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.

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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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Athlete Heart Rate Variability with Dr. Martina Maggioni, Ph.D.

This is a written interview with Dr. Martina Maggioni, Ph.D. Dr. Maggioni is a leading researcher on athlete heart rate variability and a Assistant Professor of Physiology at the University of Milan. Here is her full list of publications and one of her recent studies on athlete heart rate variability in elite swimmers. Don’t forget to check our older posts on the subject:

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

After the Degree in Exercise Sciences at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Milan, I did my PhD in Human Physiology, Nutrition and Body Composition Assessment at the University of Rome 2. During that time I’ve always taught and coached swimming, mainly to young athletes and leisure participants. After collaborating with a Center of Sport Medicine for exercise testing, I became Assistant Professor of Physiology at the Department of Biomedical Sciences for Health, Faculty of Medicine of Milan University. I taught Human and Exercise Physiology, and Physiology for Health. Since 2012 I am Guest Scientist at the “Center of Space Medicine and Extreme Environments Berlin”, Charité University Medicine, Berlin Germany.

My research is mainly focused on: 1) Body composition assessment. Study of different techniques to assess body composition in healthy, athletic and pathologic subjects (spinal cord injured people). 2) Exercise physiology. Effects of aerobic exercise on the cardio-respiratory and metabolic profile in healthy, athletic and pathologic subjects; metabolic cost of locomotion in healthy, athletic and in patients with neuromuscular pathologies. Effects of different training methods on sports performance. 3) Cardiovascular autonomic control and performance. Heart rate variability assessment as a method to determine training efficacy and avoid overtraining condition. Testing the hypothesis of heart rate variability as a predictor of performance. Study of orthostatic hypotension in elderly (in order to prevent falls); research on cardiovascular adaptation to postural changes (elderly) and in environment which mimic microgravity (water immersion).

2. You recently published an article on athlete heart rate variability (HRV). What is HRV and what are the possibilities of measuring athlete heart rate variaiblity?

Heart rate variability describes how the heart rate fluctuates around its mean value. These fluctuations contain information on the cardiac regulation by the autonomic nervous system, either at rest or during different physiological and psychological challenges.

3. What did your study look at?Athlete heart rate variability

We focused on the vagal and sympathetic cardiac control in short- and very short-distance elite swimmers and how indices of HRV can predict the swimming performances of these athletes.

4. How did your study measure HRV and are there other ways to measure HRV?

The participants of our study recorded their heart rate in the morning immediately after wake up. To this aim, they used a commercial heart rate monitor, which collect data on a beat-to-beat basis continuously for several minutes. There are several commercially available softwares that allow to extract indices related to the autonomic tone from these heart rate recordings. Moreover, there are also different devices that can measure the heart rate. Some of them are based on accelerometers, other on photoplethysmogram, but the best way to collect the heart-rate series beat by beat is through an electrocardiogram.

5. What were the results of your study?

We found that the athletes with the higher parasympathetic drive at rest are disadvantaged when performing a very-short distance race: the 50-m freestyle [front crawl]. However, this disadvantage disappears over a longer distance: the 100-m freestyle. We also found that the athletes with the higher cardiac sympathetic tone after their usual training where those with the best performances over the 100-m front crawl. These results suggest that a strong cardiac vagal control has no effect on short performances and is even detrimental to very-short performances, and that the capacity to powerfully increase the sympathetic tone during exercise may improve short performances, but does not appear to play a substantial role in very short performances.

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

The practical implications are related to the building of a more effective training program, in particular to monitoring the effect of aerobic routines on the autonomic cardiac regulation through HRV analysis. Coaches could also select the proper distance race (shorter vs. longer events) for each athlete, on the base of the HRV indices monitored in the days before the competition.

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

I think that these results are strongly related to the sample we studied, i.e. elite swimmers specialized in short-distance performances. For example with untrained swimmers a large amount of high volume training is probably needed to get the basis of a specific further preparation.

8. What do we know about HRV in endurance swimming or endurance sports?

Several scientific papers studied endurance sports with methods of HRV. For instance, HRV has been used to monitor training effects in endurance performances and to evaluate overtraining conditions.

9. What do you think of at-home HRV devices for HRV measurement? Is that a worthwhile investment for swimmers?

HRV measurement is certainly worthwhile for professional swimmers, but it requires also a specific preparation to correctly understand the results. For leisure participants is probably enough just to monitor the heart rate as usually done to evaluate training effort.

10. What other technologies should swim coaches keep an eye on or implement??

Miniaturized wearable sensors are currently been developed to efficiently monitor cardiorespiratory, energetic and biomechanics features in many sports. Some of these new technologies are also suitable for underwater use, thereby giving potentially important and highly synchronized information on biomechanics and energetics in swimmers.

11. What makes your research different from others?

The central novelty of our study is that also in short distance swimmers HRV could be a valuable tool to evaluate training effects and level of fitness-performance related of athletes. Until now, HRV has been taken into account only for endurance performance and was believed not to be useful for short distances (mostly anaerobic) competitions.

12. Which teachers have most influenced your research?

I can’t state specific teachers, I‘ve always learned something from every teachers and every colleagues in my life, especially from Prof. Merati and Prof. Castiglioni, who also co-authored this and others m of my works.

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

We are working now on long distance swimmers (specialist of 1500 m), to assess the use of HRV as a training tool among this specific group of athletes, which are strictly endurance specialist.

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Swim Practice Protein Intake

Take-Home Points on Swim Practice Protein Intake:

  1. Ingesting protein during training can minimize muscle breakdown from training.
  2. Protein should be ingested in smaller quantities (10-20g) than carbohydrate (up to 80g) because they are digested slower.
  3. Consume this amount of protein and carbohydrate with large amounts of liquid (1L/32oz) to prevent a hypertonic training drink that can lead to dehydration and an upset stomach.Swim Practice Protein Intake

As an athlete exercises, skeletal muscle is broken down, this is known as catabolism.  Conversely, when protein is ingested, skeletal muscle is synthesized, or grown. This is known as anabolism. The catabolic/anabolic balance, or the balance between break down, and growth, determines long-term muscle gains or losses.  In essence, you never have exactly the same amount of skeletal muscle, because it is always breaking down or growing in small amounts.  This is an essential scientific principle to understand.

For athletes, and swimmers are no exception, increased amounts of dietary protein are essential.  I want to dispel a myth right now; PROTEIN IS NOT JUST FOR BULKING UP! Swimmers also have an increased need for protein… Trust me! Muscle soreness is a result of muscle breakdown. Even if a swimmer is doing primarily aerobic-type training, skeletal muscle is still being broken down, and needs to be repaired if the swimmer wants to stay strong and healthy day after day.

So if you accept the premise that swimmers have an increased need for protein over a sedentary individual to balance off the increased muscle break down from training, then the idea of consuming protein (anabolic) while training (catabolic) actually seems quite logical.  It’s not that simple though; the body can only absorb so much protein at one time, especially during rigorous training.

The key here is the ratio of protein to water. So protein gels or bars can work, but it can get a bit tricky when it comes to figuring out how much to take relative to the amount of liquid being consumed.  Too much protein and not enough water make what is called a hypertonic solution.  This can lead to cramping, poor digestion, and dehydration.  Alternatively, the less protein you ingest, the less protein available to prevent muscle breakdown.  Again, it’s a balancing act:

1-2% protein solution is ideal (i.e. 10-20g of whey protein in a 1L (32oz) bottle).  This can be combined with a carbohydrate solution as well (carbohydrate intake during training can delay the onset of fatigue).

Example Swim Practice Protein Intake

  • 1L (32oz) bottle
  • 10g of whey
  • 50g of dextrose (carbohydrate can be consumed in much larger amounts (up to 80g) because they are digested much quicker than protein)Swim Practice Protein Intake

This is a 1% protein solution and 5% carb solution when the bottle is filled

The key is the size of the bottle, as 20g of whey in a 500ml (16oz) bottle, is actually a 4% protein solution. This could be hypertonic.  Soft drinks are a great example of a hypertonic carbohydrate solution.  Too much carbohydrate and not enough water leads to the soft drink being hypertonic. This can dehydrate an athlete, which is why we don’t drink soft drinks during training.

Again, using a 1L (32oz) bottle ensures the ratio of protein and carbohydrate to water is simple to establish (10g = 1%) and consistent throughout training, even if athletes don’t get through the whole bottle.

By Kevin Iwasa-Madge BASc, CISSN owner of iMadgen Nutrition, and as a former top-5 finisher in the world as a freestyle wrestler, Kevin embodies the lifestyle of an elite athlete. Kevin completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph in the Applied Human Nutrition. This clinically focused program allowed him the opportunity to address a range of diseases from a nutritional approach. After graduation Kevin attained his certification in sports nutrition from the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

Athletically, Kevin has been an elite wrestler for over 10 years, competing for both the University of Guelph and Team Canada. Kevin is a former First Team All-Canadian, Academic All-Canadian, and Canadian Champion. As a varsity athlete, Kevin was short-listed for the prestigious Student-Athlete of the Year award. He currently trains with and competes for the Guelph Wrestling Club and National Team. Over the years, Kevin has worked with a range of individuals, from those looking to improve their overall health, to rugby player, football players, swimmers, professional fighters, wrestlers, endurance athletes and more.

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Effect of Strength Training on Shoulder Proprioception

Improving shoulder strength is a frequent goal of injury prevention and rehabilitation, often termed stability. Stability suggests balance and proportional strength around the joint exists. Shoulder joint stability is a result of passive and dynamic components. The bone geometry, relative intra-articular pressure, glenohumeral labrum and capsuloligamentous structures are the passive components. The dynamic components are those which contract around the joint, often the muscles and tendons. Both passive and dynamic structures provide proprioceptive (joint position) for the joint. Proprioception is an essential aspect of sports, as it is a main component of body awareness. Studies on throwing athletes have found a poor sense of position on the throwing side and a correlation with instability. Despite the importance of proprioception, the effects of strength training on proprioception is not well researched.

Strength Training on Shoulder Proprioception

Salles (2014) split 90 male undergraduate students into three groups:

  1. Performed exercises at the same intensity
  2. Performed exercises at different intensities
  3. Performed no upper body exercise

The exercises were performed for 8 weeks and included bench press, lat pull down, shoulder press, and seated row. Before and after the training, a joint positioning test was performed on each arm.

Strength Training on Shoulder Proprioception Results

Nine subjects did not finish the study due to a lack of time. Before the study, there was no difference between groups. However, after the training group 1 had a less absolute error than group 2 during the joint position test. Group 2 also had greater improvements in sense of position than the control group.

Strength Training Improves Shoulder Proprioception

Overall, strength training appears beneficial for improving joint positional sense and a constant exercise intensity (8-9 RM) appears better than a varying intensity (8-9 RM and 12-13 RM). However, the effects of strength training during sport must also be studied, as fatigue and overtraining may influence these findings. Also, the effects of strength training and proprioception in those with shoulder injury, particularly swimmer’s shoulder, is an important research topic.

Nonetheless, it seems shoulder strengthening with a lower volume and constant intensity is most beneficial for improving shoulder proprioception. Therefore, consider adding shoulder strengthening for your return to swimming program and swimmer’s shoulder prevention programs.


  1. Salles JI, Velasques B, Cossich V, Nicoliche E, Ribeiro P, Amaral MV, Motta G. Effect of Strength Training on Shoulder Proprioception. J Athl Train. 2015 Jan 16. [Epub ahead of print]

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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HIT for Swimmers

Much of this post is taken from a free publication which can be accessed here

If you follow SwimSwam or Swimming World Magazine you’ve certainly noticed the great interest in ultra-short race pace training (USRPT) and elite age-group professional swimmer Michael Andrew. Posts on these topics receive massive traffic and great controversy regarding training and many other topics.

As written previously, here are the differences between the various forms of training:

  • HIT: High-intensity training (HIT) involves performing maximal efforts with long rest. For example, 25s sprint on 3:00.
  • HIIT: High-intensity interval training (HIIT) utilizes maximal effort training with short rest. For example, 8×25 @ :10 rest.
  • USRPT: Ultra short-rest race pace training (USRPT) uses a similar approach to HIIT, but provides slightly longer recovery for avoidance of fatigue and a larger emphasis on motor skill learning. 30×25@~:10 – :20 rest, emphasizing one biomechanical improvement.
  • Traditional: Higher volume training emphasizing a period of oxidative (aerobic) training at slower than race pace or sprint pace.

High-intensity training (HIT), such as 4-6×30 s all-out exercise bouts interspersed by 3–5 minutes of rest, has proved to be a potent stimulus for muscular and cardiovascular adaptation in untrained persons and athletes. In untrained participants, as little as three sessions of HIT per week for 6 weeks causes a ∼7% increase of maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) and reduces the respiratory exchange ratio ∼0.01 at 65% of VO2 max.

The swimming community has been shifting towards high intensity training over the past 30 years. Over the last couple of years, ultra-short race pace training (USRPT; a branch of high-intensity interval training, but very different) has gained popularity and prompted questions regarding traditional swimming training. Unfortunately, few studies have compared long-term adaptations of the two types of training, especially in elite swimmers.

Mohr (2014) split sixty-two sedentary premenopausal women with mild to moderate arterial hypertension into a high-intensity training (HIT), a moderate training (MOD) group, or a control group (CON). This study suggested HIT results in greater fat loss and similar results in improvement. However, can we extrapolate this study to elite swimmers…of course not!

HIT Adaptations in Trained vs. Untrained

At the muscular level in untrained subjects HIT induces mitochondrial biogenesis, reduces lactate production and increases capacity for lipid oxidation. In trained subjects, skeletal muscle oxidative enzymatic potential is not always improved, but has been observed to increase after one week of HIT in elite distance runners. Thus, the mechanisms responsible for performance improvements with HIT may be different in untrained and trained subjects. There is evidence that HIT leads to a reduction in plasma K+ concentration and increased ability to work at high intensities. Reduced plasma K+ appears to result from increased skeletal muscle Na+, K+ pump.

Once again, you can’t extrapolate results from untrained or older women to elite swimmers. Luckily, there is a new study on elite swimmers!

High Intensity Training in Elite Swimmers

Kilen (2015) had forty-one healthy Danish national level senior elite swimmers (30 males and 11 females) were recruited for the study. Age: 20.0±2.7 years, height 179.9±6.5 cm and body mass 72.0±10.6 kg. The athletes had been training and competing on a regular basis for a minimum of 5 years, and they were swimming 8–16 hours per week with an average weekly distance of 20.000 m–60.000 m. The enrolled swimmers primarily competed in 50 m–200 m events.

Training Volume

An intervention period lasting 12 weeks was carried out in the competitive mid-season from February to May. A two-group parallel longitudinal study design was used. Subjects from four different teams were randomly assigned to either an intervention group (HIT group; n = 20, 14 males and 6 females) or control group (CON group; n = 21, 16 males and 5 females). From each team, swimmers were assigned to both HIT and CON groups. In the HIT group, regular training volume was reduced by 50% and the amount of high intensity training was more than doubled. In the CON group, training was continued as usual. Additional dry-land training with focus on core-stability was performed for approximately 20 minutes per day and strength training with focus on upper body strength was performed for up to 2 hours per week.

Before (PRE) and after (POST) the HIT intervention period, participants underwent a series of physiological evaluations: body composition analyses; determination of swimming economy and swimming peak oxygen uptake in a custom built swim flume; a pool based 5×200 m freestyle swim test with increasing speeds and blood analyses. Additionally, performance was evaluated by analyses of 100 m freestyle all-out and 200 m freestyle completed in competition.

Performance of 100 m all-out freestyle was similar before and after the intervention in both the HIT (60.4±4.0 s vs. 60.3±4.0 s; n  = 13) and CON (60.2±3.7 s vs. 60.6±3.8 s; n = 15) group. Likewise, performance of 200 m freestyle in simulated competition was similar before and after the intervention in both the HIT (133.2±6.4 s vs. 132.6±7.7 s; n = 14) and CON (133.5±7.0 s vs 133.3±7.6 s; n = 15) group. Also, average speed of a 200 m freestyle performed after four preceding 200 m swims with increasing speed was similar before and after the intervention in both the HIT and CON group (1.48±0.10 m×s−1 vs. 1.50±0.08 m×s−1; n = 15 and 1.52±0.09 m×s−1 vs. 1.52±0.09 m×s−1; n = 16). Stroke- rate and length was similar (Trial: p = 0.39; Group: p = 0.52; Trial×Group: p = 0.65) during the paced 200 m before and after the invention in both the HIT (29.9±2.3 strokes×min−1 vs. 29.8±2.3 strokes x min−1; n = 15) and CON (29.4±3.3 strokes×min−1 vs. 29.0±3.6 strokes×min−1; n = 16) group.

Individual Responses to HIT

VO2 max determined during freestyle swimming with increasing speed in a flume was similar before and after the intervention in both the HIT and CON group. In contrast, VO2 max expressed relative to body weight was affected by the intervention with a decrease in HIT (55.7±7.2 ml O2×min−1×kg−1 vs. 52.7±7.0 m lO2×min−1×kg−1; n = 14) and no significant difference in CON (55.0±5.9 ml O2×min−1×kg−1 vs. 53.8±6.4 ml O2×min−1×kg−1; n = 13). For the HIT group (n = 16) the increase did not reach statistical significance (15.4±1.6% vs. 16.3±1.6%). In the CON group (n = 17) body fat percent increased from 13.9±1.5% to 14.9±1.5%. The other variables were the unchanged.

Conclusions on HIT for Swimmers

Clearly, much more research on HIT and swimming is needed. However, for elite swimmers, it suggests HIT is a possible method of improvement. It is likely many coaches already implement a form of HIT in their training, but questions will persist if it is the only method needed for improvement. Unfortunately, this study does not answer that question.

Some will suggest, that HIT worked in this study as it worked with elite swimmers and they knew how to “push themselves” harder. However, earlier work has suggest age-group junior triathletes (Zinner 2014), age-group swimmers (Sperlich 2010) and teenage swimmers ( also perform similarly with HIT compared to traditional training. Therefore, the claims many make that HIT is damaging to long term athletic developed seems unwarranted and purely anecdotal, as HIT throughout the swimming career could be more as effective on performance and perhaps more effective in reducing injuries and increasing enjoyment. Think about, less strokes, less shoulder stress, reduced injuries with 50% the volume. Now, volume isn’t the only factor in shoulder injuries, but multiple studies correlate swimming volume with shoulder injuries (albeit they didn’t look at swimming intensity, which may negate the reduced volume) (Sein 2010). Also, if a swimmer can have similar results with HIT as traditional training and enjoy it more, then why not let them try it? The zealousness of both HIT and traditional based camps is amusing, as neither group works for everyone, as the second figure shows, some swimmers had improvement with each approach. In order to know more, longer term studies analyzing HIT and traditional training, as well as different types of HIT would be beneficial. Also, studies which have a fully mature swimmers switch between HIT and traditional training would be greatly beneficial. Unfortunately, this study design is expensive, time consuming, and potentially limiting the swimmers potential of improvement (all the switching of programming).

Nonetheless, the major findings were that more than a doubling of high-intensity training (HIT) in combination with a 50% reduction of training volume for 12 weeks did not change swimming performance, swimming specific VO2max, swimming economy, blood metabolic markers or body composition as compared to a control group. How you take this information is up to the coaches, as they can run their own experiments with their swimmers.


  1. Kilen A, Larsson TH, Jørgensen M, Johansen L, Jørgensen S, Nordsborg NB. Effects of 12 weeks high-intensity & reduced-volume training in elite athletes. PLoS One. 2014 Apr 15;9(4):e95025. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0095025. eCollection 2014.
  2. Mohr M, Nordsborg NB, Lindenskov A, Steinholm H, Nielsen HP, Mortensen J, Weihe P, Krustrup P. High-intensity intermittent swimming improves cardiovascular health status for women with mild hypertension. Biomed Res Int. 2014;2014:728289. doi: 10.1155/2014/728289. Epub 2014 Apr 10.
  3. Sperlich B, Zinner C, Heilemann I, Kjendlie PL, Holmberg HC, et al. (2010) High-intensity interval training improves VO(2peak), maximal lactate accumulation, time trial and competition performance in 9-11-year-old swimmers. Eur J Appl Physiol 110: 1029–1036
  4. Zinner C, Wahl P, Achtzehn S, Reed JL, Mester J. Acute hormonal responses before and after 2 weeks of HIT in well trained junior triathletes. Int J Sports Med. 2014 Apr;35(4):316-22. doi: 10.1055/s-0033-1353141. Epub 2013 Sep 30.
  5. Sein ML, Walton J, Linklater J, Appleyard R, Kirkbride B, Kuah D, Murrell GA. Shoulder pain in elite swimmers: primarily due to swim-volume-induced supraspinatus tendinopathy. Br J Sports Med. 2010 Feb;44(2):105-13. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2008.047282. Epub 2008 May 7.

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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Comparison of the Short Course Meters Woman’s 100 Breaststroke World Record

Take Home Message:

  1. The aim was to: (i) compare Ruta Meilutyte (LTU) WR in Moscow (October 2013) and Alia Atkinson (JAM) in Doha (November 2014), both with a time of 1:02.36; (ii) learn the effect of the taper on Alia´s performance (Singapore vs. Doha races, 5 weeks apart).
  2. Water entry and water break was not different comparing Ruta and Alia.
  3. Alia Atkinson showed a shift in the stroke kinematics between the Singapore and Doha events (decrease in the clean speed, stroke length and efficiency but increase in the stroke rate).
  4. Alia’s breakout was around the 8-9m and 9-10m distances in Singapore and Doha, respectively. She not only stayed underwater longer, but the turning speed was also higher (10.6% and 6.9% faster in the first and last turns).

A lot was already said about Alia´s WR and gold medal at the SCM World Championships held last December in Doha. It is great for her, for Jamaica and for the World swimming according to the reasons pointed out in a very comprehensive way in the specialized media. Let´s go back one month, November 2014. Early that month, a few weeks before the Championships, it was held here in Singapore the last leg of the 2014 FINA World Cup Series. Overall, the leg was fairly entertaining considering that: (i) most swimmers were away from home at several weeks to compete at the legs of the Asian cluster; (ii) each leg is a two-days meet packed with a lot of events; (iii) most swimmers race more than two events per day; (iv) there are claims that some of them still have training sessions between the morning and evening races; (v) probably they are looking forward to the World Championships in 4-5 weeks time. However, a couple of athletes posted very promising races, swimming at world record paces.

That time, my comment to a few friends and peers was that if Chad and Alia can race at WR pace 4-5 weeks before Doha, after a good taper, probably they will smash some records in December. So, we must keep an eye on them. Surprisingly, at least for some people, that did happen. So this bring us to today´s post: (i) compare Ruta Meilutyte (LTU) WR in Moscow (October 2013) and Alia Atkinson (JAM) in Doha (November 2014), both with a time of 1:02.36; (ii) learn the effect of the taper on Alia´s performance (Singapore vs. Doha, 5 weeks apart).

Race analysis was done as reported in my previous posts on Ruta Meilutyte’s 100 SCM World Record Race Analysis. The Doha race can be found on YouTube® and the one in Singapore I recorded on the stands.

Ruta is well known to be very quick on the blocks (i.e. reaction time). However the water entry and water break is not so different comparing RM and AA (table 1). Between Singapore and Doha, Alia covered one more meter fully immersed but only spent an extra 0.13s. Hence, one might consider that she improved the first and second glides in the start (RM: 2.43m/s; AA: 2.30m/s and 2.44m/s; an improvement of 5.8% in 5 weeks).

table 1

AA was slightly faster in the first split than RM (AA: 29.46s; RM: 29.56s) but that paid-off even though she was slower by 0.1s in the following one (Table 2). In Singapore, AA did the first split at the WR pace (29.58s). I am not sure if she was only testing paces, really wanted to break the World record but was too tired, saving energy for the remaining events of the session because she raced back-to-back two finals: the W100Br (at 06:24pm) and the W200IM (at 06:53pm). Only she and her coach have the right answer to that.

table 2

Surprisingly the Atkinson´s stroke kinematics were slightly lower than the one performed by RM (table 3). Clean speed, stroke length and efficiency (i.e. stroke index) are lower, but the stroke rate higher. Interestingly, the same trend can be verified comparing the Singapore leg with Doha´s final. In Singapore, 81.8% of the speed was related to the stroke length, while in Doha only 35.34%. So, it seems that she had a strategy based on the stroke rate in Doha, a nice and “smoother” technique in Singapore.

So far, we learned that Alia Atkinson start was quite good, and there was a shift in the stroke kinematics. This lead us to the question on how did she performed during the turns and the finish.
table 3

Over the three turns, AA increased the distance to the water break (table 4). She was doing the water break around the 8-9m and 9-10m distances in Singapore and Doha, respectively. Not only she stayed longer fully immersed but the turning speed was also higher (10.6% and 6.9% faster in the first and last turns). Regarding the finish, the difference between RM and AA is 0.06s. AA showed a slight improvement by 0.04s (1.2%) between November and December. Therefore, it seems that the turns were determinant for Alias Atkinson World Record.
table 4

table 5

To wrap-up, comparing RM and AA WR at the W100Br by the same time of 1:02.36, it seems that the start and the turns were determinants for the later swimmer´s performance. Over that race, the clean swimming relied more on the stroke rate than the stroke length or swimming efficiency. That improvement on the start and turns did happen between the race delivered in Singapore and the final in Doha. Moreover, there was a slight shift in the swimming mechanics (higher SR, lower SL).

Can’t wait for the long course meters woman’s 100 breaststroke world record showdown, any predictions?

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

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Optimizing Dryland Training: Installment 2

In the first installment of this series, I covered some of the bare-bones basics of dryland and how to implementing them into a successful swim program.  More specifically, I explained the importance of myofascial release (foam rolling), periodization of dryland training, and the pitfalls ‘functional’ training.  If you missed the first article in the series, or just want a recap, you can find it here.  Now I’m back with another segment and a few more tips to help you get the most out of your swimmers’ land-based training.

1. Skip the Running

There is a very logical, but flawed thought process among many coaches that leads them to believe that running is the best form of dryland training.  On the surface, this makes sense; but as I alluded to, it is a poor choice.

While running may help with energy system training when a pool is unavailable, it can cause burnout very easily.  Currently, in Strength & Conditioning, there is a growing idea that running (steady state, long distance running) may actually hinder performance through several mechanisms.  First, running can damage your hormonal profile, making it harder to recover and perform.  Running also hinders performance by either taking time away from pool-based training, or by going above and beyond pool based training into a dangerous area where overtraining is very possible.

The above thought process may then be applied to weight training: “Well if taking time away from the pool for running is bad, why should I take time away from the pool for weight training?”  While this may be a slippery slope, the fact is, weight training is restorative, while running is taxing.

While you may think running is making the best of a bad situation, many of my peers in strength and conditioning, as well as myself, believe otherwise.  If you are in a position where running is your only viable option to get a training stimulus outside of the water, I suggest high intensity runs like shuttle runs, suicides, bleacher runs, and especially sprints.

2. Spend Time Recovering

Although the ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality is finally retiring along with some older coaches, it still exists, and is still interfering with the recovery and performance of athletes everywhere. The adage should actually be ‘stimulate, not annihilate’.   Why does taper work? Partially because the swimmers have an opportunity to rest and fully demonstrate the skills they have acquired through hundreds of hours of practice in a given season.

Whether it is in the pool or in dryland training, swimmers don’t necessarily always need more training, but frequently do need better training—this idea is proven in through the success of programs like the highly recognized USRPT.

Throughout the season, I tend to see swimmers for about the same duration. The biggest differences are what we spend doing in that time period throughout the season.  Closer to championship meets, the gross majority of our time is spent foam rolling, doing corrective work, and very little is spent with weights.  Again, just like with swimmers, what we do perform with weights is still very high intensity, as there is a very big difference between getting sufficient rest and laziness.

3. Don’t Fear Muscle

American Footballers avoided weight training for fear it would make them too slow, Baseball players thought it would make them too bulky to hit a baseball, and even the athletes who compete in golf thought it would only negatively effect performance.  Then in the early 80’s, footballers started weight training, which made the sport much faster and more competitive, in the 90’s, baseball players started to accept weight training, then home-run records started falling left and right.  And now, the most recognized man in golf, Tiger Woods can bench over 350 lbs.!

In swimming Ryan Lochte is flipping tires and training with as much intensity in the weight room as a world’s strongest man competitor.  Phelps, who has been pretty opposed to weight training due to personal disdain has accepted it simply because he recognized how important it is, and the best swimming programs in the NCAA all have well-developed Strength & Conditioning Programs.

Don’t think that muscle is going to slow you down, or that you need to train with only light weights, or in a manner similar to your strokes.  Train heavy, and train with the purpose of being the best in the world; champions aren’t forged with 5 lb. dumbbells.

Written by John Matulevich a powerlifting world record holder in multiple lifts and weight classes, as well as a Head D-2 Strength Coach, and previously a nationally ranked college athlete. His concentrations are in sports performance, powerlifting, and weight training for swimming. To learn more about how John trains his athletes, check his Twitter page: @John_Matulevich. He can also be reached at with inquiries.

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Weekly Swimming Round-Up

Each week we aggregate recent swimming journals and blog posts relating to swimming biomechanics, physiology, nutrition, psychology, etc. If you wish to add, please add an article to the weekly swimming round-up in the comments section.

Journal Round-up

  1. Effect of high-tech swimsuits on the swimming performance in top-level swimmers.
  2. Effect of hand paddles and parachute on butterfly coordination.
  3. Comparison of the effects of active, passive and mixed warm ups on swimming performance.
  4. How does drag affect the underwater phase of a swimming start?

Blog Round-up

  1. Motivation in Swimmers with Francisco Javier Fernandez Rio
  2. Lessons From 2014 To Help Your Swimming In 2015
  3. SSP 007: Recruiting, Coaching Education, and Coach Development with Ray Looze
  4. Aerobic Contribution in Sprint Swimming
  5. Notes from Mike Bottom ASCA Lecture (Putting Together a Championship Team) Part II
  6. #WorkHard #Fatigue | Typical symptoms of overreaching in endurance athletes | By @YLMSportScience
  7. Ingest proteins immediately after concurrent training (resistance + endurance) to limit interference

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