- Telles T, Barbosa AC, Campos MH, Junior OA. J Sports Sci. Effect of hand paddles and parachute on the index of coordination of competitive crawl-strokers. 2011 Feb;29(4):431-8.
- Schnitzler C, Brazier T, Button C, Seifert L, Chollet D. J Strength Cond Res. Effect of velocity and added resistance on selected coordination and force parameters in front crawl. 2011 Oct;25(10):2681-90.
Every athlete is looking for the next “gimmick” to improve their results. A while back many professional athletes were raving about a mouth piece with added results. The theory behind improvement was secondary to jaw relaxation and decreased teeth “grinding”. This decrease in activity was believed to decrease stress and allow the athlete to relax.
At the time of release, minimal data/research was available to prove or disprove these theories. I honestly thought this company was going to be another Powerband, who endorses athletes/celebrities to wear their jewelery and “claim” improved results (I believe Powerband claimed improvement in balance, strength, flexibility and libido...maybe I made that one up). However, a new study from Garner 2011 suggests decreased cortisol levels following an intense bout of resistance training while using the mouthpiece. The Bite Tech Research Institute has also performed their own studies demonstrating an improvement in pitching velocity, reaction time and strength (see abstracts here).
I’m constantly skeptical of these devices because Powerband was not the first snake oil on the market. If you explore sports performance and health in general there are million dollar companies who based their products along altered, fictitious, or biased data. Skeptism should be elevated when a company has their own research institute publishing data. However, this recent study is the first I’ve seen outside of their own institute and suggest improvements.
A recent study with a co-investigator Dr. Greg Wells, friend of the website (Friday Interview Dr. Greg Wells) was published comparing ischemic preconditioning to a lower blood flow resistance. This study had a control group and a group who underwent four rounds of five minute ischemic preconditioning of 15 mm Hg above their systolic blood pressure prior to warm-up. Following the warm-up the athletes competed submaximal (repeat 200s) and a maximal efforts (100 fast). These groups were then switched and performed the opposite the opposite criteria (ischemic preconditioning or control). The results suggest submaximal results were unchanged, but the maximal effort was significantly faster with ischemic preconditioning improving by 0.7 seconds! This 1.1% improvement was highly significant and higher than expected.
Does ischemic preconditioning work for everyone? How does ischemic preconditioning physiologically work? These are only a few questions to be addressed, but this should not impede trying this training method, in fact some National teams are already taking these means into practice.
- Jean-St-Michel, E., C. Manlhiot, et al. (2011). "Remote preconditioning improves maximal performance in highly trained athletes." Med Sci Sports Exerc 43(7): 1280-1286.
Often times, out on a Saturday night, typically at a concert, I will think to myself, how much does breathing influence butterfly? Specifically, how does breathing effect arm and leg coordination? Thankfully a team of researcher's in France had a similar thought (except they probably thought of this at techno club in capri pants).
Every swim coach knows breathing inhibits butterfly velocity, but some swimmers are influenced more than other with breathing. Sometimes Phelps' breathes every stroke during butterfly without a hiccup, while a 9-10 age group swimmer will drown and require an exercise belt to keep his hips on the surface. For this reason, I question the applicability of the study, but I still find it interesting. The researcher's broke down the technique of 12 elite swimmers into four phases “T1 (hands ’ entry in the water / high point of first kick), T2 (beginning of the hands ’ backward movement / low point of first kick), T3 (hands ’arrival in a vertical plane to the shoulders / highpoint of second kick) and T4 (hands ’ release from the water / low point of second kick).”
The results showed the swimmers had an 4.3% increase in total time gap (sum of T1-4 mentioned above). The researcher's stated “This was due to the shorter downward leg kick and longer arm catch and upward leg kick that led to longer glide time.”
To conclude, the study had no mind blowing, ah-ha conclusions. However, it is cool to say to your kids, “hey re-run, limit the breathing, it is slowing your stroke down approximately 4%”.
Physiological Adaptation to Anxiety
The most common adaptation to stress in seen in a performers heart rate. Behind the block, when a
swimmer becomes nervous, the feeling is described as their heart “racing” or “fluttering”. These descriptions are not far from the truth. During stressful circumstances the heart rate is controlled by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS has three subsystems: sympathetic, parasympathetic and enteric nervous systems. Two of these three subsets are important in pre-competition anxiety, the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system is described as the fight or flight system which corresponds with arousal and energy generation. This system elevates the heart rate and diverts blood flow from the digestive system to the muscles during times of stress. The parasympathetic is the yang of the sympathetic nervous system. This system is described as the rest and digests system, when activated the parasympathetic nervous system increases blood flow to the digestive system and promotes calming by decreasing heart rate. During stressful situations (pre-competition states) heart rate can double compared to practice conditions which was noticed in a study of musicians prior to a performance2.
Good Stress vs. Bad Stress
Most athletes and coaches view stress as a negative consequence. During times of negative stress a lack of physical and psychological efficiency is typically initiated. At least three important factors are usually present:
A high degree of ego involvement, in which the athlete may perceive a threat to self esteem A perceived discrepancy between one's ability and the demands for athletic success A fear of consequences of failure (such as loss of approval from teammates, coach, family, or peers).
These three factors, and possibly more, put an unnecessary stress on the body putting the sympathetic nervous system into overdrive causing the skeletal muscles to tense, the heart to race and negative thoughts in intrude. On the other side of the coin, stress can be used to one's advantage. Eustress is defined as a state of positive stress. Eustress is essential and all great athletes who “step” up at the right moment are able to channel their stress into positive effects. The main positive effect from stress is elevated arousal alertness which prepares the body for an intense situation.
Mechanisms to Reduce Anxiety
There are multiple techniques utilized by sports psychologist and coaches. The most common techniques are diaphragm breathing, visualization, muscle relaxation meditation and or mouth guards. Diaphragm breathing (aka Dan Jeon breathing) is performed by breathing and expanding oxygen intake into the diaphragm (stomach) instead of breathing through the chest. Diaphragm breathing is simple and is easy to learn by following these steps from wikipedia.com:
1. Sit or lie comfortably, with loose garments.
2. Put one hand on your chest and one on your stomach.
3. Slowly inhale through your nose or through pursed lips (to slow down the intake of breath).
4. As you inhale, feel your stomach expand with your hand.
5. Slowly exhale through pursed lips to regulate the release of air.
6. Rest and repeat.
This technique is believed to decrease the drive from the sympathetic nervous system subsequently decreasing heart rate, blood pressure, and induce slower and deeper breathing. Visualization is a technique used by coaches during various points during the season. I remember visualizing my races during taper time and thinking to myself what the hell I was doing! However, research suggests a moderate improvement in performance associated with mental imagery and is used by many top athletes. One study found mental imagery had improved results when the athlete used internal imagery which is imagining the performance as if the view is in the athlete’s eyes, opposed to external imagery. External imagery is viewing the race as if you were being video recorded. It is essential to remember mental imaging of positive effects enhances performance, as negative visualization has been shown to decrease performance4. One study found diaphragm breathing and visualization resulted in more accurate shooting in air pistol shooting5. Muscle relaxation meditation is another common technique used to decrease anxiety. A common technique to optimize muscle relaxation is performing the relaxation prior to bed and then implement using the same body relaxation techniques prior to performance. An example of a muscle relaxation meditation can be seen below:
The last mechanism I will discuss is a new device that is suggested to reduce stress. This device is used in contact sports (football, rugby, rock ‘em sock ‘em humans), but is publicized to help in swimming. The device I’m referring to are flexible mouth guards. These are not typical mouth guards, but custom fit guards to reduce clenching of teeth.
A New York Times article looked at the new sports equipment, here is an interesting quote from the article: “There is research to support improved breathing mechanics and reduced jaw fatigue,” said Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise. “Depending on how you look at it, there is some truth to the claims6.” UnderArmour is largest company in this market and sells the devices around $500 plus additional fees for fitting. My friend Eric Teske the blogger for Kast-a-way did a great piece about the mouth piece(http://kastawayswimwear.com/Blog/index.php/looking-into-performance-enhancing-mouthpieces-for-swimmers/), The claim behind these pieces of equipment is prevention of teeth clenching and approximation of the tempromandibular joint (TMJ) which causes stress and the release of stress hormones. Eric reported “UnderArmour literature reports that their mouthwear endured independent testing conducted at some of the nation’s top universities. The results? An astounding 17% increase in strength, 25% less lactic acid build-up after intense exercise, improved reaction time and decreased stress.” I have not seen this research (and cannot find the research), but the amount of improvements seems high. If they are true, their effects are much greater than high-technology suits taboo. These are the main techniques used to reduce anxiety, but they are by far not the only techniques7.”
This is a lot of information, but the psychology of swimming is poorly understood and avoided by many coaches. These resources are proven (most of them) to improve performance and reduce anxiety which is essential for every swimmer. Ross from http://www.sportsscientists.com/ has reported the difference between many athletes is less than 1% and this 1% does not associated with work ethic, “wanting” it more or ability, but other factors that can cause an athlete to perform to their maximal capacity and in swimming where tenths make the difference between 10 places, coaches should take every allow their swimmers to achieve greatness.
1. Wettig, J. Stress and Anxiety. The Sport Digest. http://thesportdigest.com/article/stress-and-anxiety Accessed March 5, 2010.
2. Yoshie M, Kudo K, Murakoshi T, Ohtsuki T. Music performance anxiety in skilled pianists: effects of social-evaluative performance situation on subjective, autonomic, and electromyographic reactions. Exp Brain Res. Nov 2009;199(2):117-126.
3. Diaphragmatic breathing. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diaphragmatic_breathing. Updated March 4 2010. Accessed March 4 2010.
4. Hill KL. Frameworks for Sports Psychologists: Enhancing Sport Performance. 1st Ed. 2001.
5. Kim J, Tennant L. Effects of visualization and Danjeon breathing on target shooting with an air pistol. Percept Mot Skills. Dec 1993;77(3 Pt 2):1083-1087.
6. Shea, SB. A Device to De-Stress your Workout. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/17/health/nutrition/17fitness.html?_r=2. Updated December 16 2009. Accessed March 4 2010.
7. Teske, E. Looking Into Performance Enhancing Mouthpieces For Swimmers. Kast-a-way blog. http://kastawayswimwear.com/Blog/index.php/looking-into-performance-enhancing-mouthpieces-for-swimmers/. Modified January 28 2010. Accessed March 4 2010.
Ice baths and cold water baths (cyrotherapy) are commonly seen in sports medicine. From experience, ice baths are cold…obviously, but after a few minutes you are able to relax. At the Beijing Olympics ice baths were frequently used with swimmers, but do ice baths really work and how do they work? Ice baths are proposed to help the athlete recover faster, reduce pain/soreness, and prevent injuries, but what does the literature indicate.
Proposed Method to Madness
During a bout of exercise muscle undergoes microtrauma (tiny muscular tears). This damage promotes muscle resynthesis to become stronger and make bigger muscles (hypertrophy). Cyrotherapy is believed to:
- Sting, burn and freeze your ass
- Constrict blood vessels to flush waste products
- Decrease metabolic activity
- Reduce swelling and tissue breakdown
Following an ice bath (5-10 minutes at 12-15 degrees Celsius) the athlete is supposed to re-warm up to accelerate circulation to enhance recovery. Cold water baths are proposed to cause the same physiological changes, but the temperature is typically warmer (24 degree Celsius).
Do Ice Baths Work
Research is split on the effectiveness of ice baths and cold water immersion. One study took 10 national level swimmers and had them complete a 100-m sprint. Five minutes following this maximal effort, the swimmers sat in a cold water bath to their shoulders for five minutes at a temperature 14-15 degree Celsius. Prior to the race the swimmers re-warmed up and completed another 100-m sprint within 30 minutes of the first race. This short rest period mimicked the conditions every swimmer has experienced. The researchers found the swimmers who performed the cold water immersion between races performed worse than swimmers who did not perform cold water immersions between races. Heart rates in the swimmers following the cold water immersion did not rise as high as swimmers who did not enjoy a cold dip in freezing water. This lack of heart rate elevation was the researcher’s hypothesis on the decreased time, indicating the swimmers could not achieve as high cardiac output. Cardiac output determines the volume of blood being pumped by the heart each minute and is calculated by multiplying heart rate by stroke volume (volume of blood being pumped with each beat). Athletes are able to raise their cardiac output 6-7 times higher than non-athletes giving them the blood circulation and oxygen needed to perform optimally.
Take Home Points
Even though this study did not find a benefit with the cold water immersion, it does not mean it is a total hunk of junk. The researchers poorly describe the re-warmup after the cold water immersion. An adequate warm-up after the cold water immersion is essential. The temperature of the water used in this study may have been too cold, other researchers suggest using water temperatures at 24 degree Celsius. Many swimmers use cyrotherapy after a day of competition, not in between races. One study indicates improved cycling time, but these cyclist performed long duration cycling which is not closely related to swim meet conditions (more like swim practice). This indicates cold water immersion may increase recovery following practice compared to passive recovery (I don’t know why they didn’t look at active recovery!) Lastly, try it for yourselves, this study looked at ten athletes who can be different from your swimmers, use this information to get some guidelines of what is expected to work, but you never know until you try it!
Have you ever tried cold water immersion in between races? Did it work?
Vaile, J.; Halson, S.; Gill, N.;
Kylie Louise Sellwood, et al. Ice-water immersion and delayed-onset muscle soreness: a randomized controlled trial Br. J. Sports Med., Jun 2007.
Parouty J, Al Haddad H, Quod M, Leprêtre P, Ahmaidi S, Buchheit M. Effect of cold water immersion on 100-m sprint performance in well-trained swimmers. Eur J Appl Physiol. Feb 2010
- Elipot, M., G. Dietrich, et al. (2010). "High-level swimmers' kinetic efficiency during the underwater phase of a grab start." J Appl Biomech 26(4): 501-507.
- Seifert, L., J. Vantorre, et al. (2007). "Biomechanical analysis of the breaststroke start." Int J Sports Med 28(11): 970-976.
- Seifert, L., J. Vantorre, et al. (2010). "Different profiles of the aerial start phase in front crawl."J Strength Cond Res 24(2): 507-516.
- Seifert, L., J. Vantorre, et al. (2010). "Different profiles of the aerial start phase in front crawl."J Strength Cond Res 24(2): 507-516.
- Slawinski, J., A. Bonnefoy, et al. (2010). "Kinematic and kinetic comparisons of elite and well-trained sprinters during sprint start." J Strength Cond Res 24(4): 896-905.
- Takeda, T., H. Ichikawa, et al. (2009). "Do differences in initial speed persist to the stroke phase in front-crawl swimming?" J Sports Sci 27(13): 1449-1454.
- Vantorre, J., L. Seifert, et al. (2010). "Comparison of grab start between elite and trained swimmers."Int J Sports Med 31(12): 887-893.
- Vantorre, J., L. Seifert, et al. (2010). "Kinematical profiling of the front crawl start." Int J Sports Med 31(1): 16-21.
- Jakovljevic D, McConnell A. Influence of different breathing frequencies on the severity of inspiratory muscle fatigue induced by high-intensity front crawl swimming. J Strength Cond Res. Jul 2009;23(4):1169-1174.
- Recovery intensity should vary correspondingly to the duration of the event.
- In short sprints low intensity, ~40% , of 100 meter top time or passive recovery is indicated.
- The other extreme, in a race of 10 minutes-15 minutes it has been suggested a recovery intensity of 60% is optimal.
- Males are supposed to have more body fat percentage than women. In adults, males have a minimum of 2-5% body fat and women have a minimum of 15% body fat percentage. I understand these are children and they have less body fat percentage, but drastic body fat reduction training is not indicated in a sport where training is typically adequate and often times excessive.
- Encouraging weight loss and low body fat percentages to improve sport can lead to the female athlete triad. Implementing the notion of weight loss in young women may lead to an eating disorder which already has an incidence of 20% in elite female athletes (Sundgot-Borgen 2004). This eating disorder can lead to amenorrhea (irregular menstrual cycle) which will lead to an increased risk for osteoporosis (Hoch 2009). Therefore, this devious notion that weight loss will improve performance needs to be vanquished due to long term disorders!
- Sundgot-Borgen J, Torstveit MK. Prevalence of eating disorders in elite athletes is higher than in the general population. Clin J Sport Med. 2004 Jan;14(1):25-32.
- Zuniga J, Housh TJ, Mielke M, Hendrix CR, Camic CL, Johnson GO, Housh DJ, Schmidt RJ. Gender Comparisons of Anthropometric Characteristics of Young Sprint Swimmers.J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Jan 21.
- Hoch AZ, Pajewski NM, Moraski L, Carrera GF, Wilson CR, Hoffmann RG, Schimke JE, Gutterman DD. Prevalence of the female athlete triad in high school athletes and sedentary students. Clin J Sport Med. 2009 Sep;19(5):421-8.
- The mean improvement with short term caffeine ingestion was 6.5-9.4%.
- Individual variation influences caffeine effectiveness.
Supplements for Swimmers
- Astorino, Todd A; Roberson, Daniel W Efficacy of Acute Caffeine Ingestion for Short-term High-Intensity Exercise Performance: A Systematic Review Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research:January 2010 - Volume 24 - Issue 1 - pp 257-265.
- In simulated swimming, the arms and legs generate similar peak power.
- Simulated swimming likely doesn't transfer to real swimming.
- It doesn’t allow body rotation
- It doesn't take into account drag, Žydrūnas Savickas, the world’s strongest man, could get on the swim bench and post ridiculous power output, but can he do that in the pool? (if so give him a textile suit!)
- The direction of power is not taken into account for the arms or legs.
- Swaine IL. Arm and leg power output in swimmers during simulated swimming. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000 Jul;32(7):1288-92.