Weekly Round-up

  1. How sleep helps brain learn motor task.
  2. Fatigue shifts and scatters heart rate variability in elite endurance athletes. - by Dr. Schmitt
  3. The development of peripheral fatigue and short-term recovery during self-paced high-intensity exercise. - by Dr. Froyd
  4. Postural control and low back pain in elite athletes comparison of static balance in elite athletes with and without low back pain. - by Dr. Oyarzo
  5. Virtual swimming--breaststroke body movements facilitate vection. - by Dr. Seno
  6. Symmetry of support scull and vertical position stability in synchronized swimming. - by Dr. Winiarski
  7. Is bone tissue really affected by swimming? A systematic review.- by Gómez-Bruton
  8. Effect of gene polymorphisms on the mechanical properties of human tendon structures. - by Dr. Kubo
  9. Relation between efficiency and energy cost with coordination in aquatic locomotion. - by Dr. Figueiredo
  10. Is There a Minimum Intensity Threshold for Resistance Training-Induced Hypertrophic Adaptations? - by Brad Schoenfeld
  11. The Temporal Profile of Postactivation Potentiation is related to Strength Level. - by Dr. Seitz
  12. Athletes and novices are differently capable to recognize feint and non-feint actions. - by Dr. Güldenpenning 
  13. Effects of betaine on body composition, performance, and homocysteine thiolactone. - by Dr. Cholewa
  14. Fructose-Maltodextrin Ratio Governs Exogenous and Other CHO Oxidation and Performance. - by Dr. O'Brien
  15. Sports drink consumption and diet of children involved in organized sport. - by Dr. Tomlin
  16. Which exercises target the gluteal muscles while minimizing activation of the tensor fascia lata? Electromyographic assessment using fine-wire electrodes. - by Dr. Selkowitz
  17. Scapular Kinematics and Shoulder Elevation in a Traditional Push-Up. - by Dr. Suprak

Breast Recovery Technique

The biomechanics of the breaststroke recovery are highly debated, likely from the variable technique seen in elite breaststroke swimmers. Now, many note breast is the most variable stroke, but a clear understanding in fluid dynamics and physics suggest this phase should not be variable.

Basically, there are three different varieties of the breast recovery:

  1. Above water: This technique is typically advised remove drag associated with water by having the arms recover above water. Unfortunately, this recovery requires large amounts of vertical motion likely causes aberrant and unnecessary motions resulting in higher amounts of drag. This position also causes the hands to frequently break the water surface, likely resulting in greater wave drag.
  2. Though the water: This technique instructs swimmers to burst through the water with their hands. Some feel this is the most direct line to the end position, but the thrusting through the water once again creates significant wave drag.
  3. Underwater: This techniques advises swimmers to slide their hands underwater on the recovery. It is true water is more dense than air, causing greater drag in comparison, but drag is significantly less (~7 - 14%) at depths of 0.2 m underwater (Lyttle 2000). This position also creates the most direct line for the fastest recovery and least disruption to the stroke.
Many swim coaches let swimmers "find" their stroke. Unfortunately, this often leads to swimmers performing what looks "cool" or simply mimicking an elder swimmer, even if they have bad biomechanics.

Practical Implication

All swimmers should recover their arms underwater, as underwater recovery has significantly less drag compared to on surface recovery. Just think of dolphin kick, this is arguably the fastest form of swimming due to the low amounts of drag, why would the breast recovery be any different? The myth and misconception of above water recovery must halt as an above water recovery still creates unnecessary motion resulting in elongated phases of the stroke and significant wave drag. Stop the madness today!

References:

  1. Lyttle, A., & Blansky, B. (2000, june 2000). A look at gliding and underwater kicking in the swim turn. Paper presented at the XVIII International Symposium on Biomechanics in Sports. Applied Program: Application of Biomechanical Study in Swimming, Hong Kong.
  2. Rushall, B. S. (2011). Swimming Pedagogy and a Curriculum for Stroke Development (Second Edition). Spring Valley, CA: Sports Science Association. 
  3. Arellano, Raúl, Pardillo, Susana, & Gavilán, Arantxa. (2002). Underwater Undulatory Swimming: Kinematic characteristics, vortex generation and application during the start, turn and swimming strokes. Paper presented at the XXth International Symposium on Biomechanics in Sports - Applied Program - Swimming, Cáceres (Spain).
    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. He is the founder of Mullen Physical Therapy, the Center of Optimal Restoration, head strength coach at Santa Clara Swim Club, creator of the Swimmer's Shoulder System, and chief editor of the Swimming Science Research Review.

    Friday Interview with Jeff Commings

    1) Please introduce yourself to the readers (how you started in swimming,education, experience, etc.).
    My name is Jeff Commings and I've been swimming for more than 30 years. I started when I was 4 as a way to have something to do at a boys' club in St. Louis. I graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in journalism and numerous All-America accolades. I was a part of the USA Swimming national team from 1989 to 1994, won a bronze medal in the 100 breaststroke at the 1991 Pan American Games and competed in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Trials. (He forgot to mention he is the author of Odd Man Out).


    2) Anyone on Swimming World has seen your practices, but what is your current training schedule and how did you decide on frequency/intensity?
    I swim five days a week, usually taking off Saturday and Monday. My days off are just that -- no exercise! In my younger days, it was OK to swim six days a week at high intensity, with a day of rest. But now that I'm in my 30s, my body needs time to recover. I try to have one day each week focus on aerobic work in the pool, but that depends on the phase I'm in each season. Intensity also depends on the phase of the season. The first part of the season focuses on maintaining the aerobic base, with focus on technique and endurance. Most sets are at a fast pace with little rest. About eight or nine weeks from the taper meet, I do workouts that focus heavily on race pace training. That's doing repeats of fast swims of usually no more than 100 yards/meters at all-out speed, with rest at least twice as long as the fast swims.


    3) How do you incorporate mobility and stretching into your training?
    I stretch quite often, but I used to scoff at people who thought it was a vital part of being a good swimmer. The irony is that I have very inflexible ankles -- at least when it comes to flutter and dolphin kick. It also hurts my breaststroke kick, since my ankle flexion isn't very good at the end of the kick. Maybe that's genetic, but it could have been improved if I had realized that I could increase ankle flexibility as I was growing into my body. There was a guy on my college team that used to stretch 20 minutes or more after every workout. We laughed at him. Now, I would love to have the time for 20 minutes of stretching. It would help with the knots I get in my back and legs every day! Right now, I try my best to stretch for five minutes after swimming and about that much after dryland workouts. I always do some dynamic stretching before diving into the pool, and do a little more after about 500 yards.


    4)What is the weirdest training you've done throughout your career?
    After more than 30 years in the sport, you would think I would have an answer for this, but I don't! None of my coaches thought so far out of the box that I thought anything they gave me was weird. In college, we used to do a 400 fly for time every six weeks or so, but that wasn't weird. When I lived at the Olympic Training Center, I had to do a 2000-meter breaststroke for time once a month, to gauge my progress. It was agonizing, but not weird, because everyone does those.


    5) What aspects of your swimming are you currently concentrating on?
    As an "older" swimmer, I know I can't really get stronger, so I'm working on getting faster, or staying as fast as I am now, through technique improvement. I have been aided in this by Takahisa "Tako" Ide, an assistant coach at Phoenix Swim Club who has taught me a lot about streamlining on starts and turns and how to get the most out of my pull and kick with the same effort. I'm currently working on a suggestion he gave me for the finish of my kick. It's a little difficult to explain, but it involves not kicking back, but down and back. He uses Kosuke Kitajima as a model every time.


    6) What drills/activities are you doing to achieve this?
    Lots of breaststroke kick drills, which is basically an extra kick at the end of each stroke. I'm working on hand pitch on my pull, and that involves lots of sculling, and I really find it useful.


    7) In your opinion, what was the biggest adjustment you made in your swimming career (stroke biomechanical, training, dryland)? Has there been any particular changes secondary to age?
    When I started Masters, I had a few nasty habits in my backstroke. I managed to get rid of my head movement while in college, but I still had a severe scissors/breaststroke kick that I resolved to fix in January 2002, one of many New Year's resolutions that year. I put on fins every time I swam backstroke for three months, which got rid of the urge to kick breaststroke. By June, I had evolved from full-on breaststroke kick to a three-beat flutter kick with a little scissor kick thrown in. In November 2002, I broke 1:00 in the 100-meter backstroke for the first time in my life! I credit a lot of it to the improved kick.


    Besides the stuff Tako is teaching me, all my strokes have pretty much stayed the same as I got older.


    8) Of all the testing sports performance testing you've done (underwater filming, blood lactate, etc.), what do you feel has been the most beneficial?
    Underwater filming is extremely underrated. Your coach may be looking at your stroke and might see something, but he's not always at the right angle to see if your hand pitch is right or if you have a good underwater streamline. Likewise, you might feel like your stroke is correct, but I've always seen differently when I look at myself underwater. Last February, Tako filmed me underwater doing a 100 breast at an in-season meet. I was appalled at what I saw, but encouraged when I knew how to fix the flaws. Before then, I thought my stroke was fine, and that's because after many years, I had grown used to the flaws.


    When I was training at the Olympic Training Center, I did every kind of test under the sun. Most of the results meant little to me, except for the simple thing of turning on the camera and following me down the pool.


    9) You've been swimming for a while, what do you feel is the most important criteria for a life long love of swimming?
    You mentioned the key word in your question: love. You have to love this sport, even when you don't perform as well as you want. I love to compete, and no matter the outcome, I usually walk away from the race feeling good that I did my best to race the guy next to me. I didn't have that love of the sport from age 20 to 26, and my swimming suffered dramatically. Masters swimming helped me rediscover how much I love swimming, and a lot of that comes from realizing that getting second place -- or fourth place or eighth place -- isn't the end of the world. Sometimes improvement doesn't come from working harder in the pool or fixing your stroke; it happens in the mind! I discovered that as I started making the goal of qualifying for the 2012 Olympic Trials.


    10) What projects are you working on in and outside the pool?
    Every day is a possible story to tell in the second edition of my autobiography, "Odd Man Out," though the second edition is many years away! I'm enjoying all the positive responses I'm getting from the first edition, which was published last year, and loving the fact that people are reading between the lines of my life and finding their own lives reflected back at them.


    Thanks Jeff

    Flip Turn Flaws


    I'm a simple man with simple pleasures. I'm also a stickler on a few points:
    • People who don't turn off their phone in movies. Easiest thing in the world, vibrate or silent (preferably silent, but I've given up on this request and will accept vibrate). I mean you're not that important no one is, trust me I've worked all kinds of egomaniacs and each one is as much a loser as the next.
    • People who don't honk at others when they are slowing traffic. Come on! Everyone needs a quick honk from time to time to get moving, whether the person is shaving, texting or beating their children they may need a honk to refocus.
    • Grocery stores that don't open the self check-out, I mean what is it doing there? Four lines operated by one overseeing clerk is light years faster than one line period, open up the self check-out! Quit wasting everyone's life!
    Why isn't anyone using this!
    Get me on a pool deck or in a weight room and this list will exponentially grow. I'll save you the infinite list, but I'm going to pound one home...flip turns. No matter the skill level, if I step on deck at a Master's, age group or elite swimmer work out I always see improper, lazy flip turns.
    If you're serious about improving your swimming, then I suggest getting to know the flip turn. Flip turns are the easiest way to improve your swimming times with minimal effort or skills.

    Proper flip turns set apart elite swimmers from pretenders. I mean you can get away with sloppy turns, but you'll never be elite unless you fix them. Once you get to a certain level, you either accept this fact or your don't get any better, because no one can compete with the best when they lose a second on each turn (this goes for LCM, SCY and SCM).

    I mean if you're not doing flip turns correctly, what are you doing? Flip turns are the easiest part of swimming and if you don't utilize them you're either hard headed or so unathletic you should grab a baton and try out for color guard.


    Turn like an Athlete
    Lucky for swimmers, not everyone does the sport. For example, everyone up to a certain age plays soccer or shoots a basketball, therefore being an elite soccer or basketball player requires the whole package (as far as athleticism). Don't take this the wrong way, but some of the top swimmers are not pure, blood thirsty, ACTN-3 double allele containing athletes. This is a great thing and allows the determined, hard workers to become great even without natural ability. However, this is a common excuse for sloppy turns.



    In my opinion, one's ability to do a flip turn directly correlates with one's athleticism. It isn't the end-all, be-all, but it's a simple indicator of true athleticism. Flip turns are a complex motion, requiring multiple joint movements in every plane to function in synchronous rhythm, sounds so eloquent! The flip turn utilizes a flip, pseudo-squat and a full 180 degree of rotation. All functions every swimmer has to perform, unfortunately every athlete does not have these tools.



    Tools for Improvement
    Before I get into proper form, it is mandatory to have the proper tools to perform one correctly. The body is similar to a ship; unfortunately society's ship is made of gum, glue, toe nails and straw. We need to start building a stronger ship, tackling waves throughout life. The main aspects of this ship are proper length, strength and timing. To perform a proper turn, these three categories are mandatory. Before I discus the meat and potatoes of a proper turn, I'm going to talk about the issues that tend to pop up repeatedly with athletes I work with. A proper turn requires the following:

    1. Core strength
    2. Hip Mobility
    3. Ankle Mobility
    4. Hip Strength
    5. Thoracic Mobility
    These are the mandatory movements for a proper turn. Here are some tips to improve and warm-up these areas prior to swimming.


    Core Strength: Flip turns requires a full somersault and trunk flexion followed by rapid trunk extension. This requires core stability in combination with concentric and eccentric control. I recently discussed spinal flexion in great detail and Tad Sayce has discussed core strength in great detail. In my opinion, spinal flexion exercises with proper form and dosing are appropriate for swimmers.


    A weak core is seen when swimmers go into a turn and they do not have the strength to accelerate into the wall. At first thought, it seems the athlete has poor range of motion since they do not fully tuck. But after further analysis, it is clear they have poor stability since many have full flexion range of motion outside of the pool. If an athlete does not have trunk stability, then they will not go into full range of motion as they are unstable.
    Often times having an athlete engage in core exercises before swimming, will help them activate and control the motion. For this reason I have my athletes use 100% stabilization with the March II exercise for 5 repetitions prior to swimming to activate the muscles.
    March II 

    To improve strength of spinal flexion, my favorite exercise is the the eccentric bosu curl-up. This forces proper control and strength needed for flip turns.
    Ecc Bosu Ball



    Hip Mobility: The most common inhibitor of proper flip turns in Master's swimmers is poor hip flexion. However, age group swimmers are starting to show limitations in this range due to their bent over, World of Warcraft lifestyle. Hip flexion is often inhibited by numerous structures from tight hip extensors (glutes and hamstrings) to tight adductors or lacking hip internal rotation. Breaststrokers often have adequate hip internal rotation, unfortunately many swimmers cannot do breaststroke, likely due to poor internal rotation mobility.


    Two drills to improve hip internal rotation are:
    Lying hip IR/ER

    Skiers



    Another muscle we look at is the adductors. This tight muscle group can hold your legs together, preventing hip flexion and extension. This area can be enhanced with manual therapy or....
    Spiderman Mobility



    There are two groups of adductor, short and long adductors. To adequately stretch the long adductors, the knees need to be bent.
    Kneeling Adductor Circles



    The most important aspect of hip mobility is improving range of motion of the hip flexors. Once again, there are long and short hip flexors and both structures need to be mobile.
    Kneeling Hip Flexor

    Standing Psoas



    Ankle Mobility: When a swimmer lands on the wall, their ankles rapidly approach 90 degree. After landing, the ankle rapidly pushes off and points into plantar flexion. Unfortunately, many triathletes cannot find proper mobility from being stuck in excessive dorsiflexion their whole life on a bike. Standing calf stretch with towel under their arch prevents pronation and forces proper mobility. Perform this mobility with the back leg straight and bent to focus on the gastrocnemius and soleus.
    Ankle Dynamic Mobility



    Glute Strength: Proper glute strength is a component of proper flip turns, unfortunately the swimming community is assless. Assless syndrome is beneficial for decreasing Eddy currents, but it can greatly impede an athlete's ability to explode off the wall! My favourite glute activation exercises:
    Super Dog



    Prone Alternating Arm and Leg



    Thoracic Mobility: Thoracic mobility is essential for many proper functioning structures; however, it is quintessential in the flip turn since an athlete goes from rapid flexion to extension and rotation.


    Having poor thoracic mobility will inhibit extension as the athlete pushes off the wall, preventing proper streamline.
    Foam Roll Mobility



    Wrap-up
    These are some tools to improve your ship to be able to handle a proper turn, next week we will hit the biomechanics of the turn, get to work on these in the mean time.



    By Dr. G. John Mullen, DPT, CSCS. He is the founder of the Center of Optimal Restoration and head strength coach at Santa Clara Swim Club.

    Thoracic Mobility and Body Undulation

    Just about every aspect of swimming technique has evolved dramatically over the past few decades. One of the most significant changes has been the refinement of body undulation in the underwater kick and in the short axis strokes. The underwater dolphin kick has become such a weapon that we now have rules that limiting use.  Attend any elite NCAA competition and the winning team typically has better underwater kicking than the other team, especially at NCAA Championships where the 200 fly is now performed mostly underwater.  Fly and breast have both become more efficient and hydrodynamic thanks to the modern understanding of the body dolphin motion. 

    One thing that stands out in watching the best swimmers in history is their ability to extend the thoracic spine (“press the chest down”) Thoracic spine extension not only sets up an effective catch, it also helps elevate the hips to drive the back half of the undulation. These combined movements help the swimmer take advantage of the undulation without having to dive deep beneath the surface.


    Von Loebbeke (2009) used 3D computer imaging to analyze the underwater dolphin kick of Olympic swimmers and found two key points about humans’ ability to body dolphin: 
    1) humans have less efficient body undulation than real dolphins (shocking!!!) 
    2) undulation efficiency does not rely on any specific kinematic parameters but instead depends on the body movement as a whole. 

    Unlike many studies that involve “moderately trained” subjects or “elite swimmers” with age-group level race times, the subjects included real elites such as Lenny Krazelburg and Gabrielle Rose. 

    Limiting Factors
    If the most efficient dolphin motion is the product of full body movements, the next question is “what prevents us from achieving the ideal?” One of the most common physical limitations inhibiting effective body undulation is thoracic immobility. There are two main reasons why this spinal segment is problematic for many swimmers. 

    First, kyphosis (upper-crossed posture), afflicts not just swimmers but all humans, particularly those in mechanized western societies. Anyone who has difficulty extending the spine on land likely won’t fare much better when asked to coordinate the movement into a complete fly, breaststroke, or underwater dolphin kick. Many coaches understandably get frustrated when tried-and-true drills and technique cues don’t work, but they fail to recognize the underlying physical limitations affecting the swimmer. Limitations usually aren’t permanent (especially with younger swimmers), but we must recognize when they exist and how to fix them.

    Secondly, propulsion and recovery in fly and breast involves shoulder internal rotation, scapular elevation, along with force production and stability from upper trapezius, levator scapulae, pectorals, and sternocleidomastoid (Deppler, 2002). Chronic activity and shortness in these muscles along with chronic internal shoulder rotation and scapular elevation are hallmarks of upper crossed posture…bad for thoracic extension and “pressing the chest down”, but essential for propulsion and recovery. Finding the correct balance is essential, stay tuned...
    Getting it right in the in these strokes requires going from one extreme to another nearly instantaneously, which is why relatively few on the planet can do it well. The swimmer must initiate the catch with an extended T-spine (“push the chest down”) and then immediately begin the pull with a group of muscles that should have previously been relaxed. Although the arms are not involved the underwater dolphin kick for starts/turns, body undulation requires excellent T-spine flexion and extension. Most people get the flexion part…doing flexion AND extension gets much tougher! 

    Wrap-up
    In the next installment, we’ll address ways to identify thoracic mobility limitations and offer corrective strategies. Successful corrections both in and out of the water depend on our ability to appropriately classify the limitation to provide the most effective interventions.

    References:
    Von Loebbecke A, Mittal R, Fish F, Mark R. Propulsive efficiency of the underwater dolphin kick in humans. J Biomech Eng. 2009 May;131(5):054504.

    Deppeler, D. Spine Pain in Swimmers: Possible Causes and Treatment Strategies. North American Institute of Orthoaedic Manual Therapy newsletter. Volume VII, Issue 2, 2002.

    By Allan Phillips. Allan and his wife Katherine are heavily involved in the strength and conditioning community, for more information refer to Pike Athletics.

    Weekly Round-Up


    Overall a great week for Swim Sci as we had some exclusive one of a kind articles discussing the differences between relative and absolute strength in swimmers vs. bodybuilders, expanding the topic of respiration and swimmers in all you need to know about inspiratory muscles part II and training hip rotation in breaststroke
    1. Do you swimmers have poor feel in the water?  Could it be from poor grip strength?  Could they benefit from sandbag training?  Just food for thought.
    2. Tao of Tim Vagen by Tad Sayce at Sayco Performance. 
    3. Inter-individual variability in the upper-lower body breaststroke coordination by Seifert.
    4. ACTN3 genotype and swimmers in Taiwan by Chiu.
    5. MB Chuck Progression by Dr. G. John Mullen. 
    6. Top 5 exercises by Dr. G. John Mullen.
    This upcoming week don't miss articles about the importance of thoracic spine mobility, the final installment of inspiratory muscles,  a new series entitled dryland mistakes, flip turn biomechanics and another great interview. Stay tuned! 

    Lastly, if you are interested in contributing to the improvement of swimming e-mail your application here and don't forget to sign up for the monthly newsletter to receive exclusive updates and information!

    Training Hip Rotation in Breaststroke

    Last week we discussed the importance of hip rotation in breastroke, both for performance and for injury resistance. This week we’ll explore four critical aspects of dryland training to improve hip rotation: Tissue quality, joint centration, mobility, and coordination.
    Self-massage: 
    Many athletes looking to improve mobility go directly to stretching, which is often ineffective when used as the lone intervention. Improving tissue quality helps us stretch the right muscles when we stretch. If tissue quality is poor in a hip rotator and that muscle is unable to move properly, stretching the hip into rotation will add unintended stress to surrounding joint systems and the muscles of the hip not designed for rotation. For information on hip pain in swimmers, see Dr. Mullen’s recent video: 

    Tools of the trade for self-massage include foam rollers, PVC pipes, lacrosse balls, softballs, and tennis balls. Foam rollers or PVC pipes work best for the groin, quadriceps, and ilotibial band. The various balls are effective for the glute medius, posas, tensor fascia lata, piriformis, and quadratus lumborum. Be sure to avoid pressure on the bony structures of the pelvis and hips.


    Some question the need for the youngest athletes to perform tasks like foam rolling or using lacrosse balls for self-massage, since many of them are too young to have developed poor tissue quality. In my opinion, being responsible for bringing a lacrosse ball and/or softball to practice (in addition to their other swim gear) builds accountability at a young age. Further, exposing kids to this warmup and/or cooldown ritual establishes sound habits for the rest of their careers.
    Joint centration
    A joint out of position can disturb optimal muscle firing patterns. Hip rotators won’t be available for rotation if the body relies on these muscles to hold the joint in place. If the body has a choice between performance and preservation, it will usually choose preservation!
    Self-massage before exercise can help calm down overactive muscles and make it easier to re-train the “ball” of the femur to sit more comfortably in the “socket” of the pelvis. A common hip dysfunction is for the femoral head (the “ball”) to sit too anteriorly in the joint. Below is one exercise to coax the femoral head into the posterior capsule.

    Mobility
    Once we prep the muscles for movement and establish joint centration, we are then ready to add mobility. Below is one exercise to train hip internal rotation. There are many exercises to do the job, but this one is easily coachable, user-friendly for a large group setting, and easily repeatable as homework while watching TV.
    For external rotation, please see Dr. Mullen’s recent video on at Swimming World:

    Coordination
    Many athletes are familiar with mini-band lateral walks to train the lateral hip muscles. Here is one variation from Tim Vagen more specific to breaststroke with the knees narrower than the feet.
    Another option is to place an additional mini-band near the ankles to cue tibial external rotation, which is also advantageous to the breaststroke kick.
    Conclusion
    There’s no doubt that some athletes are born to swim breaststroke. Children with the right pelvic anatomy and early exposure to the stroke have a clearer path to greatness. However, due to suboptimal control of the hip joints and use of the hip muscles, most swimmers don’t achieve their potential in the stroke. A system of improving tissue quality and joint centration before stretching and strengthening can improve return-on-investment during breaststroke training in the water.
    Guest Post by Allan Phillips. Allan and his wife Katherine are heavily involved in the strength and conditioning community and more about them can be found at pikeathletics.com

    Hip Rotation in Breaststroke

    Continuing our theme of exploring the unique physical characteristics of elite swimmers, this week we’ll look at hip internal and external rotation in breaststroke. There’s an old adage that great breaststrokers are born and not made, lets explore these adage!

    Many elite breaststrokers have visible internally rotated hips, which can appear as knock-knees. Experienced coaches can sometimes identify potential breaststrokers just by looking at their lower body anatomy. In fact, Leisel Jones’ knock-knees were so extreme her family contemplated surgery to have her legs straightened.

    However, it is important to recognize there is more to breaststroke kick than internally rotated hips at rest. A knock-kneed posture with internally rotated hips can be advantageous, but posture alone is not sufficient. Training the movements of hip internal and external rotation can help keep natural breaststrokers healthy and can help others improve their breaststroke kick.

    Assessments

    While a pair of knock knees may be a cue of internal rotation, formal assessments will help identify the functional range of motion. There are several clinically accepted methods to check hip internal and external rotation, but lying prone is the most swim specific way. Although the photo sequence below uses a measuring device, coaches in a group setting can likely eyeball who has the underlying range of motion for an effective breaststroke kick. On land, our greatest concern is identifying who can’t perform the basic movement.

    The first step requires finding the neutral position, this can be done by having the swimmer lie on their back. Swimmers with natural internal rotation might subjectively feel externally rotated in this position. The left side of the below picutre shows a passive test for internal rotation. Passive testing will identify whether underlying restrictions are present in the joint. Also test for active rotation, which involves the exact same movement but without manual assistance. Internal rotation deficits can lead to the common stroke flaw excessive hip abduction the in the first phase of the kick, which leads to kicking too wide.

    The right side of the image shows a test for external rotation. Although the breaststroke kick in the water doesn’t reach the range of motion shown above, external rotation is the primary movement that brings the feet together at the end of the kick. Jagomagi and Jurimae (2005) found that hip external rotation was predictive of breaststroke kick speed along with knee external rotation and ankle supination. Interestingly, hip internal rotation in static posture was not correlated with kick speed, which suggests that kick improvements are more trainable than many suspect.

    Injury considerations

    Breaststroke related knee injuries are among the most common maladies in the sport. While the research indicates a correlation between breaststroke training volume and injury rates (Knobloch, 2008), improving hip movements will minimize stress on the knees. Ensuring adequate internal and external hip rotation will transfer the rotary stress of the breaststroke kick away from the knees and into the hips, which are better suited to handle rotary forces.
    The breaststroke kick can also stress the groin if an external rotation deficit exists. A deficit could either be insufficient range of motion or a faulty movement pattern that relies on the muscles of adduction (the groin) over the muscles of rotation. Researchers at Stanford (Grote 2004) found that 42.7% of breaststrokers and 21.5% of IM-ers in a sample of 296 competitive swimmers missed practice time due to groin pain. (note, the lead researcher in this study was Olympic gold medalist breaststroker Dr. Kurt Grote, M.D.).

    Summary

    Breaststroke specialists may seem like the anatomical freak shows of the pool, but improvements in hip internal and external rotation are possible for swimmers of all ages. In the next installment we’ll cover dryland strategies to improve these aspects of hip performance.

    References

    1. Jagomägi, G. Jürimäe, T. The influence of anthropometrical and flexibility parameters on the results of breaststroke swimming. Anthropol Anz. 2005 Jun;63(2):213-9
    2. Knobloch, K. Yoon, U. Kraemer, R. Vogt, PM. 200-400m breaststroke dominate among knee overuse injuries in elite swimming athletes. Sportverletz Sportschaden. 2008 Dec;22(4):213-9. Epub 2008 Dec 15.
    3. Grote, K. Lincoln, TL. Campbell, JG. Hip Adductor Injury in Competitive Swimmers. Am J Sports Med. 2004 Jan-Feb; 32(1): 104-08.
    By Allan Phillips. Allan and his wife Katherine are heavily involved in the strength and conditioning community, for more information refer to Pike Athletics.

    Clapping your Feet in Breast

    A commonly misunderstood aspect in age-group swimmers is breast kick. Russ Payne recently discussed the importance breaststroke timing, specifically the dissociation of the kick and recovery to optimize forward propulsion and minimize drag. Another poorly understood topic is the importance of snapping or clapping their feet together.

    Swimming is all about force production and moving forward. To move forward the body must exert a force in the opposite direction. For free, back and fly the direction of force is in the sagittal plane and easy to understand, I move water backwards, I move forward. In breaststroke kick, the feet come towards midline exerting a frontal and transverse plane force producing a wave. This multi-plane movement is confusing for swimmers, however force produced by two objects together exerts a one directional force.

    I recently went to the Fleet Air Show in San Francisco and saw miraculous airplanes making booming sounds. As these planes produce energy they exert sound. Sound is a form of energy helping the plane move in the direction necessary. Waves are another form of energy, no different than sound.  Like in X-Men First Class, one can fly by producing sound as it was exerted to force against water to help Banshee propel himself in the air. This understanding can help young athletes understand energy production, because all athletes can clap to produce sound.

    Next time you teach an swimmer to clap their feet together, replace the idea of feet with kickboards and replace force production with sound.  If you ask a group of kids to produce sound with two kickboards, they will all bang them together making loud, often times obnoxious sounds.  Correlating these boards with their feet is essential for their understanding.  Instruct them to clap their feet every time to produce energy, to move like Banshee. Remind them, if you want to produce sound (energy) the movement must be fast, as placing two boards on top of each other doesn’t make sound, only aggressively banging them will create a sonic boom!
    By Dr. G. John Mullen, DPT, CSCS. He is the founder of the Center of Optimal Restoration and head strength coach at Santa Clara Swim Club.


    Weekly Round-up

    1. Breast timing by Russ Payne, read here.
    2. True base training by Chris Ritter, read here.
    3. Kipping pull-up considerations by Tad Sayce, read here.
    4. The initial kipping pull-up video on Swimming World TV by Dr. John Mullen, watch here.
    5. Swimming Anatomy 101: Hip pain in swimmers, watch here
    6. Swimming World TV exercise tip horizontal press, watch here.

    Friday Interview with Megan Jendrick

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

    I started swimming when I was 9 years old - I was so bad when I first joined the swim team that they had to put me in with the five year olds who were all still faster than I was. After getting frustrated with losing to a bunch of kids half my age, I started setting goals and working hard to achieve them and by the time I was 16 I competed in Sydney at the 2000 Olympics and won two gold medals. I missed the team in 2004 by .11 and briefly retired before coming back and making the Beijing team and winning a silver medal there.

    2) What is your current training schedule?

    As of right now I'm actually not training because I'm pregnant. My husband, Nathan, and I are expecting the arrival of our son in late October.

    3) How did you incorporate mobility and stretching into your training?

    Stretching has always been a big part of my training and it's something I think most people don't do enough of. You have to have a great range of motion to properly execute technique, so it's really important to stretch all of the muscles in a variety of ways. I tend to stretch before training, after training and before bed every night.

    4)What is the weirdest training you've done throughout your career?

    I wouldn't say I've done a lot of "weird" training, but one of the more unique things I've done is swim with a snorkel on that was duct-taped closed with only three tiny pin holes in it.

    5) What aspects of your breast were you concentrating on while you trained?

    When I was training I was working a lot more on staying flatter than I had been before so that I could get more propulsion directly forward from my kick. This was a pretty big overall change because to do that required using a bit more narrow of a pull, not pulling back as far, and not allowing my upper body to come up too high out of the water.

    6) What drills/activities are you doing to achieve this?

    Separating pulling and kicking was a great way to work on staying flatter because it allowed concentration on each piece before trying to put it together. Just like a big puzzle, you've got to do it piece-by-piece, so pulling with a pull buoy (or with a light flutter kick) and kicking lengths of the pool underwater without pulling, both seemed to help.

    7) In your opinion, what was the biggest adjustment you made in your swimming career (stroke biomechanical, training, dryland)?

    Nutrition was probably one of the bigger things that changed during my career and helped me a great deal. Swimmers always think they eat a lot, but when I finally started working with someone who kept an eye on things with me and helped educate me, I realized how short I was coming up on my nutritional needs.

    8)8) Of all the testing sports performance testing you've done (underwater filming, blood lactate, etc.), what do you feel has been the most beneficial?

    Underwater filming is easily the most beneficial tool available. Being able to see things underwater and discuss those things with your coach is huge. They can only see and assume so much from standing on deck, so giving yourself and your coach the opportunity to see what's really going on is a major component of success.

    9) Over the past few years, what is the biggest change you've made with your training?

    Volume was something that changed a lot for me after I came back to swimming in 2005. I used to swim doubles six days a week and we did just insane yardage. After coming back, I was doing singles and a lot more focused, sprint training instead of just miles upon miles. For my style of swimming and my strokes and races, that worked great.

    10) What projects are you working on in and outside the pool?

    Most of my focus right now is on preparing for our son, but after things settle down a bit we're going to build out our site www.HealthyFromHome.com which will be a resource for people to learn about all kinds of great things they can do right from home to help improve their lives. 

    Thanks!

    Friday Interview with Adam Mania


    1) Please introduce yourself to the readers (how you started in swimming,education, experience, etc.). 
    I started swimming in Hickman, NE when I was 10 at a swim school that was 2 lanes and 20yds long. This lasted until I went to college. I wasn't really a huge fan of swimming as a child. Mainly went only because I wanted to hang out with my friends that swam as well. It was social for me. In high school, I started to see some sort of potential but was still just a "jabronie" (Never heard of 2-a days, wore drag suits, didn't know that I had to shave for taper, dyed my hair funky colors for state...etc etc). I ended up getting a full scholarship to swim at the university of Nebraska, but a few weeks after I signed, they dropped the program, and I signed with University of Wisconsin. At Wisconsin I was a 13-time All-American, and school record holder in 100,200 back, 200 IM, and 200 breast. In 2004, I made the Polish Olympic Team (have been a dual citizen my whole life, with Polish also being my first language). There I swam the 100 and 200 back. Due to swim federation politics, I left the Polish federation, and am now currently swimming for the US. After college I took a coaching job at Schroeder YMCA in Milwaukee, WI and have been coached by Dave Anderson. Under him, I made my first USA national team in 2007, and also broke the US OPEN record in the 50 backstroke. In 2009, I competed in the Fina World Cup, just missing the WR in the 50 back by 0.15. Currently, I coach full time at Schroeder, and in the little time I have left I also train some with our senior group.

    2) What is your current training schedule?  
    Currently, it is very sporadic. I will usually swim 3-4x a week around 3000-3500y. There have been many weeks where I only get in 2 swims. I also lift at a gym called NX Level in Waukesha, where I have a personal trainer, with an extensive swimming background that essentially whups my butt for 90 minutes 2-3x a week.

    3) How do you incorporate mobility and stretching into your training?  
    Stretching and mobility is first and foremost. Immobility is what leads to injury. The joints need to be able to move in a full range of motion, instead of a limited range, that causes certain muscle groups to compensate, which can lead to injury. Case in point. Scapular stability is very important when dealing with shoulder health. The shoulder muscles are used so extensively throughout a swim practice, but most often, the upper back muscles of a swimmer are quite weak, which causes the shoulders to over work, leading to impingement. With the development of scapular stability, a balance is created, preventing injury. When I workout, I do a "dynamic warmup" beforehand. I set of dryland exercises that merely warms up my internal body temperature, followed by hip and shoulder mobility exercises. After the workout is when i stretch out for a longer period of time, and also roll out my legs on either a styrofoam roller, or myofascial release ball. I have never had any sort of swimming related injury..... unless you call playing basketball before practice "swimming related". No more basketball for Adam.

    4)What is the weirdest training you've done throughout your career? weirdest? i feel like everything i do is weird and outside of the box. If  I wasn’t doing something interesting in the pool, i wouldn’t beswimming. Similar to many swimmers, I have a VERY short attention span, and like to be mentally entertained. If i kept doing 30x100s, I would have quit a long time ago. I still swim because I am having so much fun doing it. I learned a lot about stroke efficiency through my coach in college, Eric Hansen, who is now the head coach at Arizona.
    Dave Anderson, my coach currently, and I collaborate almost every day on certain things we want to work on. I also have spent some time with Dave Salo at Trojan swim club, where I have learned a lot of different training techniques.

    5) What aspects of your backstroke are you currently concentrating on?Currently, my finishing speed. I’m quite a mental swimmer, and always thinking about what my stroke is doing. I used to have a very deep pull, and I changed that a few years back, setting my anchor faster. Also now, I’m working on not kicking much at all on the first 50 of my 100back, and then adding my legs in on the 2nd half of the race, and building my tempo. Also, my coach convinced me to do the 200 back this year (dislike). So, apparently that means I have to swim a little bit more.

    6) What drills/activities are you doing to achieve this?Anything that’s fast. A lot of high intensity swimming, broken up by some longer swim/scull/drill swims. My sets are very short. 600-1500 yards the most, but I will do a few sets. About 75% oft hese sets are ALL OUT SPRINT. I race at 100% intensity, therefore, I need to learn to train at 100% intensity. doing that for 10x100s is just impossible...unless you are a miler. Which in that case, I’m sorry.

    7) In your opinion, what was the biggest adjustment you made in your swimming career (stroke biomechanical, training, dryland)?Swimming less, lifting more. I created a large base at Wisconsin. Swimming 7500y workouts 9 times a week....once I was done with college, the only way I was going to be swimming, was to only do a fraction of that. I upped the intensity, and SEVERELY dropped the volume. Also my dryland regimen at NX LEVEL is one of the only reasons why I swim as little as I do, and can still go best times in races like 200 back, 200 IM, 200fr...even if Im a little crazy, Ill throw a 400IM or 200fly in. Also, I used to fly and die in a lot of my races. Now, I set my races up a lot better, being more controlled in the beginning, and not kicking so hard.

    8) Of all the testing sports performance testing you've done (underwater  filming, blood lactate, etc.), what do you feel has been the most beneficial? Underwater filming is something we do at Schroeder almost weekly. That helps me a lot. Also its easy for me to make those changes, because I do not swim a whole lot, therefore, I dont create bad habits that come with overtraining.

    9) Over the past few years, what is the biggest change you've made with your training? Less is more.

    10) What projects are you working on in and outside the pool? 
    I coach full time, which takes up a lot of time. Mainly 10-14 year olds, and also the Masters team. Also, I am involved with fundraising for our facility, because we are a non-profit organization. Our pool was almost torn down a few years ago, and we actually ended up BUYING it from the YMCA, and run it wholly on fees, capital contributions, and fundraising. I also am the coordinator of our annual Golf Outing that brings in over 70 golfers every year. I thoroughly enjoy the social scene in Milwaukee as well, which has made it fun for me to live here. Right now, I am studying for the GMAT and will be trying to get an MBA starting in fall of 2012. I was in the masters program at UW-Milwaukee in Urban Planning, but decided it wasnt the right thing for me.

    Thanks Adam

    Ankles and Swimming Part II

    In part II of this series on the ankles, we’ll explore exercises to improve plantar flexion (toe pointing).  Although our main focus will be on the ankles themselves, recall from part I that restrictions elsewhere in the body can contribute to ankle limitations, particularly with masters swimmers and triathletes.  Soft tissue work, dynamic mobility, static stretching, and fin assisted kicking all play a role in improving ankle mobility.   

    Soft tissue work – Think of soft tissue work as greasing the wheels for subsequent exercise interventions to take hold.  Combine soft tissue work with exercise for the greatest improvements.   


    -Feet – Tennis ball under the arch.
    -Calves – Tennis ball/lacrosse ball and foam roller
    -Shins – Foam roller or The Stick
    Special considerations regarding soft tissue work: The lower leg houses many key nerves but offers less superficial protection than fleshier areas of the body.  Do-it-yourself implements like balls and rollers usually don’t penetrate deep enough to cause problems, but stay away from bone structures such as the fibular head, over which the common peroneal nerve crosses.  The common peroneal nerve is a branch of the sciatic nerve, which originates in the lower back and runs down the back of the leg before branching off at the fibular head.  How we train the core and posterior chain can directly affect the ankles.    
       


    Static stretches – Static stretching is perhaps the most familiar dryland tool to improve ankle mobility.  In my experience, static stretches are effective to gain a few extra degrees in a swimmer who already has good mobility.  If a swimmer has a range of motion deficit, you probably need more than static stretching because the lack of mobility could be a sign of global issues, as we discussed in the first installment.  

    Additionally, there are delicate structures in and around the ankle that inherently limit the plantar flexion of certain individuals.  If your dryland program includes ballistic movements such as running and jumping, realize that you must balance ankle mobility with the athlete’s ability to stabilize on land.  
    Relatively uncommon in swimmers, but it can happen if we overdo stretching
    The Rack
    Many swimmers cringe at the sight of The Rack.  While I wouldn’t consider The Rack the panacea for ankle limitations, I wouldn’t dismiss it either.  When used correctly on athletes who already posses acceptable range of motion, The Rack can add a few degrees of plantar flexion.  However, spending a significant time with The Rack is generally a waste of time for a triathlete or masters swimmer whose tight ankles are a product of global mobility restrictions.  

    Sitting on shins
    As with The Rack, this method can be appropriate as “icing on the cake” but I’d be cautious if the swimmer has global mobility restrictions.   Assist with a towel or pillow under the knees if the shin angle is too extreme.  Gradually reduce the height of the towel or pillow as flexibility improves.  One overlooked point in doing this stretch is the direction of the feet.  It is easy to cheat this stretch by “sickling” the feet inward.


    I’m not sure if sickled ankles have any effect on stroke dynamics, but in the worlds of dance 
    and gymnastics (other sports that reward extreme plantar flexion), attaining plantar flexion 
    via sickling results in inefficient energy transfer both up and down the leg.    

    Dynamic stretching
    While these pictures below display use of a theraband, you can also use a rope or your own hand for different types of resistance or assistance.  
    Resisted : Make sure with this exercise that the athlete does not cheat by curling the toes around the band.
    Assisted: Here the resistance is against dorsiflexion, but plantar flexion is assisted.
     
    Eversion and inversion
    Ankle eversion is critical for breaststroke.  Those with limited plantar flexion often struggle with eversion as well.  Eversion improvements are valuable particularly for freestyle oriented IM-ers with ankle deficits, particularly if you aren’t able to fully address breaststroke specific hip rotation.   If you train eversion, don’t neglect the opposite direction (inversion).       

    In the water – Fin selection
    Ankles in kick work much like the wrists in battle ropes.  With ropes you can practically see the transfer of energy…
    Use long and soft fins for teaching.  Certainly we have many simultaneous goals with kick training, from tempo, timing, power, and upper/lower body coordination.  Coaches have many different preferences for their squads and there is no single “best” fin.  However, when the purpose of a set is to train ankle mobility, long and soft fins best replicate the pattern of energy transfer through the leg.  Don’t rely on the first two moldy pieces of rubber you pull from the lost-and-found bin!

    Conclusion
    Improving ankle performance in kicking requires a blend of soft tissue work, flexibility training, dynamic mobility, and judicious use of fins.  As with any aspect of training, our role as coaches is to find the right blend for each athlete.  In the future we’ll explore the role of the ankles in starts, turns, and on dryland.    
    By Allan Phillips. Allan and his wife Katherine are heavily involved in the strength and conditioning community, for more information refer to Pike Athletics.