incentive could not be stronger; you will be competing against the best, you will face the toughest rivals and, what’s more, your families will bear witness to your triumphs.

Could you be any more fortunate?

The competition is over and the results pale in comparison to your initial expectations. 84th out of 90 in the best race, one false start and – to top it all off – an enormous tantrum make up the final results.

Suddenly and as if by magic, all hopes evaporate; the future Olympic champion is no more, he failed to do a single thing right and is no longer any good at swimming. His trainer turns his back on him and his parents decide that swimming is boring and too demanding, that there is no future in the sport and that it certainly won’t pay the bills. The best options for him are to either give it up, find a coach that can do a better job or just enjoy a different sport that doesn’t take up so much time and fully focus on academic study.

Does this situation ring any bells?

How many similar cases have you seen?

How many excellent swimmers on the verge of becoming champions had to quit swimming for a similar reason?

When will we learn – once and for all – to build up to the moment, to see our young rising stars for what they are: children, young people in training and athletes?

The saddest thing of all is that this situation arises all too often and, although usually characteristic of those few coaches anxious to achieve rapid success early on in their careers or inexpert parents who, through a lack of knowledge or mere aspiration, place their hopes in the quality and talent of their children, these are not the only people guilty of such action. At some time or another and without realising our mistake, the majority of us have acted in this way and suffered the negative consequences first-hand in the end.

I believe, and tell me if I’m wrong, that a much better way is to respect the proper stages of training and development. Let’s purge our vocabulary of those false hopes that are impossible to fulfil and that cause so much harm to the future endeavours of our young swimmers. Let’s stop the big talk, the inappropriate and unnecessary flattery, and focus on those things that truly matter to the swimmer, those issues of genuine interest.playa

Teaching the correct techniques in the four competition styles, turns and starts, setting reasonable and realistic targets, educating in commitment and values, encouraging a passion for the sport, working correctly for the long term without rushing and with the necessary calm and patience to achieve optimum performance in adulthood.


Written by Agustín Artiles (“Champi”). Agustín has more than 35 years of experience as the Head Coach of some of the most important Spanish swimming teams He has been the Coach of the Spanish Swimming Team from 2008 to 2012, and has trained the 50 breastroke Spanish national recordman, Hector Monteagudo Espinosa, from 2002 to 2013 Agustín has also trained several international swimmers from the Spanish National Team and from the european and world top ten, as well as paraolimpics athletes with medals and world records in all the different categories. He has also been accomplished with the award as the Best competition swimming coach in Spain 2006, as several recognition for professional merits.

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