4 Fundamental Shoulder Exercises for Swimmers

Fundamental shoulder strengthening exercises for competitive swimmers

Written by Behnam Liaghat, recognized specialist by the International Federation of Sports Physical Therapy, based in Denmark at the University of Southern Denmark. Email: bliaghat@health.sdu.dk

Following my recent blog about identifying joint hypermobility in swimmers, in this blog I will go through some of the top shoulder exercises for the competitive or elite swimmer to develop fundamental strength and neuromuscular control of the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers.

In our recent research about young competitive swimmers with joint hypermobility (Liaghat et al., 2018), we found that swimmers with inherent shoulder joint hypermobility displayed reduced internal rotation strength and a tendency to poor activation of the scapular muscles. Another interesting finding was that swimmers with joint hypermobility not only display reduced absolute internal rotation strength, but these swimmers are weaker through the entire range of shoulder rotation. The suggested dry-land exercises in this blog can be designed to be beneficial for both hypermobile and non-hypermobile swimmers with few adjustments in range of motion, i.e. by increasing shoulder rotation to be as close as possible to the individual end range.

What are the benefits?

The four exercises specifically aim at improving shoulder retraction (refers to moving the scapula towards the spine), internal rotation and external rotations strength. To avoid injuries, it is important to target muscles on both sides of the shoulder to achieve a balanced intermuscular function. This is the rationale for including exercises for both internal and external rotation movements. Adequate strength in these movements has, besides injury prevention purposes, a positive effect on swimming stroke performance.

General guidelines

Some general guidelines for these exercises include performing them without producing any pain or discomfort and slowly through the entire range (approximately 6-8 seconds per repetition) to engage all important muscles. As there are no golden standard number of repetitions, you may want your swimmers to start with 3 x 30 seconds for the first 2-4 weeks and then move on to 3 x 8-12 repetitions with heavier resistance. Depending on the load applied and experienced level of muscle soreness, the exercises can be performed 3-5 times weekly. Make sure your swimmers breathe in a relaxed manner and engage the whole kinetic chain in all exercises.

When introducing these exercises to your swimmers, be certain that they can control the shoulder so excessive movement of the tip of the shoulder in either upward (towards the ear), backward or forward directions is avoided. In principle, reducing resistance and/or decreasing the range of movement may be applied to increase quality of shoulder control.

Fig. 1. Infraspinatus muscle on the posterior side of the scapula http://c1healthcentre.co.uk/one-of-our-top-5-reasons-you-have-arm-pain-infraspinatus-muscle-problems/

Active release of muscles before you start

Before instructing swimmers in performing these exercises, it is recommended to do some active release of the posterior rotator cuff muscles by standing against a wall with the arms perpendicular to the trunk and putting a pressure to the mid-point of the scapula with a lacrosse ball to target the infraspinatus area (Fig. 1). From here the swimmer can simply roll on the ball and add a shoulder external and internal rotation movement for up to two minutes to release tight and sore muscles (Fig. 2 A-C). The active self-release can be performed in supine for adding more pressure.

Fig. 2 A-C. The Danish swimmer Matilde Lerche Schrøder showing an active release of the posterior rotator cuff muscles.

Now let us move on to the top dry-land exercises for fundamental shoulder strength


Exercise 1: Prone 1-arm diagonal lift

Either lie on the floor or on a gym ball supporting with your feet and one arm. Apply resistance with an elastic band. Slightly retract and depress your shoulder before lifting your arm with a 45 degrees angle away from the trunk´s midline. While lifting the arm, a maximum external rotation is performed in the arm so the thumb points towards the ceiling.

Level down by lifting the arm perpendicular to the trunk’s midline.

Level up by adding a back extension in the movement or lifting the opposite leg.


Exercise 2: Supine internal rotation 1

Either lie on the floor or on a gym ball supporting with your feet. Apply resistance with an elastic band. Slightly retract and depress your shoulder before turning one arm at a time internally as far as possible without losing shoulder control (e.g. protracting the shoulder towards the ceiling).

Level up by adding oscillation (fast movements back and forth) through the movement.


Exercise 3: Supine internal rotation 2

Description: Either lie on the floor or on a gym ball supporting with your feet. Apply resistance with dumbbells. Slightly retract and depress your shoulder before slowly turning one arm at a time externally in cranial direction and then back to vertical position in the underarm without losing shoulder control (e.g. avoid pushing the shoulder towards the ceiling).

Level up by adding more load and increasing range of external rotation.


Exercise 4: Prone external rotation

Lie on a gym ball supporting with your feet and one arm. Apply resistance with a dumbbell. Slightly retract and depress your shoulder before externally rotation your arm with the upper arm perpendicular to the trunk.

Level up by adding more load and increasing range of external rotation.


Every swimming coach should be familiar with these top shoulder exercises and include them in some content as part of the dry-land routines for injury prevention and for enhancing swimming stroke performance.


A special thanks to the Danish swimmers Matilde Lerche Schrøder and Line Virkelyst Johansen for giving their photo consents.


Liaghat, B., Juul-Kristensen, B., Frydendal, T., Marie Larsen, C., Søgaard, K., & Ilkka Tapio Salo, A. (2018). Competitive swimmers with hypermobility have strength and fatigue deficits in shoulder medial rotation. Journal of Electromyography & Kinesiology, 39, 1-7. DOI: 10.1016/j.jelekin.2018.01.003

Download link: https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1WU8g3kurobLDS

Dealing with hypermobility in swimmers

Written by Behnam Liaghat, recognized specialist by the International Federation of Sports Physical Therapy, based in Denmark at the University of Southern Denmark.

With hypermobility, it is really a balance for the swimmer between taking advantage of the condition by reducing drag and avoiding excessive motion that may potentially damage the joint. I propose that you may easily acquire the knowledge to test many of your swimmers for generalized joint hypermobility, including shoulder hypermobility, within 1-2 minutes.

In our recent research study on young competitive swimmers, the main findings were that healthy swimmers with hypermobility in the shoulder had a decreased strength and a larger fatigue development. In addition, more experimental data indicated a poorer stability of the shoulder blade. As a swimming coach, you can prescribe exercises to target these deficits and help your swimmers take advantage of their joint hypermobility. Generalized joint hypermobility is evaluated with the 9-point Beighton scale, which requires the performance of five maneuvers, four passive bilateral and one active unilateral performance:

  1. Passive dorsiflexion and hyperextension of the fifth MCP joint beyond 90°
  2. Passive apposition of the thumb to the flexor aspect of the forearm
  3. Hyperextension of the elbow beyond 10°
  4. hyperextension of the knee beyond 10°
  5. Active forward flexion of the trunk with the knees fully extended so that the palms of the hands rest flat on the floor

    Image credit: Clinical Examination in Rhuemetology, Michael Doherty and John Doherty (Mosby, 1992)

Each positive test scores one point, with cut-off values of more than 5/9 being indicative of the presence of generalized joint hypermobility. These cut-off values may vary, and some authors suggest lower cut-off values (e.g. 4/9) for males.

Since the shoulder is not represented in the Beighton scale, you may use a shoulder external rotation (positive score more than 90°) with the upper arm in neutral along the side of the body.

Image credit: Frederick A. Matsen III, M.D., UW Medicine, Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine

In case further investigation is required of the musculoskeletal condition of the swimmer or in case the swimmer experiences pain, please refer to a sports physiotherapist, who can perform additional tests and examination.

For more detail on this topic, please read the freely available research paper by Liaghat et al. (2018): “Competitive swimmers with hypermobility have strength and fatigue deficits in shoulder medial rotation”. https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1WU8g3kurobLDS

Contact the author directly via email: bliaghat@health.sdu.dk 

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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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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All you Need to Know About Partial Squats

This is a short written interview with Caleb Bazyler, Ph.D (c) on partial squats and sports performance. See Caleb’s research on partial squats and regular squats here. If you have any further questions, please leave them in the comments section, thanks! Strict use of partial squats are blasphemy in the strength and conditioning world [ask Bret Contreras], but we still don’t know much about their effects, especially when used in combination of full squats, as I’ve written about previously. Also, check out Caleb’s Sports Science Website. Enjoy!

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

Currently, I am a doctoral student in the exercise and sport science program at East Tennessee State University and work with various athletic teams as one of the athletic weightroom supervisors. I completed my undergraduate at Florida State University where I was an intern with the women’s basketball team and performed research with cross country athletes as part of my thesis. I was interested in continuing to do research with athletes, but wanted the practical experience working as a strength coach. I was able to accomplish this at East Tennessee State University where I was the strength and conditioning coach and sport scientist for the men’s tennis team while completing my master’s degree. I have been a certified strength and conditioning coach (NSCA-CSCS) for about 4 years and have worked with various collegiate athletic teams including tennis, golf, soccer, basketball, volleyball, and track and field. I am primarily interested in the performance of strength-power athletes, specifically powerlifters and weightlifters.

2. You recently published an article on the effects of partial squats. What do we know about partial repetition training?

Relative to other topics in the field of strength and conditioning there is not a lot of research on partial range of motion training. In one of the earliest studies examining changes in strength with partial versus full range of motion training, Graves and colleagues (1989) showed that changes in isometric maximal strength were specific to the range of motion trained. More recent investigations have reported similar findings for 1RM strength and have also found that changes in muscle cross sectional area are specific to the range of motion trained (Bloomquest et al. 2013, Hartmann et al. 2012). The subjects in these studies, however, were untrained and there is evidence indicating that partial lifts, if effective, would benefit lifters with previous strength training experience (Clark et al. 2011, Massey et al. 2004, Mookerjee and Ratamess 1999).

One of the primary reasons partial squats and other partial range of motion movements may be beneficial for athletes is improved strength and explosive ability in the terminal range of motion. This is because partial squats are not limited by the sticking region, which allows for heavier loads to be lifted. Considering many athletic events involve countermovements from knee and hip angles similar to those in a partial squat has lead researchers and strength coaches to suggest partial squats may improve an athlete’s ability to perform these movements. An example from swimming would be pushing off the starting block or off the wall during a turn.

3. What specifically did your study on partial squats look at?

Our study looked at differences between two training groups in 1RM squat,Full Squats vs. partial squats 1RM partial squat (starting from safety pins), isometric squat peak force scaled and impulse scaled at 90 and 120 degrees of knee flexion. One group performed full squats only, whereas the other group performed full squats and partial squats (at 100 degree knee angle starting from pins) during a 7-week training intervention. To ensure total work completed was similar between groups we measured bar displacement and multiplied it by the total number of reps and load. The subjects had at least 1 year resistance training experience and on average squatted >1.7 x body mass (full squat depth was determined as top of leg at hip being below the knee). For a detailed description of the training program please see Bazyler et al. 2014.

4. Did you consider any other repetition schemes or partial squat training?

We based our set x rep scheme on a block periodized resistance training model aimed at improving maximal strength. Both groups performed similar rep schemes with the full range of motion only group performing more sets to equalize the work completed. The group performing full and partial squats did half their sets on full squats and half their sets on partial squats. We considered various joint angles for the partial squat, but we selected 100 degrees for safety reasons (the loads were not as heavy and were easier to control than loads at higher knee angles). We also chose this knee angle because it was above the sticking region (~90 degree knee angle).

5. What were the results of your study?

Both groups improved 1RM squat and partial squat as a result of training; however the magnitude of improvement (effect size) was slightly larger in the group performing full and partial squats. This group was able to achieve greater improvements in early isometric force-time curve characteristics at 90 degrees of knee flexion (statistically speaking, “a group*time interaction”) and much larger magnitudes of improvement at both 90 and 120 degrees of knee flexion. The magnitude of improvement in isometric squat peak force at 90 degrees was greater for the full range of motion group, but at 120 degrees the magnitude of improvement was greater for the full plus partial range of motion group. The larger magnitudes of improvement may have been due to the greater relative training intensities accomplished by the full plus partial range of motion training group during the last 3 weeks of training.

6. What were the practical implications for sports strength coaches?

Although more research needs to be performed in this area, our findings indicate that partial squats performed above the sticking region with loads greater than full squat 1RM, may result in greater improvements in strength and explosive ability at the terminal range of motion. This is relevant for strength coaches because this “top end” range of motion in the squat is included in many sport movements (i.e. sprinting, throwing a shot put, jumping to get a rebound or to hit a volleyball, a swimmer pushing off the starting block). Partial squats can be included in the training cycles preceding a competition to reduce total training volume allowing for fatigue to dissipate and fitness to be expressed.

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

The aforementioned studies with untrained individuals found larger magnitudes of change in 1RM strength compared to those reported in our study. This can be expected as untrained individuals have more room to improve. Additionally, these studies still observed adaptations specific to the range of motion trained. For example, Bloomquest et al. 2013 reported improvements in quadriceps (front thigh muscle) cross-sectional area at the most proximal sites for the partial range of motion squat group, whereas the full range of motion squat group improved at all sites along the length of the muscle. It is important to note that these findings along with other studies comparing full to partial range of motion squats do not rule out the use of partial squats. Athletes with more training experience (collegiate to elite) may benefit from partial squats at certain phases in the annual plan. I am not sure how the results would differ with elite athletes; no study to date that I am aware of has researched this topic with that caliber of athlete. I can say that the more important issue is how and when partial squats are incorporated into an athlete’s training plan. It is not uncommon for someone to read our findings and just “add on” partial squats to the rest of their athlete’s training program. This is a mistake that should be avoided by the strength and conditioning professional. Careful attention needs to be given to when these lifts are included in the annual plan, the impact on acute training stress, and the “after effects” carrying over to the next phase of training.

8. Should swim coaches (or swimming strength coaches) incorporate partial squat training?Partial squats and swimming start

This really is up to the discretion of the coach as it depends on the training age of the athlete. Athletes with little strength training experience would benefit greatly by performing full range of motion squats alone. Swimmers with mobility limitations beginning a strength training program may benefit from starting with a partial rather than full squat. They should still in my opinion be progressed towards full range of motion training (gradually decreasing the depth of their squat as mobility improves). Swimmers who are proficient with full squats can begin by practicing partial squats with lighter loads. If the strength coach wants to work on race starting strength then he may have the athlete perform partial squats starting with the weight resting on the safety pins; however, if the goal is to improve push of the wall during a turn, partial squats can be performed with a countermovement. Partial squats can also be performed with a triple extension to more closely mimic these swimming movements.

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

In our lab we are currently working on a study comparing various kinetic variables for partial squats with and without a triple extension. We are also conducting research on tapering for strength-power and team sport athletes, as limited research has been done in this area.


  1. Bloomquest, K, Langberg, H, Karlsen, S, Madsgaard, S, Boesen, M, and Raastad, T. Effect of range of motion in heavy load squatting on muscle and tendon adaptations. Eur J Appl Physiol 113: 2133–2142, 2013.
  2. Clark, RA, Humphries, B, Hohmann, E, and Bryant, AL. The influence of variable range of motion training on neuromuscular performance and control of external loads. J Strength Cond Res 25:704–711, 2011.
  3. Graves, JE, Pollock, ML, Jones, AE, Colvin, AB, and Leggett, SH. Specificity of limited range of motion variable resistance training. Med Sci Sports Exerc 21: 84–89, 1989.
  4. Hartmann, H, Wirth, K, Klusemann, M, Dalic, J, Matuschek, C, and Schmidtbleicher, D. Influence of squatting depth on jumping performance. J Strength Cond Res 26: 3243–3261, 2012.
  5. Massey, CD, Vincent, J, Maneval, M, Moore, M, and Johnson, JT. An analysis of full range of motion vs. partial range of motion training in the development of strength in untrained men. J Strength Cond Res 18: 518–521, 2004.
  6. Mookerjee, S and Ratamess, N. Comparison of strength differences and joint action durations between full and partial range-of-motion bench press exercise. J Strength Cond Res 13: 76–81, 1999.

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Strongman Training for Swimming Dryland Workouts: Part II

Take Home Points
1) Recent evidence suggests strongman training during swimming dryland workouts may improve certain dryland performance measures
2) Strongman training has several benefits not specifically noted by the literature
3) Coaches carefully decide if and where strongman training fits into a dryland program

In a previous post, we addressed strongman training, which has been made popular in the swimming world by Ryan Lochte’s well publicized Ryan Lochte and his strongman dryland swimming workoutsswimming dryland workouts. Along with Lochte, this form of training has become more popular throughout the swimming world. Though there is relatively little evidence on the effectiveness of strongman training as a supplementary training mode, recent evidence has shown it compares favorably to traditional training. But, before getting into that evidence, it is useful to have a general review of strongman training for swimmers.

Strongman training can be beneficial for several reasons. First, it can create a very motivating, team-building environment. There’s no doubt that throwing heavy objects around can be lots of fun and can get swimmers excited for swimming dryland workouts. Strongman exercises also incorporate full-body, multi-joint movements, leading some to consider this training more “functional” than other approaches. Though we don’t have any specific evidence to back it up, strongman does seem to enhance grip strength. Additionally, because many strongman events are designed for maximal or near-maximal lifts, this type of training can help get swimmers away from the all-too-common high rep “met-con” circuit training approach.

One recent study (for a complete review on this study and others, subscribe to the Swimming Science Research Review!) compared strongman training with traditional training for effects on athletic performance. In sum, both approaches showed improvements with strongman producing higher gains compared to traditional training in muscle mass, acceleration performance, 1 repetition maximum (1RM) bent over row strength. The study also found “[s]mall to moderate positive changes in 1RM squat and deadlift strength, horizontal jump, COD turning ability, and sled push performance were associated with traditional compared with strongman training.” (Winwood 2015)


Despite these results, caution is still required, as we described in the first installment. In addition to the reasons covered in Part I (overtraining, fatigue) also consider that evidence has shown anthropometrics may predict strongman performance (Winwood 2012). Now, you could also say that most traditional exercises function differently for different body types. But most traditional exercise modes are more easily adjustable for the individual user than the often unforgiving implements used in strongman training. Further, while many strength and conditioning experts are available to coach traditional lifts, there are far fewer true experts in strongman training for swimming dryland workouts. And there are even fewer strongman training experts with any experience dealing with swimming (Why Your Team Needs a Strength Coach).

Strongman Training for Swimming Dryland Workouts Conclusion

As with anything, consider individual responses when incorporating alternative training formats. While it is certainly a positive development when coaches think outside-the-box, we must also examine whether new approaches fit into the overall training plan. Even if an approach like strongman training produces favorable dryland results, we must also ask “at what cost?” That question does not only apply to strongman training, but to any form of training. However, with social media creating a “can you top this” mentality among many teams and athletes in their swimming dryland workouts, it is important to remain focused on the athlete’s ability to adapt to the stress when performing strongman exercises.


  1. Winwood PW1, Cronin JB, Posthumus LR, Finlayson SJ, Gill ND, Keogh JW. Strongman vs. Traditional Resistance Training Effects on Muscular Function and Performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Feb;29(2):429-39. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000629.
  2. Winwood PW1, Keogh JW, Harris NK. Interrelationships between strength, anthropometrics, and strongman performance in novice strongman athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Feb;26(2):513-22. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318220db1a.

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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Pull-Up Progressions and Regressions, Part II

Take Home Points
1) “Own” the bottom position of the pull up to provide the best chance for success.
2) Retain core engagement that the swimmer practiced in planks and inverted rows.
3) Spotting and alternate grip pull ups are both viable assistance methods for those very close to performing regular pull-ups.

One of our most popular dryland posts on the site has been discussing Progressions and Regressions for Pull Ups. Yet despite this popularity, there are several ways to refine this application, particularly for those struggling to achieve their first pull up or to perform a pull up more consistently (For an excellent tutorial on how to perform pull ups see, How to Safely Perform Pull Ups).

This post will focus on the transition into regular strict pull-up progressions. Those experienced with the pull up will surely note that the progression laid out in the first installment is hardly linear. In fact, for many the degree of difficulty increases enormously once on the bar, despite demonstrating pull strength in other exercises.

Pull-up Progressions Cue

The first key is not a different exercise, but instead a cue to master the start position. As Dr. John wrote in his recent Swimming World piece, “Retract your shoulder blades, ensuring stability. This is important, as uncontrolled bar hanging or lowering can increase instability and damage at the shoulder.” Too many people forget this component and struggle with the pull up. Even if you do not perform pull ups, this can be a valuable shoulder stability exercise in itself.

Pull-up Progressions Core

Another related key is the core. Many people get on the bar and go into a significant anterior pelvic tilt, losing valuable stability they practiced on the ground, whether through planks or inverted rows. Now, one nice key is that when you lock into the bar as Dr. John described above, core engagement seems to occur more easily. But this movement does not happen automatically for everyone, meaning some swimmers must be cued. One simple way to cue this is by providing resistance onto the feet, whether via a light kettlebell or manually. Note, the goal for beginners is not to attempt a pull up, but instead to gain stability in the bottom position.

One thing I have changed over the years has been to de-emphasize assisted pull ups with a band. While this technique may be helpful for some by providing speed and developing familiarity over the bar, it also can hide strength leakages if performed too often (note: I have nothing to back that up other than with opinion). Yet, one alternate way to achieve these same benefits is with proper spotting. A correct spot offers assistance in the low/mid back and follows the same vector as the motion…not by yanking the legs upward!

Another approach, particularly for those very near a strict pull up, is to perform alternate grip pull ups or chin ups. Some individuals may struggle with one grip but can perform another. Though this may seem to violate the principle of specificity, alternate grip can help bust through plateaus by giving the individual more comfort over the bar. Further, having the ability to perform multiple grips may help prevent overuse.

Translating pulling strength into pull ups is a challenge for many, but doable with proper technique and progression. Achieving pull ups not only opens an entire world of dryland opportunities, it also psychologically empowers swimmers who may have struggled with the move in the past. Even if you don’t include pull ups or find them too draining for novices, practicing shoulder stability and core engagement on the bar are both potentially useful exercises within a dryland routine.

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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SSP 008: Strength and Conditioning for Swimmers with Dr. Lee Brown

In this episode, I’m joined by world-renowned strength and conditioning expert Dr. Lee Brown. Dr. Brown is a professor at Cal State Fullerton and has published numerous studies, most recently on cluster plyometric training.


  • What is cluster plyometric training.
  • Example strength training for sprint swimmers.
  • Example strength training for distance swimmers.
  • Example strength and conditioning for swimmers.
  • The use of specificity 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 Dr. Lee Brown thanks in the comments!

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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 MuscleEmporium@gmail.com with inquiries.

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SSP 006: Dryland, Injury Prevention, Recovery, and Much More with Keenan Robinson

In this episode, I’m joined by one of the strength coaches and athletic trainers, Keenan Robinson. Keenan has worked with numerous Olympic teams and Olympians, most notably Michael Phelps. He is the strength coach and Director of Athlete Services at North Baltimore Aquatic Club.

In this episode, Keenan shares information about dryland, injury prevention, injury rehabilitation, and much more!


  • Top rehabilitation techniques for swimmers.
  • Top dryland tools and tips for swimmers.
  • Core training tips for swimmers.
  • Swimming biomechanics for injury prevention for swimmers.
  • Integrating a rehabilitation specialist on a swim team.

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 Keenan thanks on Twitter!

It was such a pleasure to have Keenan Robinson on the Swimming Science Podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe on iTunes! See you next time! Also, if you have any suggestions, please make them and we are sorry for some of the poor sound, we are working on improving our recording technique!

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