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Slow (0.7)
A1 band - warm-up, recovery, cool-down sets
Moderate (0.85)
A2 band - aerobic capacity sets
Intense (1.00)
A3 band - aerobic power, VO2max sets

Data Source: Zamparo P, Bonifazi M (2013). Bioenergetics of cycling sports activities in water.

Coded for Swimming Science by Cameron Yick

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Strength and Conditioning Programming Considerations for Competitive Swimmers

Take Home Points on Strength and Conditioning Programming Considerations for Competitive Swimmers
  1. Stretching and energy system training may not be appropriate for swimmers during dry-land
  2. Learning body alignment and motor control are possible strategies for improving swimming through dry-land 
A quick search on the web for strength and conditioning for swimming reveals generous results; however, very little actionable information. This is because unfortunately, the majority of the swimming industry is stuck in the past . Many in this community feel that traditional strength and conditioning programs have little to no transfer to the water, and that swimmers are too “uncoordinated” and can get hurt from such program —this mindset, unfortunately, is holding back many athletes from achieving their full potential.

Not only does this lack of information ward off well-meaning strength and conditioning coaches with more traditional contact sports-based backgrounds from learning more about this segment of their athletes, but it directly perpetuates long-held ideas about “swimmer coordination”, driving an entire athletic population to avoid extremely beneficial land-based training.

Although, as a Strength and Conditioning professional, you may already understand the relationship between weight training and high performance, but your potential clients may not. Below I’ve listed what I’ve found to be some of the most important considerations for exercise prescription for swimmers. 

1. Kill the Stereotypes

One of the most important things you can do as a coach to increase buy-in from your swimming clients is to immediately dispel any and all myths that they’ve heard about strength training as it relates to swimming. These can included, but are not limited to: swimmers being too uncoordinated to the point of ‘hurting themselves’, extra muscle mass making them sink, weight training making them slower, etc..

2. Fix Alignment

Because of the nature of this sport, alignment plays a huge roll in performance
enhancement, especially as swimmers get better and need to find new ways to drop time. You will need to be cognizant of your athletes’ alignment from head to toe. This idea needs to transcend any initial assessment because it will need to be reinforced. Make sure the athlete doesn’t fall into any pattern of APT (Anterior Pelvic Tilt), the lordosis generally associated with this, or in the opposite end of the spectrum, PPT (Posterior Pelvic Tilt) and the Kyphosis of the upper back generally associated with this spinal position-- but more on upper back to come.

A certain amount of APT or PPT can be brushed off a little easier with other populations, but here when poor alignment directly correlates to reduced hydrodynamics and in turn, more drag, we need to address this as a top priority.

3. Rethink your Myofascial Release

Right now foam rollers, lacrosse balls, and rumble rollers are the ‘in’ thing. I’m not here to say that foam rolling is a waste of time because it’s not. I’ve personally noticed awesome changes from myofascial release in dozens of athletes, but generally not in swimmers. 

The problem with mixing swimmers and foam rollers is that swimmers already display too much congenial laxity (hypermobility) at most joints. So hitting foam rollers, especially before a workout tends to have performance reducing effects. Notice I said at most joints; some areas are relatively free game for rolling. Problem areas for swimmers tend to be the IT Band, Glute Medius, Pec Minor, and Calves, but even these, I prefer to put in a cool down segment. That way, we can hit a few more areas that may be troubling the athlete on a day-to-day basis, without compromising joint stability before a workout [editor note, after discussion both parties agree infraspinatus SMR is beneficial for swimmers].

4. Aggressively Prevent Stretching

This point comes directly out of the last one. We cannot confuse mobility (moving through an active ROM) and flexibility (moving through a passive ROM). While swimmers may have some mobility issues to be addressed with foam rolling, they rarely, if ever, have flexibility issues. In fact, swimmers are so flexible, that they love to stretch. But this can be a huge problem for a swimmer’s athletic career, as well as us as coaches. We need to encourage strengthening these swimmers through their existing range of motion before we allow even more ROM with poor body awareness. 

The easiest way to ensure this is to prevent stretching while the athlete is at our facility. If/when a swimmer begins to stretch between sets, use this as a teachable moment to explain why they don’t need any additional passive ROM. 

5. Focus on the Neglected

Again, the last point isn’t to be confused with mobility, especially in the hips. Because swimmers rarely get past 30 degrees of hip flexion/ hyperextension, (and no abduction unless a breaststroker) they become prone to injuries outside of their normal ROM. As S&C professionals, we need to expand this active ROM to prevent injury.

This is also a very sagittal and transverse plane dominant sport. In training, we need to focus on incorporating more frontal plane work. Just like with many other populations, the glutes become dormant without sufficient activation. There is an existing train of thought in the world of swimming which states that we should avoid strengthening the glutes because they increase hydrodynamic drag—adding turbines to a jet increases drag as well, but we still put them there so the plane can travel at its top speeds; the glues are no different. Sure we may be a little more hydrodynamic, but in neglecting these, we are also limiting the most powerful hip extensors in the body!

While the glutes are often neglected, so are the trapezius group and rhomboids. Although they receive stimulation while swimming, these are a huge performance group and should be trained in all three movement patterns (elevation, depression, retraction). This will ensure that no weak links exist that would hinder scapular mechanics in the pool, and therefore performance.

6. Avoid Energy System Training (EST)

Many strength and conditioning coaches who do not have much experience with swimmers love to throw them into a pool to make workouts ‘sport specific’. Not only do swimmers already spend enough time in the pool, but you probably don’t know what swimming mechanics should look like, and may be doing more harm than good.

Similarly, in an attempt to be ‘sport specific’ S&C coaches love to time swimmers and do energy system work to replicate race times. This again is a bad idea. Leave this work to the swim coach. These athletes are constantly getting bombarded with energy system training and need to slow down and focus on quality as well as, at most times, getting sufficient recovery to perform well on each exercise.

7. Bear in Mind Training Age

Although you may be working with a college population, swimmers generally have very little real weight training experience, so be sure to account for this while developing your program. Focus on ingraining good motor patterns through a controlled ROM. Add volume and load, only once a pattern is demonstrated with sufficient form. Again, keep in mind that many of these technique problems can be soft-tissue restrictions, so monitor these athletes closely to see what may be reducing their active ROM.

Generally swimmers aren’t like American Football players which are usually encouraged to be in a gym since the freshman year of high school, so no need to get fancy. Pull out the basics and ride them out until you see progress begin to stall, then it might be a better time to start programming some more advanced exercise progressions. 

8. Address Nutritional Concerns

Swimmers eat like shit, there is no way around it. You’ve seen the articles in the mainstream media showing the unbelievable amount of poor quality food that Michael Phelps supposedly ate every day during his training, your swimmers have seen that too, and your swimmers think they can get away with that—they can’t.

Many male swimmers have the dreaded ‘skinny fat’ syndrome caused by their food choices & hormonal profile. Be sure to encourage a balanced diet and educate them on its benefits.

While too much of the wrong thing is generally the problem for the guys, too little is generally the problem for female swimmers, which are one of the most at-risk groups for falling into the female athlete triad. Again, explain the implications of this disordered eating on their performance & life. When necessary, seek a qualified nutritionist/ sports psychologist to help mitigate the situation.

9. Keep Communication Lines Open

Although this is rather general, and can be applied to most sports, this is critical with swimming. Most swim programs vary intensity drastically, maintain contact with the coach to know when it’s okay to push and when to back off. Because this sport is so different than the demands of other sports, S&C coaches may at times become confused with some swim lingo or phrases used. Accept your knowledge limitations and reach out for help and education from the coaches and athletes-- they will be appreciative to know you care enough to check, which will help change the current dynamic between swim coaches and S&C professionals.

Similarly, keep communication open with the athletes. Are they sore from their last practice? What is their psychological profile? Have they just won/ lost a big meet? These are the kind of concerns that fluctuate and change training preparedness in the world of swimming on a daily basis. Assess the situation as soon as you see them to get an idea for their readiness. If you’ve kept communication lines closed, swimmers may be hesitant to let you know or express why their training has been lacking, this may leave you scratching your head wondering what the problem is with your perfectly programmed workout. Keep the communication open to get into the minds of the swimmers. 

10. Alignment, Alignment, and more Alignment

Posture is everything in swimming, and after a hard day of practice, swimmers tend to rely on passive restraints rather than active muscle tension for support. Reinforce good posture whenever an opportunity presents itself. You may only have these athletes for an hour a day, but the problem of course, is the other 23. 

If we can get swimmers to develop some proprioception, or sense of awareness in space, they will be more likely to exhibit better posture, thereby increasing blood flow to the body and improving breathing patterns, which will allow the body to switch easier between parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, allowing them to train harder, and recover better.

Go Out and Make the World Faster

Now that you have a better understanding of strength and conditioning for swimming, make sure you act. If you don’t have any swimmers who train at your facility, maybe try to cater to some. The market for swimming strength and conditioning is completely open. These are an awesome group of athletes chasing greatness just like everyone else. Many groups of coaches, parents, and athletes still hold outdated notions of strength training making them poorer athletes or adding too much muscle mass. Let’s make it our mission to change their minds one person a time.

Written by John Matulevich a powerlifting world record holder in multiple lifts and weight classes, as well as a Head D-2 Strength Coach, and previously a nationally ranked college athlete. His concentrations are in sports performance, powerlifting, and weight training for swimming. To learn more about how John trains his athletes, check his Twitter page: @John_Matulevich. He can also be reached at MuscleEmporium@gmail.com with inquiries.

Dryland Mistake: Medicine Ball Training for Swimming

Go to practically any swim club and you are virtually guaranteed to find medicine balls somewhere on the premises.  Despite years of technology infusing the sport, the simple medicine ball remains a trusted piece of equipment.  There’s good reason for this as the medicine ball is generally safe, easy to learn, versatile, cost effective, and efficient for large groups.

But do we know why the medicine ball works or even if it does work?   This post will not be a library of “Best Medicine Ball Moves” but rather a reflection on current practices.  There’s minimal formal literature suggesting that swimming would benefit directly from medicine ball work.  In fact, some would suggest that dryland training is at best irrelevant.  But if we accept that general athleticism and movement proficiency are at least tangentially related to swimming performance, it’s worth investigating deeper due to the medicine ball’s popularity.

As with any tool, what’s important is not the tool itself but what you choose to do with the tool.  With the medicine ball, there is evidence to confirm that the medicine ball can help as an adjunct to other routines (Symanski 2007: medicine ball group of high school baseball players improved greater in rotational power than the resistance-only group).  Further, for those indulging in dryland power testing, medicine ball throws have been validated as a reliable method (Stockbrugger 2001).   

Unfortunately, studies isolating medicine ball training in swimmers are hard to find.  Garrido (2010) noted improvements following a dryland protocol that included medicine ball work, but this program was multivariate in including several other exercises.  How do we know if it was the medicine ball that helped or the other exercises?  Even beyond the specific literature measuring power output, medicine ball is also useful for developing general athletic skills: throwing, catching, rotating, and stabilizing. 

But despite these benefits, there are caveats.  The safety conferred by the medicine ball’s lightness can also be a detriment.  Heavier weights can be feedback to the lifter: there are fewer incorrect ways to lift a heavy weight than a light one.  Because we can perform many repetitions with a medicine ball it’s easy to allow form to lapse if not carefully monitored.

Perhaps the most common programming error is performing high repetition, moderate paced movements that mimic swimming activities.  

“The many hours of long distance swimming which is a necessary part of training has a tendency to stifle quick and powerful movements. Auxiliary training programs can be used to counteract this suppression. Activities should be either explosive and powerful, as in sprint swimming, or static, as in holding postures and stabilizing movement bases.” (Rushall 1993)

The two most common technique flaws are excess flexion during seated exercise and excess extension during standing exercise.  For example, the Russian twist and other variants are popular moves seen on many pool decks (and questionable moves to begin with), but are most commonly performed sloppily with swimmers either beginning in flexion or deteriorating into flexion with fatigue. 

While standing, many swimmers hyperextend the back to throw the ball overhead or to slam it into the ground.  Some extension is natural for such movements, but must remain within controlled ranges and appropriate training volumes. 

Greatest benefit of the medicine ball is its practicality.  Many teams must combine dryland and swimming into one practice block due to schedule limitations.  As Dr. John has written recently, exhaustive resistance training performed at certain times may lead to adverse effects of in-water performance if not scheduled appropriately [Exhaustive Resistance Training Alters Joint Biomechanics].   However, “[m]edicine balls and static exercises may produce fatigue but not to the extent that the conduct of exercises later in the program will be compromised” (Rushall 1993).  The medicine ball may allow the best of both worlds as a dryland tool that does not detract from subsequent in-water activity. 

  1. Garrido, N, Marinho, D, Reis, V, van den Tillar, R, Costa, A, Silva, A, Marques, M.  Does Combined Dryland Strength and Aerobic Training Inhibit Performance of Young Competitive Swimmers .  Journal of Sport Science and Medicine.  2010 (9) 300-310.
  2. Szymanski DJ, Szymanski JM, Bradford TJ, Schade RL, Pascoe DD.  Effect of twelve weeks of medicine ball training on high school baseball players.  J Strength Cond Res. 2007 Aug;21(3):894-901.
  3. Stockbrugger BA, Haennel RG.  Validity and reliability of a medicine ball explosive power test.  J Strength Cond Res. 2001 Nov;15(4):431-8.
  4. Rushall, B. S., Marsden, J., & Young, C. (1993). A suggested program of foundational conditioning exercises for age-group swimmers: A manual for coaches. NSWIMMING Coaching Science Bulletin, 2(1), 1-23. 
By Allan Phillips. Allan and his wife Katherine are heavily involved in the strength and conditioning community, for more information refer to Pike Athletics.

Radical Changes are in Order for Swimming Strength and Conditioning Coaches!

I often get asked about the quality of strength coaches in swimming. Unfortunately, I typically have poor remarks and considerations, most pronounced at the collegiate level. This is mainly from the fact that many strength coaches forget their work is intended to complement  the conditioning component of swimming, which should occur in the pool. A true strength AND conditioning coach must complement and understand the conditioning aspect which occurs in the pool. Yet, too many strength coaches are unfamiliar with the unique demands of the sport and provide swimmers a land-based approach for improvement. I'm not saying every strength coach must have swam or competed at an elite level in swimming, but they must be willing to learn about these nuances, spend time on deck, and appreciate the conditioning aspect of the sport. Moreover, strength coaches must look outside the box and acknowledge water-based sports and land-based sports have many differences, specifically the biomechanics and the lack of out-of-water strength correlating with in-water strength.

Opposingly, many coaches, with a background in swimming, do not know enough about strength principles resulting in abstract, nonsensical exercises.Too often these coaches administer conditioning techniques with the hopes of strength gains. Unfortunately, this can contribute to overtraining, injuries, and impaired swimming motor control.

Instead, strength and conditioning coaches must understand the conditioning aspect of the sport, learn the common flaws, and common weak, or injury ridden spots in the pool and then apply their strength training philosophies. Swim coaches must learn the principles of strength training or utilize outside resources who understand the aforementioned principles. As Dr. Rushall has said, “[R]adical changes in swimming coaching are in order!”

By Dr. G. John Mullen founder of 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.

Dryland Mistake: Squat Part II

In previous Dryland Mistake installments we’ve covered the bench press (part I and II), inverse row (part I and II, pushup, and squat).  In this post, we’ll break down common squat flaws and offer a few quick remedies (For other squat articles from the Swim Sci team, see Knee Stress during Squats, More on Squatting, Front Squat = Backstroke Start, Teaching a Squat, and Goblet Squat).

Despite its popularity, the squat is not always the best exercise choice for the lower body.   It’s often a convenient “because we gotta hit the legs” but for many swimmers who bring injuries or fatigue to weight room, other exercises may be more suitable at certain times.   Yes, all healthy swimmers should demonstrate proper bodyweight squat form, but whether a loaded squat is an appropriate exercise for an individual or team program will depend on circumstances. 

Nonetheless, if you’re gonna do squats you might as well do them right.  In fact, there are far too many individuals who prematurely omit squats from their routine or head to the leg press because squats cause them problems.  These folks remind me of the old Dan John (renowned strength coach) line about people who complain about knee or back pain while squatting: “Squats don’t cause you pain…whatever you just did caused you pain, but whatever you just showed me was not a squat!”

Before we get to the faults and fixes, remember, nothing substitutes individual screening for your athletes to prevent these flaws from arising.  However, we do recognize that coaches often must act “on the fly” in a group setting, even if preseason screening was performed, as movement patterns can change during a competitive season. 

Knee collapse – Knees should track in-line over the feet.  Knees collapsing inward will change muscle recruitment patterns, but more importantly will increase risk of knee, particularly upon the medial meniscus.  Though some might see the "bad" photo as resembling breaststroke mechanics, it makes little sense to load this pattern on land under heavy weight.  Keep the "sport specific" movement separate from the squat pattern.   

Quick fix – Knee abduction with band around the knees or thighs.  Isolated hip strengthening exercises may be useful for some individuals, but integrating corrections into the full squat movement with band resisted knee abduction is more advisable.  A verbal cue to “spread the floor” or “create space” may also work.   

Lost Pelvic Control – Many athletes will lose pelvic control at the bottom, either by "tucking under" or by increasing anterior tilt ("spilling forward").  Though a slight anterior tilt is natural and will protect the spine, too much tilting in either direction will increase injury risk.  

Quick fix – Box squats can help reinforce neuromuscular control at the bottom of the squat if the athlete loses pelvic control.  If it is not a control issue but instead a muscle length issue, consider addressing hamstring flexibility (see, How and When to Stretch Your Hamstring)

Torso Tilt forward – Torso tilts forward during the movement, most commonly during a back squat.  Some forward tilt is natural, but excess tilting should be corrected.

Quick fix – Front loaded squats such as a front squat or a goblet squat.  If you don’t counterbalance the weight with an upright posture, you fall on your face!   “Face the wall” squats without weight are another drill in which it is literally impossible to fall forward.  If you insist on loading a back squat (a less than optimal choice in our opinion due to shoulder stress), a reactive drill with bands is a viable corrective strategy.

Chicken neck – Head comes out of alignment, neck becomes un-packed.  Often results from an restricted thoracic spine. 

Quick fix – Cueing proper gaze may also correct this problem as the head and neck will follow the gaze.  Teach the athlete where their eyes should look during the movement (similar concept to training head position in the water).  If there is a thoracic spine restriction, perform thoracic spine mobility drills.    

Insufficient depth – Some athletes don’t cheat with any of the above listed flaws, but instead hit the brakes before their thighs reach parallel to the ground.  

Quick fix – Assisted squats by holding onto an object or a suspension trainer can help achieve depth. 

This is not an exhaustive list of faults and fixes, but does sample the most common errors.  Further, though heavy squats are not always appropriate within a dry-land program, the squat movement pattern does have relevance to starts and turns, thus rewarding sound mechanics on land.  Most importantly, these cues should aid one’s ability to spot flaws and deliver appropriate corrections on the spot.  Each of these corrective drills can substitute for regular squats during a workout and can help create the necessary individualization within a generalized team program.  

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

Dryland Mistake: Pushups

Pushups are a staple for many dryland programs, particularly for younger swimmers who haven’t earned their way into the weight room, but also for older swimmers who perform dryland on or near the deck out of convenience.  Unfortunately, good pushups are a rare sight in most dryland programs.  Some observers might not even consider most pushups attempts to be real pushups, but instead odd bodily gyrations bearing some resemblance to the push up movements. 

The simplest pushup fixes are to revisit the plank or add an incline so the swimmer can learn the movement with lower loads. The pushup is nothing more than a moving plank with a push-and- pull motion of the arms.  Inverse rows are another complementary exercise to provide shoulder and trunk stability (see Dryland Mistake: Inverse Rows Part I, Part II.  However, to know whether you need a regression exercise, you first need to spot the flaw in the movement.  

In this post we’ll cover common pushup flaws and explore a few specific fixes if the above listed general regressions don’t solve the problem.    

Head Bobbing

Head bobbing is fairly obvious, though note whether the swimmer actually gets into start position correctly or whether they get into position but then lose posture during the movement.

Quick fix: First, make sure the swimmer can actually get into the proper start position.  Check for mobility restrictions in the neck and shoulders.  Once those are cleared, this may either be a strength issue (try incline pushups) or motor learning issue (focus on quality not quantity).   


Humpback is similar to head bobbing and often occurs simultaneously.  This is a common flaw with many swimmers living with a humpback.   Unfortunately, this setup stresses the shoulders by limiting joint space anteriorly and possibly tugging on posterior stabilizing muscles and tendons.   

Quick fix: thoracic spine extension work, scapular retraction.  Pinching the shoulder blades is a common cue but can lead to poor outcomes as well.  A better cue is to drive the shoulder blades downward during the movement.   Practice this feeling in planks, incline pushups, and inverse rows. 

Chicken winger

The chicken winger flares his or her elbows flaring out to the side far beyond the hands and wrists while descending.  This flaw often results from poor stability in the serratus anterior and the lower trapezius.  Mobility may also be a culprit as the swimmer may flare the elbows to “cheat” shoulder range of motion. 

Quick fix: Inverse rows with a TRX or other suspension trainer make it nearly impossible to flare the elbows.  This complementary movement may transfer into pushups. 

Butt sag

Again, a self explanatory flaw.  Another version of the butt sag is the swayback.  Sway back is not always a flaw as a slight lumbar curve is natural for many people.  However, losing alignment and letting the butt sag is most definitely a flaw.  

Quick fix: In addition to the general corrective recommendations, (plank, incline, and inverse rowing), three specific areas to consider are the abs, glutes, or hip mobility.  

Break dancer

This is another version of the butt sag, but with some added body English.  While it may resemble butterfly technique, it has no place in the pushup.

Quick fix: Same fixes apply with the butt sag, but you may also try assisted pushups as it may be a muscle timing issue.

The cheater simply doesn’t go all the way down.  If the swimmer can’t physically do a correct pushup, then choose a regression.  However, the most important way to deal with the cheater is to focus on quality over quantity.  Most develop the cheater habit because they have been allowed to count incomplete pushups.   There are no awards for doing 50 consecutive pushups in which the arms move two inches.  

Quick fix: Many cheaters can actually do a correct pushup but have gotten in the bad habit of sacrificing technique for reps.

Looky look

To be technical, we could also say a forward head practices a threat response (the Moro reflex) and confuses the central nervous system into destabilizing our joints.  But most simply, looking forward pulls the body out of its most powerful alignment and may contribute to lower body flaws described above.

Quick fix: Shoulder restrictions may have a role, but this is often a pure technique issue.  Just as in swimming, wanting to look forward is natural but is an urge that must be suppressed.  

When done correctly, the push up offers many benefits for shoulder and trunk stability.  Perhaps no exercise trains the serratus anterior better than the push up (see, Shoulder Pain, Serratus Anterior) Whether this translates directly to swimming is a different matter, but as a natural movement pattern, the pushup may be favored over exercises that isolate shoulder muscles without coordinating with surrounding regions.  Above all,  avoid the temptation to crank out reps.  Instead, demand quality technique, both for performance and for shoulder health.  

Want more tips on dryland? Check out Dryland for Swimmers.

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

Dryland Mistake: Exercise Progressions and Regressions

Push-ups, planks, and squats are a few of the most common exercises utilized in dry-land. Everyone has their own philosophy and belief pertaining to dry-land and swimming, but almost everyone agrees appropriate exercises (proper form, volume, rationale) on land can benefit swimmers. For a team to prescribe safe and appropriate exercises (whether for injury prevention or swimming enhancement), progressions and regressions are mandatory. Unfortunately, I’ve visited too many swim programs where improper progressions and regressions are provided, especially on these common exercises. Who hasn’t walked on deck and seen a group of swimmers doing “butt-ups” or performing a plank with their hips scraping the floor? What irony to see coaches nitpick the smallest swimming detail, only to permit atrocious dry-land exercise technique! This form of training is neither beneficial or safe.

A few studies on dry-land suggest dry-land is the most common mode of injury for college swimmers (estimated between 38-44%). Injuries are going to happen, but it is the role of the coach (swimming and dry-land) to keep the swimmer safe during dry-land. If they are increasing their risk of injury, the program was likely inappropriate for the swimmer.

Many elite swimmers are novices on land, making dry-land activities a risk for injury if proper form is not maintained. This makes the importance of finding exercises appropriate for each swimmer important, especially in a large group. Volume is also an issue on many teams. It is all too common to see a swimmer perform 2 perfect form push-ups, followed by 50 bad push-ups. If you can only perform 2 push-ups, start there and perform multiple sets of 2 repetitions! Some think doing excessive volumes help build “mental toughness”, but this must outcome must not put the swimmer at risk for injury inside or outside of the pool.

I’ve seen too many clubs have 8-year olds perform push-ups where 1% of them are doing it properly! Push-ups (in my opinion) are a great exercise for developing shoulder strength, IF DONE PROPERLY! Unfortunately, swim coaches have not been provided, or don’t care to learn, the proper education for progressing and regressing exercises. Simply put, giving an ectomorphic 8-year old a 50 push-ups is like having them do 200s fly, you’re only going to make them hate it and perform it improperly. Moreover, if a few talented kids get away with doing something, doesn’t make it appropriate for the whole group.

To combat this atrocity in the sport, it is essential to not be overconfident, but be realistic in your knowledge base and skills. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, take courses, get help, and refer swimmers to other professionals. I know this thought is disconcerting as many coaches like being control freaks (this is a good trait, it shows you care), but finding a support staff to help enhance your team is essential (read 6 Reasons Why your Team Needs a Strength Coach). If you do not know a simple 5-step progression for each exercise you're suggesting, then it is likely your dry-land is not ideal for the majority of your swimmers. It might mean more work in the short term to find progressions for every exercise, but fewer injuries and more confident swimmers will make the investment worthwhile. Your athletes (and their parents!) will thank you!

  1. Wolf BR, Ebinger AE, Lawler MP, Britton CL. Injury patterns in Division I collegiate swimming. Am J Sports Med. 2009 Oct;37(10):2037-42. Epub 2009 Jul 24.
  2. McFarland EG, Wasik M. Injuries in female collegiate swimmers due to swimming and cross training. Clin J Sport Med. 1996 Jul;6(3):178-82.
By G. John Mullen founder of 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.

Dryland Mistake: Squat

If you’re a frequent reader of this website, the headline “Dryland Mistake: Squat” may make you scratch your head. In the past, we have discussed teaching a squat and the front squats application to the backstroke start

The role of strength and conditioning in swimming is highly controversial, as it seems out-of-water strength doesn’t translate to swimming improvement in most events. However, a recent study from Portugal suggests handgrip strength correlated with 100-meter freestyle success in female age-group swimmers. This brings up a whole separate debate, as dry-land and swimming is highly complex. 

However, whether you agree athletes should perform heavy strength training is irrelevant as it is widely accepted general strength and exercise variation is key for youth development of motor control and strength, no matter what sport.

However, the squat poses a few problems despite its common use in sports and resistance training program, a question sparked by strength coach Mike Boyle and was further discussed in the “Strength of Evidence” podcast.

The main issue with squats (specifically heavy loaded squats) is the accompanied risk of injury. Now let’s be honest, all exercises have their associated injury risk, but when someone gets hurt in the weight room squats, deadlifts, and bench press are the common injurious exercises. For swimmers (and all athletes) the first priority of the strength coach is to keep the athletes healthy. This puts this exercise under scrutiny as injuries MUST NOT OCCUR IN DRY-LAND! Remember is the reward worth the risk?

This makes squatting (heavy loaded) a potential dry-land mistake, as it potentially increases injury risk. Moreover, alternative exercises exist which are potentially just, if not more, beneficial. The main exercise Mr. Boyle discussed was the Bulgarian Deadlift (BDL) also known as the rear foot elevated squat. This exercise is unilateral and likely puts less stress on the low back.  Moreover, the BDL increases the emphasis on the legs, which likely stresses the glutes and quads more than squats, but most importantly it may decrease the risk of injury as the spine remains vertical, even with heavy weights. It also uses reciprocal hip activation (front of one leg and back of the other), similar to long axis swimming kicking.  

To summarize, squats alone are not a dry-land mistake if performed properly, but heavy loaded squats are potentially more injurious than other, similarly effective exercises like the BDL. Heavy squats are an advanced strength training exercise, yet most swimmers (even elites) are actually novices on dry-land. Heavy squats are fine if you have worked your way through the progression, which actually takes years of daily practice and which most swimmers have not achieved, nor should they, spend the time in the pool!

We wouldn't have a novice swimmer do sets of 200 flys...its obvious to any swimmer and swim coach that getting there takes years of progression and daily training. So why would we take swimmers who are relative beginners in the gym and give them exercises (heavy squats) that are equivalent to giving novice swimmers 200 fly sets? Before any exercises are prescribed a systematic screen is necessary for finding weak areas, then these should be addressed for swimmers of all ages. Just remember, keep the exercises safe, effective, and efficient, not matter the deviation found.

By G. John Mullen founder of 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.

Dryland Mistake: Stretching Part III

Dryland mistakes exist on pool decks across the World. This is an extended series hoping to improve these flawed programs and give practical methods for improvement.

If you have not read the other aspects of this series, make sure you get to them first! Dryland Mistake Stretching I and Dryland Mistake Stretching II cover the basics of stretching. This article discussed dynamic movements and mobility to improve an athlete’s blood flow and functionality outside of the pool.

Overall, the goal of these early installments was to question your current view on stretching. Moreover, hopefully it brought to light the risks and benefits of stretching, especially static stretching. In short, static stretching is ideal after an exhaustive exercise for reducing sympathetic over-activity.

Swimmers are busy, therefore finding each individuals ‘minimal effective dose’ for every activity helps limit waste. However, many people over stretch, spending far too much time on this process considering these benefits are possible in as little as 30 seconds of stretching daily (also checkout Yoga and Swimming).

In dryland misake: stretching part I, static stretching was the emphasis as this is the most common form on pool decks. However, there are different, beneficial types of stretching, this piece will address each of these forms.


As seen in the functional warm-up, dynamic stretching is ideal before exercise. Dynamic stretching utilizes dynamic movements thorough a full range of motion. This complex form of stretching involves contracting certain muscles (agonist) and relaxing other muscles (antagonist). In a front to back leg swing, such as, when your leg is swinging forward (similar to a downkick in freestyle) the hip flexors (quadriceps, iliopsoas) are contracting and the hamstring muscles are relaxing. This improves blood flow and prepare the body for exercise.

Unlike static stretching, dynamic stretching does not negatively affect running performance in trained runners (Zourdos 2009) and should be utilized before dry-land or workout for swimming warm-up and injury prevention.

Contract - Relax

Contract-relax (PNF) is what it sounds like: you stretch a muscle, contract it, then relax. To stretch your hamstring such as, first get into the stretching position, such as standing with one leg on a couch. Contracting a muscle inhibits the stretch reflex in this muscle, via an element in your spinal cord called a Renshaw cell. Renshaw cell tells the stretch reflex “don’t panic the muscle is already contracting, don’t overdo it” Feeling lasts for about 5 second window.

Short-duration static stretching appears to have a harmful effect on muscle strength, particularly in relation to proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching. However, short-duration proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching has no harmful effect on strength (Davis 2007).

Dr. Rushall reviewed one study indicating the negative effects of stretching, he elegantly described the current state of PNF stretching:

“PNF has an acute negative effect on muscle force production in both isometric and dynamic tasks. It might not be the type of stretching to be employed before performing activities that require high force production.

[This is the first study reviewed by this editor that has reported negative findings associated with PNF stretching. There are a number of considerations that need to be heeded when contemplating this investigation. From this editor's perspective, and that of the Coaching Science Abstracts, there is only one form of PNF stretching that is worthwhile. It was originally promoted by Lawrence E. Holt, Ph.D. as "3S Stretching" in his now out-of-date book, (Holt, L. E. (1973). Scientific Stretching for Sport. Halifax, Nova Scotia: Dalhousie University). Recently, the 3S technique was re-introduced by Humana Press of New Jersey (Holt, L. E., Pelham, T. W., & Holt, J. (2008). Flexibility: A Concise Guide to Conditioning, Performance Enhancement, Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation).
When evaluating stretching research, and in particular PNF stretching, it is helpful to consider the following factors:

  • What was the method used?
  • What controlled PNF sequence was used?
  • What were the tests used and the delay of time between exercise and testing?
  • How were the tests related to the stretching technique, that is, were the tests truly valid? [For example, in the study reported here, it is not clear when one and two legs were involved in stretching and/or testing.]
  • Was there a follow-up with a second test after a delay period to measure the duration of the effect?
Despite the various forms of PNF stretching that have developed deliberately or by a failure to adhere to the original protocol standard, there still is an overwhelming body of evidence that supports PNF stretching as being the only safe and beneficial form of deliberate stretching work. When it is combined with free-form "safe" ballistic stretching (now commonly referred to as "dynamic stretching"), its use in performance preparation is beneficial and advisable. BSR]”.

Self Soft Tissue Mobilization

Another form of “stretching” is self soft tissue work. The easiest and most commonly seen use of this form of stretching is self myofascial release (foam rolling, tennis ball rolling, etc.). Self soft tissue mobilization incorporates an external device to induce pressure on your muscles with the theoretical goal to 1) change muscle length, 2) decrease muscle tension and 3) create a counter-irritant to pain. This includes foam rolling, tennis balls or mobility sticks. These mobilizations are a poor man's massage tools is best suited before dry-land, practice, or on an off day.

This form of mobility is suggested to improve the quadriceps range of motion by 10 degrees after 10 minutes (Macdonald 2010).


  1. Zourdos, M. C., Wilson, J. M., Sommer, B. A., Hornbuckle, L. M., Park, Y., Lee, S., Panton, L. B., & Kim, J. (2009). The effects of dynamic stretching on endurance performance during a 30-minute time trial. ACSM 56th Annual Meeting, Seattle, Washington. Presentation number 807.
  2. Davis, J. E., & MacConnell, T. D. (2007). Acute effects of static and Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation stretching on muscle strength and range of motion. ACSM Annual Meeting New Orleans, Presentation Number, 2575.
  3. Moe, V., & Aune, T. K. (2009). The effect of stretching on muscle force production in hamstring muscles. A paper presented at the 14th Annual Congress of the European College of Sport Science, Oslo, Norway, June 24-27.
  4. Macdonald G, Penney M, Mullaley M, Cuconato A, Drake C, Behm DG, Button DC. An Acute Bout of Self Myofascial Release Increases Range of Motion Without a Subsequent Decrease in Muscle Activation or Force. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 May 10.
By G. John Mullen founder of 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.

Dryland Mistake: Stretching Part II

If you missed part I, checkout Dryland Mistake: Stretching.

Stretching Scares
Let me ask a quick question, would you do something if it increased injury risk, decreased power production, and increased soreness?

If you answered no, then why do you stretch?

If improvements were believed to occur due to changes in neural structures, would you still be interested in stretching? Or if you knew stretching a ligament by only six percent will tear it?

Hop on any deck and you'll see people performing stretching during warm-up and the main thought is to prevent injuries. This is commonly performed on the high injury areas in the sport (shoulders, knees, low back). However, injuries keep arising! Perhaps stretching isn't preventing injuries as we once thought.

Well the literature is a bit mixed. Hartig and Henderson in 1999 felt high frequency flexibility reduced injuries. However, Ingraham felt the opposite in 2003.

Who to believe?

Well both could be true, as Hartig and Henderson feel high frequency is key and Ingraham votes for low-intensity...more on this later.

Stretching may not even help during the recovery of an injury (Moseley 2005).

Moreover, increased mobility in the low-spine increases one's risk for injury (Parks 2003).

In the shoulder, excessive overhead motion (overhead sports, ie swimming) cause microdamage to the tendons, which is believed to result in instability and an increased risk of shoulder injury (Sein 2008).

As these are the two most common sites of injury in swimming, every step to prevent injury is essential and discontinuing stretching in these areas is a must!

Power/Strength/EnduranceSports performance is the name of the game in swimming. However many studies have found stretching directly before exercise results in decreased performance! This goes for force production (Behm 2001; Power 2004; Nelson 2001; Fry 2003; Kay 2012) and endurance (Kokkonen 2001, 2005).

One theory is stretching prevents the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) of the musculotendinous junction, decreasing stiffness and the ability to recoil. Another theory is stretching breaks down muscle fibers and results in soreness (see below), causing performance decrements.

Despite popular use, stretching directly before competing does not improve performance.

Stretching is a form of exercise and breaks down muscle fibers. This is believed to contribute to muscle soreness and result in more soreness (Smith 1993). In fact stretching has been shown not to effect muscle soreness (Henschke 2011).

Cryotherapy, stretching, homeopathy, ultrasound and electrical current modalities have demonstrated no effect on the alleviation of muscle soreness or other DOMS symptoms (Cheung 2003).

Maybe not all bad...

Some studies have found strength gains are associated with stretching (Kokkonen 1995; Kokken 200). However, this is typically with proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching.

Heart rate variability (HRV) is believed to measure sympathetic nervous system activity. This is the time between two consecutive heart beats.

Static stretching programs of 30 seconds are associated with an immediate increase in parasympathetic activity (Farinatti 2011). Mueck-Weymann 2004 suggests a 20 day stretching program is beneficial in decreasing sympathetic activity.

These improvements are larger in less mobile patrons, but potentially aide in recovery.

Dr. Rushall put it nicely in this Swimming Science Bulletin:
“The basic tenet of increasing flexibility needs to be reconsidered. What is the value of being able to move a joint through a greater range of movement than that which is endowed naturally or required for an activity?”

Rethink your mobility program, look at the research and anecdotal evidence, but don't just follow the herd!

  1. Bandy WD, Irion JM, Briggler MDepartment of Physical Therapy, University of Central Arkansas, Conway 72035, USA. J Strength Cond Res. 2005 Feb;19(1):27-32
  2. The effectiveness of 3 stretching techniques on hamstring flexibility using consistent stretching parameters. Davis DS, Ashby PE, McCale KL, McQuain JA, Wine JM.
  3. Parks KA, Crichton KS, Goldford RJ, McGill SM. A comparison of lumbar range of motion and functional ability scores in patients with low back pain: assessment for range of motion validity. Spine. 2003 Feb 15;28(4):380-4.
  4. Sein ML, Walton J, Linklater J, ct al. Shoulder Pain in Elite Swimmers: Primarily EXie to Swim-volume-induced Supraspinatus Tendinopathy. Br. } . Sp
  5. Clin Auton Res. 2004 Feb;14(1):15-8.Stretching increases heart rate variability in healthy athletes complaining about limited muscular flexibility. Mueck-Weymann M, Janshoff G, Mueck H.
  6. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Jun;25(6):1579-85 Acute effects of stretching exercise on the heart rate variability in subjects with low flexibility levels.
  7. Farinatti PT, Brandão C, Soares PP, Duarte AF. Effects on musculotendinous Junction
  8. Ryan, E. D., Herda, T. J., Hull, H. R., Hartman, M. J., Beck, T. W., Stout, J. R., & Cramer, J. T. (2008). Time course for the effects of passive stretching on musculotendinous stiffness: A dose-response study. ACSM 55th Annual Meeting Indianapolis, Presentation Number, 1365.
  9. Guissard, N., & Duchateau, J. (2004). Effect of static stretch training on neural and mechanical properties of the human plantar-flexor muscles. Muscle and Nerve, 29, 248-255.
  10. Kato, E. (2009). A 6-week stretching program alters mechanical and architectural properties of the gastrocnemius muscle-tendon unit. A paper presented at the 14th Annual Congress of the European College of Sport Science, Oslo, Norway, June 24-27. Effects of Stretching on Exercise
  11. Wilson, J. M., Hornbuckle, L. M., Kim, J., Sommer, B. A., Lee, S., Diah, T., Dalmau, B., Mendez, D., & Panton, L. B. (2008). The effects of static stretching on energy cost and endurance performance during treadmill running. ACSM 55th Annual Meeting Indianapolis. Presentation number 699.
  12. Esposito, F., Limontal, E., Cè, E., & Veicsteinas, A. (2009). Effect of acute passive stretching on maximum aerobic power and time to exhaustion. ACSM 56th Annual Meeting, Seattle, Washington. Presentation number 742.
  13. Kokkonen, J., Nelson, A. G., & Arnall, D. A. (2001). Acute stretching inhibits strength endurance performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33(5), Supplement abstract 53.
By G. John Mullen founder of 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.