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.

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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:

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

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

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SSWIMT: Swimming Research


Research on swimming is broad and essential for the evolution of the sport. The level of swimming related scientific research is very advanced, as is the level of coaching. However, as both fields are very demanding, their connection, in terms of knowledge and experience diffusion, is difficult.

In-depth reading of scientific papers is needed for a thorough interpretation of their results. However, this is usually time consuming and difficult for non-accustomed readers. The short display (shorter than their abstract) of interesting articles in a simple manner, without meddling, for someone to figure out if an article is helpful (and then go on with full-text reading), is our main intention. Additionally, useful notes from the coaching practice that are based on testing will be posted. The purpose is to assist swimming coaches and relevant sport scientists to keep up with the swimming research progress.

So sswimt comes to accelerate the dissemination of information and updates on swimming testing and research with a focus on physiology, biochemistry, metabolism, nutrition and training!  Our goal is to set off the abundant information provided by eminent sports scientists and swimming coaches, thanks to whom swimming is evolving constantly. Hope you will enjoy it! More interesting things are on the way…

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More on VO2 Max in Swimmers with Ana Sousa

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

Exercise Modality Effect on Bioenergetical Performance at VO2 max Intensity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. What were the results of your study?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. What makes your research different from others?

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

11. Which teachers have most influenced your research?

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

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

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

The post More on VO2 Max in Swimmers with Ana Sousa appeared first on Swimming Science.

Endurance Athlete VO2max Adaptations with Dr. Arnt Erik Tjønna

Below is an interview with Dr. Arnt Erik Tjønna

Complete research by Dr. Arnt Erik Tjønna

Study discussed during interview

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

PhD. Arnt Erik Tjønna. Have been an athlete myself, competing in biathlon. Always been fascinating about the bodys response to exercise. Therefor I started on a bachelor in exercise physiology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in the late nineties. Still curious and eager to learn more I started the MSc in exercise physiology in 2001 and finished in 2003, with a project on maximal strength training in COPD patients. In 2004 I started my PhD at the Medical faculty at (NTNU) titled “Aerobic exercise and cardiovascular risk Factors in overweight and obese adolescents and adults”. Thereafter I have continued working at the same faculty as post-doctor and researcher. Today I am daily manager at NeXt Move Core facility and Researcher at Cardiac exercise research group (CERG). Main research is aerobic exercise effect upon cardiovascular risk factors. So in total I have 14 years in the field of exercise research, and still curiousJ

2. You recently published an article on VO2max in different athletes. What do we know about VO2 max adaptations and elite endurance performance, how well is the correlation?

It is well known that the group with highest VO2 max is elite endurance athletes. So, we can clearly say that the correlation here is good. And there has been shown that the highest measurements reported are in endurance athletes, involving mainly the sports: cross country skiing, cycling, long distance runners and biathlon. With the highest reported measurement starting at 97.5 ml·min·kg.

3. What did your study look at?

 The purpose of our study was to compare maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max), blood volume (BV), hemoglobin mass (Hbmass), and brachial endothelial function, measured as flow mediated dilatation (FMD), in international level endurance athletes primarily exercising with the whole-body (cross-country skiing), lower-body (orienteering) or upper-body (flatwater kayak).

4. What were the results of your study?

Our study indicates a higher VO2 max in cross-country skiers and a greater arterial diameter in the arms of skiers and kayakers which are sport specific physiological adaptations to chronic endurance training in whole body and upper body exercise modes. However, the variations in these variables were not associated with BV or Hbmass.

5. Would you think endurance swimmers would have similarly high VO2 max adaptations due to the full body nature of swimming?

I have not performed any research on swimmers myself, although taking a quick search in the literature I see that the results of elite swimmers ranging from 70-80 ml·min·kg. Indicating that they also have a very high maximal oxygen uptake although not as high as the highest measurements reported. The reason for this will mostly be speculations, but it may be related to the duration of the exercise?vo2 max adaptations in athletes

6. What were the practical implications from your study?

The main practical implications from this study are to draw parallels between sports, which may be used to improve maximal oxygen uptake by using experience from other sports.

7. A lot of swimmers extrapolate VO2 max data from other sports, is this appropriate?

I have to say no to this question, and this also goes for other sports. Cause there has been quite a lot of data showing that one should aim for sport specific testing when handling athletes. Because of the movement pattern is different between for example swimming and running, meaning that other muscles are activated. The Textbook of work physiology (Åstrand, Rodahl, Dahl and Strømme) has illustrated this in a table.

8. What other questions exist between VO2 max and endurance performance?

There has for a long time been an ongoing debate regarding the most important factors limiting maximal oxygen uptake. Is it central factors (O2 delivery) or peripheral factors (skeletal muscle O2 extraction). I think that if you are going to be a top endurance athlete both factors need to be trained. Although it looks like the central factors (stroke volume of the heart) may play a more important role talking about maximal oxygen uptake.

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

At the moment I am PI of a large multicenter study, where we look at the intensity of aerobic endurance training and reduction of cardiovascular risk factors. Five large centers on three continents are involved in this study.

I also have smaller studies going on, also here involving intensity of exercise and cardiovascular risk factors.

The post Endurance Athlete VO2max Adaptations with Dr. Arnt Erik Tjønna appeared first on Swimming Science.

More Research on Altitude Training for Swimmers with Dr. Ferran Rodríguez

This interview is with Dr. Ferran Rodríguez. Dr. Rodríguez is one of the leading researchers for the Altitude Project, and here are some of Dr. Rodríguez’s latest publications:

  1. Rodríguez FA, Iglesias X, Feriche B, Calderón-Soto C, Chaverri D​, Wachsmuth​ NB, Schmidt W, Levine BD (​2015​) Altitude training in elite swimmers for sea level performance (Altitude Project). Med​ SciSports ​Exerc. DOI 00005768-900000000-97816.​ [​]
  2. Rodríguez FA (2010) Training at real and simulated altitude in swimming: too high expectations? In: Kjendlie P-L, Stallman RK, Cabri J, editors. Biomechanics and Medicine in Swimming XI. Oslo: Norwegian School of Sport Science. pp. 30-32​ []
  3. Rodríguez FA, Truijens MJ, Townsend NE, Stray-Gundersen J, Gore CJ, ​Levine BD​ (2007) Performance of runners and swimmers after four weeks of intermittent hypobaric hypoxic exposure plus sea level training. J Appl Physiol 103: 1523-1535. []​

1. Please introduce yourself to the readers (how you started in the Ferran Rodriguez, top reseracher on altitude training for swimmersprofession, education, credentials, experience, etc.).

​My name is ​Ferran A. Rodríguez. I hold an MD, and a PhD and a Sports Medicine Specialty degrees and, after 25 years of sports medicine practice, I now work as a professor in the National Institute of Physical Education of Catalonia (INEFC), University of Barcelona. I have worked with swimmers ​and water polo players ​
​for more than 30 years, from beginners to Olympic medalists, and served as a physician and physiologist for the Spanish national and Olympic teams in both sports. I am currently the coordinator and PI of the INEFC-Barcelona Sport Sciences Research Group (​)​.

​2. You recently published an article on altitude training. Could you explain the possible physiological benefits of altitude training?

Altitude/hypoxic training is a common practice among swimmers​, but ​its benefits are still controversial in scientific literature. While acute hypoxia deteriorates swimming performance, chronic hypoxia may induce acclimatization effects, mainly through the acceleration of red blood cell production, which could improve aerobic capacity and therewith performance upon return to sea level. Other potential benefits ​have been postulated, ​ such as improved exercise economy, enhanced muscle buffer capacity and pH regulation, and improved mitochondrial function. ​ However, back in 2010 I published a review entitled “Training at real and simulated altitude in swimming: Too high expectations?” (see references above), somehow expressing my reticence to accept the available evidence as compelling.

3. What are the various types of altitude training and the potential benefits of each?

Traditional altitude training (“live high-train high”​, Hi-Hi​) is still the most frequently used method in swimming, even though from a physiological perspective​,​ the “live high-train low”
(Hi-Lo)​ appeared​ to be more promising ​based on studies with runners and orienteers. Based on available scientific literature, there ​was no evidence that training ​at natural altitude enhances swimming performance more than training at sea level. Based on research conducted in other sports, the optimal approach ​seemed to be ​Hi​-​Lo​, in which one “lives high” (i.e. 2,100-2,500 m) to get the benefits of altitude acclimatization and “trains low” (1,250 m or less) to avoid the detrimental effects of hypoxic exercise. Training at hypoxia (as in ​Hi-Hi​ or IHT​, intermittent hypoxic training​) does not appear to provide any physiologic advantage over normoxic exercise and might even impair performance. Swimming performance enhancement by means of ​intermittent hypoxic exposure (​IHE​)​ is still controversial. However, it is likely that at least 12 h/day at 2,100–3,000 m​ ​for 3 to 4 weeks may suffice to achieve a significant increase of red cell mass. Shorter exposure to more severe hypoxia (e.g. 4,000 to 5,500 m, 3 h/day for 2 to 4 weeks) combined with sea-level training may enhance VO2max, ventilatory threshold and middle-distance swimming performance after pre-competition tapering, although the mechanisms are unclear​ (Rodríguez et al. 2007)​. In any case, there is substantial individual variability in the outcome of every AT strategy. Since none of these approaches has conclusively proven to enhance swimming performance, more research is warranted to clarify their effects and mechanisms.

4. What did your study look at?

Our article (Rodríguez et al. 2015) derives from the ALTITUDE Training Project​, an international collaborative research study ​on the impact of different strategies of altitude training on performance, technique and health status in elite swimmers​. We wanted to determine the effectiveness of altitude training using the Hi-Hi​ (for 3 or 4 weeks) or the Hi-​Hi​ Lo (living high ​and training ​high and at lower altitude) model​s​, in comparison with sea level training​ (Lo-Lo), as well as to ​establish the physiological mechanisms involved​ and the impact on ​swimming technique​. We also wanted to uncover any negative impact on athletes’ health and performance​, as well as to ​identify markers of individual response and adaptation to training at altitude that could help clarify which athletes are likely to respond to an altitude training swimming camp.​ ​

The project involved 65 international elite swimmers from eight nations (including China, Australia and Spain, among others) and a high-profile international group of researchers belonging to universities and national swimming organizations of Spain, USA, Finland, Slovenia, UK, and The Netherlands. Training camps at sea level were implemented in Barcelona and Madrid, and the altitude camps in the Altitude Training Center of Sierra Nevada, Spain (2,320 m).

5. What were the results of your study?

​The article published in MSSE covers only the effects on performance, VO2max and hemoglobin mass. For the first time using a controlled designed (i.e. compared with a sea level group), we carbon monoxide test for total hemoglobin mass assessment in the altitude training studyfound performance improvements after a natural altitude training intervention in swimmers. Although there were no changes –or in some cases a worsening of performance– immediately following 3-4 weeks of any training strategy, swimming performance in stroke-specific 100 or 200 m improved significantly by ∼3.1–3.7% after 1 to 4 weeks of recovery following completion of a coach-prescribed training camp conducted at sea level or at moderate altitude (2,320 m). When using the Hi-HiLo strategy (i.e. 2 weekly sessions of high intensity training at 700 m), a greater improvement in performance occurred 2 and 4 weeks after the training camp (5.3 and 6.3%, respectively). A greater improvement was also observed in 400 and 50 m front crawl, 2 weeks (4.2% and 5.2%, respectively) and 4 weeks (4.7% and 5.5%, respectively) upon return to sea level. Surprisingly, his substantial performance enhancement was not linked to changes in VO2max, oxygen kinetics or hemoglobin mass, hence could not be attributed exclusively to enhanced oxygen transport capacity.

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

Based on ​our results, ​performance ​can be expected to substantially improve as a result of a well-implemented training camp, regardless of whether it is held at altitude or not​. However, ​a greater benefit can be expected by “living high-training high and low” (Hi-HiLo)​. However, ​we need to be careful ​not to generalize these improvements to all swimmers, since substantial individual variability was noted in this as well as other studies including swimmers performing altitude training. Another important practical implication of our results is that performance is likely to be unchanged or worsened immediately, and that benefits can only be expected to occur following 1 to 4 weeks after the intervention. This delayed response could eventually provide a time window for tapering before competition.
Monitoring individual training load and adaptation (e.g. resting, exercise and recovery HR response, HR variability, exercise perception and state of fatigue) during and after the altitude camp to avoid excessive overload or detraining, as well as assessing individual peaking performance profile, are strongly recommended before directly applying these rules to individual cases.

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

​We were committed to recruit truly elite athletes​ even if ​​that, particularly during an Olympic season, certainly added substantial complexity to our study. It is difficult to answer this question without experimental data, but I see no reason why these effects should not be seen in less trained or older swimmers with good health and training response capacity. However, the costs involved with altitude training (i.e. time, travel, accommodation, etc.) make altitude training a strategy mostly used by high-level swimmers. 

8. Are there any other tests you wanted to do on these swimmers?

​We would have liked to make muscle biopsies, but this was out of the question with elite swimmers in an Olympic year. As an alternative, we proposed to the coaches to run specific tests to explore the muscular adaptations​, but testing burden was already too high for the swimmers.​

9. Do you think the results would be different if the study lasted longer?

Again, it is difficult to say. We need to consider the substantial psychological and physical stress of living at altitude for more than 4 weeks. We advice the coaches to spend no longer than 4 weeks and to repeat the altitude camp several time during the season (i.e. 4-5 times in our most successful swimmers).​

This is a very compromising question! There are many excellent experts that conduct high-level research in many different places (USA, Australia, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, France, Spain, among others). Not naming all will not be righteous.
This project ​is the result of efforts from a large number of people. Anecdotally, the first time I thought of such an endeavour​ was back in the 90’s when I was listening to Prof. Being Saltin –who passed away last year– saying that any sound altitude training study with elite athletes could only be done through the collaboration of scientists, swimmers​ and ​coaches from​ different ​nations. ​
​This is what we actually did and what makes this research so special.​

12. Which teachers have most influenced your research?

Prof.​ Alois Mader (German Sports University at Cologne​, Germany) was my PhD supervisor in rowing physiology and my coworker many years later in swimming. He taught me the importance of a deep understanding of sports physiology. Prof.Ben Levine ​(Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas) challenged my ideas and helped me to find the right answers through systematic research.

13. If a coach wants to do altitude training, how should they begin?

I think they should start by training at sea level…​ Seriously, our study shows that performance might ​increase about 3% regardless of whether ​a 3-4 weeks training camp ​it is held at altitude or not​.​ That means that benefit can be obtained simply by taking part on a training camp set up in a controlled environment (i.e. no school or job, good nutrition, good rest, physical therapy, etc.). A much greater benefit can be obtained using 4 weeks of altitude training, with training in hypoxia most of the time but doing high-intensity training twice a week at lower level (i.e. <1,000 m). Shorter altitude camps (e.g., 2-3 weeks) can be advised for non experienced or younger swimmers for them to “test” hypoxia and experience the effects of altitude on the own organism, as well as to gauge their short-term acclimatization.

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

We continue to work on the results of the Altitude Project. In parallel, we continue our work on oxygen and heart rate kinetics in swimming, energetics and nutrition ​in triathlon​, and physiological demands of synchronized swimming.​

The post More Research on Altitude Training for Swimmers with Dr. Ferran Rodríguez appeared first on Swimming Science.

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.

The post Athlete Heart Rate Variability with Dr. Martina Maggioni, Ph.D. appeared first on Swimming Science.

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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