Swimming Core Training Interview with Dr. Angela Hibbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. What did your study look at?

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

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

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

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

5. What were the results of your study?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. What makes your research different from others?

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

12. Which teachers have most influenced your research?

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

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

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

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

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