ISCA Coach Education Program

We are thrilled that after about a year of production and development, the ISCA Education Program has officially launched!

The program is available online internationally and features evidence-based curriculum developed by sport scientists specifically for swim coaches. Our modern education portal is easy to navigate and secure, with transcript tracking and interactive course content.

ISCA Certification is available for coaches that are ISCA members and also complete the six core science-based courses (Biomechanics 101 & 102, Physiology 101 & 102, and Sport Psychology 101 & 102). The science behind swimming is something that all coaches need to understand to be effective and successful–and we look forward to providing this crucial piece of education to coaches around the world.

Get started today on the ISCA Education Portal:

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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”.

Contact the author directly via email: 

End of Race Perception in Swimmers

This is an interview with Nicolas Hanson. Dr. Hanson is one of the leading researchers in fatigue and end of race perception (endpoint). Dr. Hanson is an Associate Professor at Western Michigan University. This article discusses his latest research on endpoint percetion. Don’t forget to checkout all of his research.

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

My area of research is in Exercise Science, and I am particularly interested in the perceptions that we experience during exercise.

My Bachelor’s degree is in Biology, and I have a Master’s degree in Exercise Science (both from the University of Nebraska at Omaha). I recently completed my PhD in Kinesiology from The Ohio State University. I have a CSCS certification from the National Strength & Conditioning Association, and recently started as an Assistant Professor at Western Michigan University.

2. You recently published an article on effect of endpoint knowledge. Before we get into your study, what does the research demonstrate about knowing the endpoint of a race?

A landmark study that really sparked my interest in this area was by Hans Ulmer in the early 90s. He coined this term “teleoanticipation” which essentially involves knowledge of the endpoint and how we pace ourselves based on this.  It seems as though we really like to know the endpoint of a bout of exercise so we can work backward and know when we can really push ourselves hard.

3. What did your study look at?

Our study looked specifically at recreational endurance runners. We had them run to an “unknown” endpoint that was individually calculated for each subject based on their particular running history. Then they came back again and ran the same distance but this time they knew how far they were going to run. We wanted to see how that affected their perceived exertion, pacing strategy and heart rate during the run.

4. What were the results of your study?

First of all, the subjects ran faster when they knew the endpoint. We expected that to happen, because we assumed that they would be better able to pace themselves knowing roughly how long it would take them to complete the run. But what was interesting was that there were no differences at all in perceived exertion, affect (positive or negative feelings) or heart rate. Since the pace was different between conditions, this showed us that not knowing the endpoint of exercise can definitely affect the sense of effort. Sometimes coaches will have their athletes run without letting them know how long they will be out there – this research shows that it probably won’t make them feel any better or lower their heart rate so it may not be a wise practice.

Another interesting finding was that cardiorespiratory fitness (VO2max) was a predictor of where the subjects’ attention was placed while running but only when the endpoint was known.  What this means is that the more fit they were, the more they used associative strategies during the known endpoint run. This is when you attempt to focus on things like your breathing rate, form, etc. rather than daydreaming or thinking about something non running-related. Some previous studies have shown that high-level (Olympic) runners tend to use associative strategies so this is something else coaches and athletes could take away. Maybe the next step in performance is to train the brain.

5. Although swimming typically has a set distance, there is an increased use of endless pools and non-specific distances. If coaches or swimmers are using pool like this, how can coaches and swimmers maximize training? 

I see endless pools as being very similar to treadmills, where you are in the same place the entire time rather than physically moving and covering distance.  With these endless pools, I think that one of the benefits is definitely the opportunity to complete a long-distance swim uninterrupted by other people or turns. An even bigger benefit, though, is the chance to try out the cognitive strategies of association and dissociation with changes in the current speed.

6. Do you think the results would be different if you had older, elite or differently trained athletes?

It is definitely possible that the results would be different with a different subject pool. I think the effect of training would be more impactful than the effect of age, though.

7. What should swimmers think about at the end of a race with an endpoint?

I would use a similar strategy as the subjects in the current study that were more aerobically fit. They tended to focus on internal cues such as form, breathing rate, etc. rather than dissociating and trying to focus their minds elsewhere. I think this is a particularly useful strategy when swimmers reach higher levels of performance and are racing for top finishing spot.

8. What should swimmers think about at the end of a race without an endpoint?

The idea of an “endpoint” being based on distance rather than time is very interesting – the way that we differentiate the two. Either way, if the race does not have an endpoint or if the goal is to cover as much distance as possible in a certain timeframe, I think it would be more beneficial to implement dissociative strategies. In this case, it may actually be better to try and think about things other than the race to try and keep your mind occupied with something else. I have heard anecdotal stories of people running very long distances (150+ miles) and they are dissociating so much that they nearly have out-of-body experiences and cover stretches of miles without even realizing it. This would be a good strategy for swimmers as well, to deal with the mental aspect of racing without a solid distance endpoint.

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

Dr. Ross Tucker is someone who I follow and has done some great work with pacing, especially in hot environments.  Ross worked with Dr. Tim Noakes, who I also follow. Dr Noakes has some controversial viewpoints but always creates great discussions amongst researchers. He is the one who coined the term “Central Governor”, which describes the mind-body connection and how it relates to human performance.

10. What makes your research different from others?

Well, I am just starting my career so I have a lot to learn and a long way to go.  But I think one unique aspect of this study in particular is that it implemented a self-paced protocol without a known endpoint; I don’t think this has been done before.

11. Which teachers have most influenced your research?

I have been fortunate to have great advisors in graduate school.  At UNO I was advised by Dr. Kris Berg, who allowed me to choose a project that I found very interesting and run with it.  At OSU I worked with Dr. Janet Buckworth and Dr. Steven Devor who really allowed me to simultaneously focus on both the psychological and physiological aspects of exercise.

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

As I mentioned, I’m very interested in perceptions during exercise. To go along with that, I’m looking at how we perceive time passage during exercise – I’m curious to see if there are differences between men/women and how core body temperature during exercise may be related to the perception of time.

The post End of Race Perception in Swimmers appeared first on Swimming Science.

Effects of Oxygen Levels on the Brain

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

My name is Jordan Santos Concejero (29 years old). I studied biology and got my PhD in Exercise Physiology at the University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU (Spain) a few years ago.

My PhD thesis was entitled “Physiological and biomechanical responses to exercise in runners of different ethnic origin, distance specialisation and athletic ability”. I am so interested in athletics and exercise physiology because I was a competitive international runner when I was younger (some of my personal best times: 3’43”46 in 1500m -2007- and 7’59”21 in 3000m indoor in 2011. I even reached the final -7º- in the European U23 championships in 2007 with the Spanish team), so my main goals have always been to know what makes some athletes faster than others.

After earning my PhD, I moved to Cape Town (South Africa) where I spent almost 3 years doing a Postdoc under Timothy Noakes’ supervision (one of the best exercise physiologists in the world). The goal of my Postdoc was to unravel the Kenyan running phenomenon and we are starting to publish our first findings now (on brain oxygenation for example, but there are more publications coming soon on 3D biomechanical variables, ground contact forces, neuromuscular activity etc.)

Currently, I work as a researcher and lecturer at the University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU (Spain). I just came back from South Africa a couple of months ago.

2. You recently published an article on cerebral oxygenation in Kenyan runners. First, what do we know about cerebral oxygenation and fatigue?

Well, many studies have shown that fatigue resulting from maximal exercise in healthy humans is associated with a decline in cerebral oxygenation and that athletes who can maintain their brain oxygenation within an stable range are likely to perform better. This happens because a drop in cerebral oxygenation seems to affect the cerebral cortex activity and muscle recruitment.

3. How is cerebral oxygenation (oxygen brain) measured?

We measured it using a continuous-wave, functional, near-infrared spectrometer (NIRO-200X, Hamamatsu, Japan) which allowed us to monitor changes in cerebral haemoglobin concentrations.

We calculated the changes of tissue oxy-haemoglobin and deoxy-haemoglobin  (μmol/cm) using a modified form of the Beer-Lambert law and the tissue oxygenation index and the normalised total hemoglobin index using spatially-resolved spectroscopy (tissue oxygenation index represents the tissue saturation and normalised haemoglobin index is an absolute figure of the total haemoglobin).

4. What did your study look at?

In our study we looked at the cerebral oxygenation changes in elite Kenyan runners (from the Kalenjin tribe to be more specific) during a maximal self-paced exercise (5-km time trial) and a maximal incremental exercise (typical peak treadmill speed test).

5. What were the results of your study?

We found that changes in cerebral oxy-haemoglobin and deoxy-haemoglobin in elite Kalenjin runners are similar to what has been reported in well-trained European runners during maximal incremental exercise to volitional exhaustion. However, the novel finding of our study was that their cerebral oxygenation response differed from that previously observed during self-paced 5-km time trials, and therefore this study offers, another possible physiological mechanism for their unparalled, multifactorial sporting success. That is, we found that Kalenjin runners are able to maintain the oxygenation of their prefrontal lobe through a 5-km time trial within an stable range. This may contribute to the attenuation of the development of central fatigue and a subsequent decline in performance.

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

Unfortunately… not many. We explain their maintained cerebral oxygenation because of early life factors such as prenatal exposure to high altitude or high physical activity levels during childhood. Nowadays, we don’t know how brain oxygenation can be improved through training. This is something that you are born with (or at least, that is acquired during your early years).

7. Can you explain more about the possible mechanisms for higher cerebral oxygenation in the Kenyan runners? 

As I said above, because of the influence of early-life factors, such as prenatal exposure to high altitude and high physical activity levels during childhood. Prenatal exposure to high altitude triggers cerebral vasodilator responses at muscle and endothelium level by stimulating extensive cerebrovascular remodeling that increases wall thickness but decreases overall contractility. With regards to the high physical activity levels during childhood, they may cause, among other adaptations, the stimulation of trophic factors and neuronal growth as well as augmented cerebral circulation through increased vascularisation of the brain.

Another potential explanation is that Kenyan runners may have an attenuated reduction in PaCO2, which would delay the cerebral vasoconstriction that has been demonstrated at high intensities. In fact, African runners display an increased oxidative enzyme activity and a subsequent lower lactate production. The consequences of this more efficient aerobic metabolism would be that Kenyan runners are able to exercise at higher intensities, relying more on aerobic sources of energy and producing less CO2 through the bicarbonate breakdown to compensate for acidosis. This would ultimately attenuate hyperventilation, hypocapnia and, finally, vasoconstriction

8. In swimming, there are brief periods of hypoxia. Do you think more frequent breathing would help prevent central fatigue?

I would say that in swimming (at least when swimming long distances), the more you breathe the better as long as this more frequent breathing does not slow you down (because of the impairment in the biomechanical efficiency) [something Bruce Gemmell and I spoke about in the Swimming Science Podcast].

9. What are some other contributors to central fatigue?

Maybe the most important one is motivation. Psychology plays a huge role; even if for a pure physiologist like me is hard to admit.

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

The group lead by Samuele Marcora. They are trying to understand how our mind can regulate performance. They have even proposed a new fatigue model called the psychobiological model.

11. What makes your research different from others?

That for the first time we have studied how their brain works. Everybody has tried to find the Kenyan secret in their legs and we, for the first time, have looked at their brains.

12. Which teachers have most influenced your research?

Prof Timothy Noakes and Dr Ross Tucker were my mentors in South Africa and some of the most intelligent people I have ever known. Apart from them, Dr Jon Irazusta (world leader in physiology) taught how to be a good scientist and I still learn from him every day.

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

How to improve running economy is something that I find particularly interesting (for example, we have an article under review on how barefoot running can help). However, for at least the following 1-2 years I plan to keep analysing the data I collected during my Postdoc in South Africa and I will try to add new possible explanations for the multifactorial Kenyan phenomenon.

The post Effects of Oxygen Levels on the Brain appeared first on Swimming Science.