Swimming Energy Calculator

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Swim Energy Usage


RER Value Guide

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

Freestyle data

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Flat Feet ... No Wait Strong Feet!

Last July, I contributed an article to the Swim Brief postulating why Warm Cities, produce Fast Swimmers. My first point was:

"Hands and Feet
I'm shocked at the amount of people in California who wear sandals or no shoes at all, all the time!

I repeatedly have to remind kids to bring real shoes to dry-land. One particular kid sleeps in a hammock, so I guess I shouldn't expect anything else. 

In Ohio, and I'm guessing most of the Midwest, people wear shoes all the time! When I say all the time, I mean every waking second, until they go to bed. 

Even in bed many Midwesterners, like myself, wear socks (I'm trying to knock the habit). This desensitization doesn't only happen in the feet, but also in the hands. During cold spells, gloves help keep the body warm, but also desensitize oneself to sensation.

The cortex is complicated, which neither I, nor anyone else fully understands. However, literature suggests repeated use of an area increases cortex size and firing. Therefore, desensitization (gloves, socks, and shoes) may decrease their cortical size. Moreover, the hands and feet are highly innervated structures. This makes sense, as cave men/women we needed sensitive feet to prevent stepping on rocks and our society still uses their hands excessively making this neural structure necessary.

Unfortunately, desensitization is devastating for feel in the water. Often times, feel is only discussed for the hands, but the feet also feel. In California (and I'd imagine other warm states), the lack of shoes and gloves increases sensitivity and use of these areas, theoretically increasing the cortical demand and size, improving feel (Mullen 2012)."

Upon reflection, I thought of another benefit of not wearing shoes must be discussed: the flattening of feet.

This thought lead me to ... PubMed, time for some research.

Upon reflection, I found an interesting study by Rao (1992) concluding:

"Flat foot was most common in children who wore closed-toe shoes, less common in those who wore sandals or slippers, and least in the unshod. Our findings suggest that shoe-wearing in early childhood is detrimental to the development of a normal longitudinal arch (Rao 1992)".
Well this study certainly did not support my theory.

Once again, this caused me to reflect, if wearing a shoe increases flat feet, then why do I feel those who don't wear shoes are superior swimmers...

Another thought crossed my mind, after reading the Rao study, perhaps not wearing shoes increases the strength of the foot muscles, increasing their ability to "grab" and "feel" water with their feet. Rao et al. did theorize the lack of flat feet in those who didn't wear shoes was due to increased foot strength.
Once again, this is purely speculative, but if a swimmer obtains greater sensitization and strength of the foot musculature at the feet, they likely can move more water with the feet. 
In swimming, the role of the kick can be debated, but the importance of being able to push backwards with the feet is not. Even if you feel the feet are negligible for propulsion (Rushall 2011), it is still necessary to move water with the feet to balance the perturbations of the body caused by the arms and body. 

Now, I haven't proved that a flat foot isn't more beneficial for swimming, as it may increase the surface area to push water backwards, but this review did support the notion of increasing overall foot strength is ideal for swimming propulsion. However, much more research is necessary before mandates are warranted.


  1. Rao UB, Joseph B. The influence of footwear on the prevalence of flat foot. A survey of 2300 children. J Bone Joint Surg Br. 1992 Jul;74(4):525-7.
  2. Rushall, B. S. Swimming Pedagogy and a Curriculum for Stroke Development. 2nd ed. Spring Valley: Sports Science Associates, 2011.
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 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.

Why to Relax the Ankles?

Reducing drag is associated with swimming success. For all the strokes, a straight line from the hands to the feet reduces drag. One area with high drag are the ankles, which Allan Phillips has discussed in great detail on this website (Ankles and Swimming Part II, Ankles and Swimming Part I, Ankles and Swimming Part III, Ankles and Swimming Part IV).

Through these volumes of writing, the ability to relax the ankles is seldom discussed. Now, it is crucial to have large ankle plantarflexion (pointing) range of motion for decreasing drag, none are likely to discount this necessity, but is forcefully maintaining fixed ankle pointing the best route for swimming success? Swimming, like all sports, requires a specific amount of tension and relaxation for balancing proper biomechanics and energy conservation. This balance is key throughout the whole body, as each joint contributes to this delicate continuum. Luckily, these two areas commonly work together, but the ankles are one area where an over emphasis on reducing drag may cripple specific swimmers maximally forcing their ankles down during an entire race.

Now, this article does not have an answer for the most ideal foot position, as this balance likely requires individualization for each specific race. However, is it possible excessively pointing the ankles may induce early fatigue in many swimmers?

One case example was addressed in Sun Yang 1500 Swimming Stroke Analysis London 2012. As the frames depict, this elite swimmer relaxes his ankles at the beginning of the upkick, seemingly whipping his heels back to the surface of the water. Does this action conserve energy? Create energy? Speed the tempo of the kick? These are essential questions to consider as a coach as one size never fits everyone.

Finding the balance between each individual, distance, and stroke are essential for swimming success. Ankle relaxation is another area which requires a balance between energy conservation and maximal velocity. What do you coaches suggest? Maximal ankle pointing and relaxed ankles?

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.

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


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

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.

Dryland Mistakes: Spinal Flexion

This series will delve into the most common exercises used in swimming dryland programs. Each week I will discuss why they are performed, why they shouldn't be performed or how they are being performed incorrectly, then options for improvement.

Step away from the oven, this hotly debated topic can be felt from Santa Clara, CA to Dubai. This debate isn't exclusive to swimmers, but ranges from strength and conditioning to allied health care professionals. It's hard to believe a body weight (mostly) exercise with minimum range of motion can be such a cause for concern. 

The wake of this debate started when research was released correlating the problems associated with repeated spinal flexion. These studies were done on cadaveric porcine (pig) spines and resulted in disc herniations and the association between spinal flexion and disc herniations began. This early research was performed by Dr. Stuart McGill and lead the way for anti-crunch cults and activist for the New Rules of Lifting have become dominant. These activists have transformed popular belief and have recently made crunches seem more terminal than pancreatic cancer. While this simple association seems appropriate, is the topic of crunches this cut and dry or are crunches/sit-ups getting a bad wrap?  

This confusion has led to a cloud of confusion and exacerbation of the inverse knowledge theory, the more theories, the less is known about the subject. Don't worry this comprehensive look at crunches and spinal flexion will tackle the 300-lb obese coach in the room and cut the fat to looking at the bare bone essentials when it comes to crunches/sit-ups regarding proper form, integration into programming and methods for improvement.

Ecclesial Teaching

All professions have leaders and followers, coaching is no different. These leaders are often highly vocal and persuasive, passing on their ideas and views on various subjects. The followers are excellent at integrating systems and passing on information. Unfortunately, the leaders can be too confident and/or wrong and the followers can be too passive and gullible.

This logic does not simply lie on crunches, but even coaching and training philosophies. Often times, coaches continue to perform training programs which they have seen work for a few athletes, but who is to say these athletes will not improve with any program they believe in. The mind is a powerful tool and if athletes believe in what they are doing and they are talented they will succeed if the program is at least 50% (pulled this out of the air, but I feel at least 50%) at par with the best thing for them. Another consideration is that there are multiple "perfect training programs" for athletes. Unfortunately, this idea is often shot down like Cullen Jones at the end of a LCM 200 fly as all coaches believe their program is superior to all others.

This current mind set is the opposite of scientific reasoning and will continue to impede progress in the sport. An open mind to all theories and belief must be considered, then after all the considerations a proper approach and attack must be applied, then reflected.

After looking at the research, it appears (like many things), a considerable amount of spinal flexion exercises can be beneficial in your dryland training programs. Unfortunately, most coaches are either in the "crunch instead of brunch" or in the "death crunch" camp.

Research Reproductions

Unfortunately, research and abstracts can be misleading and used to support certain approaches without fully showing a complete consensus.

In the porcine studies noted earlier there were numerous "claims" made by researchers and readers of the papers. The most glaring is this study wasn't directly performed on humans, ...here are some of the questions regarding these studies:
  • Improper Regimen: This study did not mimic typical crunching regimens performed by coaches or general population. This study used repeated lumbar flexion for approximately 1,000 straight movements.
  • No Muscles or Disc? The pigs were also stripped off their muscle and the discs were not functioning properly due to dehydration. Unlike theses pig, most of us (synchronized swimmers may be an exception) have muscle to help protect the spine. Moreover, we have disc filled with fluid allowing pressure to change due to the center of pressure. For example, if we crunch forward, the fluid moves backward. If we lean back, the fluid moves forward. These are generalizations, but fluid movement does occur and help distribute pressure.
  • Spine Size: These models have much shorter spines, changing pressure distributions.
  • Proper Form: If done properly (we'll go over this later), the crunch should exhibit minimum to no movement in the lumbar spine. In fact, all the motion should occur in the thoracic spine with the lumbar spine stable. This stability is essential for all athletes, especially for those who athletes who can do an elevated split while feeling a mild stretch in the adductors...mild, flexibility and instability are close cousins, make sure your athletes have proper stability to match their mobility!
What's Good

As a Doctor of Physical Therapy, I only hear colleagues discuss the problems and potential harm of crunches/sit-ups. We are turning into a group of hypochondriacs and I wouldn't be surprised to go to a clinic and see the whole place covered in bubble wrap. Let's not kid ourselves therapist, benefits can occur from spinal flexion especially in athletics when performed properly.

Improved Nutrition Distribution: A crunch will move disc fluid. This fluid will move all over, but if basic physics prevail, the fluid should move towards posterior.

Rectus Abdominal Hypertrophy: Simply put crunches will build rectus abdominus hypertrophy, allowing the body to handle more stresses and adapt to aberrant movements. This improvement in muscle mass is mainly due to the eccentric phase of the exercise, making this superior to the isometric abdominal exercises which lead to less hypertrophy.

Athletic Performance: Believe it or not, crunches will enhance athletic performance. Spinal flexion is common during athletics. The recuts abdominus is the main spinal flexor and spinal flexion is used repeatedly in swimming, think as obviously as flip turns and as broadly as butterfly kicking.

Magical Number?
The piggy models have an finite number of spinal flexion movements before discs herniated and chaos ensued. Despite the aforementioned "problems" with their study, many health care professionals, personal trainers and coaches don't prescribe the crunch secondary to this mythical number. However, there are many professional athletes who have disproved to this issue. Many elite, professional and Olympic athletes have performed millions of crunches throughout their life and not all of these athletes exhibit low back pain. Are all of these persons outliers or do they perform proper technique? I don't think so.

Many of these professional athletes support crunches/sit-ups almost bragging about the volume they perform daily. Legendary football player Herschel Walker boosts the fact he performs 3,500 sit-ups daily!  This may be a bit extreme, but no one can deny is athletic prowess.

More Research Contraindicating Spinal Flexion
The three piggies study is not the only research paper looking at spinal flexion and spine health. Numerous studies have looked at this movement and hypothesized the risk/benefit of the movement. Search PubMed and you will find a plethora of articles, it took me 10 minutes to find 13 articles doubting the efficacy of crunches and not recommending the movement. 

More Problems

The finite number of flexion movements isn't the only case against crunches/sit-ups. Many people believe repeatedly performing this movement will lead to poor posture. Spinal flexion focuses on strengthening and hypertrophy to the rectus abdominus. This muscle runs from the ribs and sternum to the pelvis. If this muscle is over worked and tight, it will shorten and cause a rounded back (kyphosis)...at least this is the theory. Their theory is based on the idea of "adaptive shortening". Adaptive shortening is the process of holding a muscle being statically in one position for a long duration, causing a shortened muscle. Adaptive shortening is a physiological response to a statically shortened muscle where the sarcomeres become overlapped and shortened.

Unfortunately, adaptive shortening is a long process and based on people wearing slings and casts...a bit of a stretch (no pun intended) from crunches. Another flaw this theory assumes is that the rectus abdominus only shortens during spinal flexion, but . spinal flexion utilizes shortening and elongating (concentric and eccentric motions).

A more appropriate concern is that the idea of crunches may create a muscle imbalance and perpetuate/lead to injuries. This problem could arise if improper programming is performed and each athlete performs an infinite number of crunches (anyone have problems with the term infinite numbers, the SCSC Pro Swimmers had a lot of issues. Another popular subject is which precious metals would be most popular during a Zombie Apocalypse....what do you think?).

Another group of people feel that crunching leads to over working the chest, shoulder and neck muscles leading to improper breathing. This does occur, but once again it is due to poor programming and unqualified people running strength and conditioning programs. Also, thousands of case studies of athletes make the argument against this case.


Alright, you've managed to read this far give yourself a nice butt tap, good work. Now you may be convinced that doing crunches won't perpetuate dysfunction and give you injuries, but are they functional, sport specific movement? Functionality with every exercise is the biggest and best fad in lifting. I admit, I use functional training, but not for everything! One must ask themselves, what is the desired output?  Once this is determined, then the appropriateness of functionality can be determined. I train multiple sprinters who need to work on force production. I'm not going to have them doing horizontal presses with 5 pound ankle weights. These athletes will be doing heavy, explosive lifts to increase growth hormone release and overall force production necessary to get their ass to the other end AS FAST AS POSSIBLE!!! Functionality has it's purpose, but don't be closed minded, if you are move to China I heard they need some more drones.

Proper Form

I mean, I've already been to numerous clinics where an unqualified volunteer or random homeless people fresh off of Skid Row are instructing "proper" exercise form to their clients. This runs rampant in personal training where those with genetically gifted bodies are yelling at stay at home wives to get their ass in gear to physical therapy/chiropractics where the patient is tossed over to an assistant or aide.

As stated, there should be no lumbar movement during the crunch; movement should derive from the thoracic spine. Therefore, the range of motion may be decreased, but the effort required will still be high. Cue the athlete to move the chest towards the sky, lifting their shoulder blades off the floor.


The dryland mistake I see during crunches is with proper form and sequence. Proper sequence must be achieved. Also, I feel the crunch should not be the beginner exercise, if done properly this should be a moderate to advance abdominal exercise. First and foremost, pure core stability with ZERO spinal movement must be achieved in all athletics. Once stability is achieved, then

then sport specific exercises (long and short axis) can be pursued, but not before stability is achieved!!

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.

Swimmers vs. Body Builders

I'm going to share a secret with all of you...the best method to gain strength is to EAT. This means eating anything and everything. The bigger one is the more mass he can move. Eating more will increase your muscle cross sectional area, increase the amount of muscle cross-bridges and increase force production. Unfortunately, in swimming and many other sports, too much mass can yield high water resistance, this is why bodybuilder's aren't typically on the pool deck (Just because they wear Speedos, doesn't mean they can swim).
Many swimmers need to build relative strength. Relative strength is an athlete’s ability to produce a maximum amount of force for their size. As most of you know, I'm not a big guy, approximately 5 feet 10 inches in height and 160 pounds. I'll never forget the looks I received while working with NHL and NBA players when I lived in Los Angles. I know everyone wondered why these elite athletes were taking orders from a "scrawny" white kid who showed up suited and booted for training. I even know other personal trainers from various backgrounds look down on me for my size, but I strive for similar goals with my athletes -- relative strength.

Hell, head to the DMV and you will find many individuals which are bigger than me because they eat and get bigger (most likely have cardiovascular disease or type II diabetes, but that's erroneous in this case). However, you often times do not see a little guy performing immaculate feats of strength on a regular basis. Who doesn't remember Gil Stovall making the Olympics? This 5'8" Olympian would be passed by everyone, even swimmers with no acknowledgement of his athletic talent. At COR, we strive to achieve athletic greatness for athletes of all sizes, realizing the importance of being strong for a specific weight.

As a relative strength athlete and with this my focus, I have been fortunate enough to have an enlightened perspective on the nutritional and athletic needs for these types of athletes, without adding non-functional mass (however, this is mandatory in some instances).

Unfortunately, many strength coaches and personal trainers get into training to improve absolute strength. This leads to mass confusion about which forms of training are best for absolute strength athletes. I remember being in college and reluctant to training designed for athletes with an entirely different need, this happens far too often and is inhibiting elite athletes from reaching their swimming optimization. How many strength coaches know a lick about swimming? How can they design programs surrounding the needs of swimmers if their main goal is to get as big as possible or help a football player add 50 pounds on the offensive line....

To help debunk these absolute strength coaches and confused minds, I have put together a top five lie list associated with relative strength training. These principles have been practiced to help athletes break through plateaus in training and reach for the next level.

Lie Number 1: Weight Lifting will Put on Mass

This old adage will never die! This has plagued the swimming community as long as instructing swimmers to do an "S-Curved" catch (the S-curve is relative to body rotation, it doesn't need to be stressed...a topic for another day). Improving relative strength is essential and resistance training with various repetition training needs to be utilized to improve muscular imbalances, prevent injuries and optimize performance. This will be achieved with various rep ranges.

Some people feel performing low volume on every exercise with maximal load will not put on mass, others feel doing high repetitions with low load will not put on mass. These thoughts are both incorrect as one needs to implement variable loads. One wouldn't do 2 reps on a prevention exercise! Also, lifting heavy weights for a few repetitions help many athletes, since swimming requires different stressors.

Lie Number 2: Weight Change is All the Same

Many athletes eat terrible, simple carbohydrate and excessive diet soda, leading to extra blubber. Though it may be true whales utilize blubber to float, swimmers need to strive for improvements in body composition. Just a few days ago, I was on deck with one of my older swimmers and he joked that him and I had lower body fat percentage than the rest of the team and performed much less volume. I chalk this solely up to dietary alterations and being able to utilize high muscle mass to burn fat mass. Also, the blubber is probably not making you a better athlete (mile swimmers and open water athletes may benefit from a little extra blubber, but not as much as everyone thinks). I discussed body composition in an earlier post, discussing the confusion and ignorance of society and actual body fat percentage, this happens in the swim community as well.

Everyone claims to have approximately 3% body fat, but this is highly untrue and perpetuate from ignorant trainers at the gym. To have a true body fat percentage reading a DEXA scan is mandatory. If I had to estimate I'd say the majority of your male swimmers have approximately 12-15% body fat and your females are closer to 20%. I'm not trying to shatter your confidence, I'm being honest, we all have work to do on body composition. All male swimmers should be striving for 8-10% body fat and females between 13-17%. Not to puff my own chest, but I've always had an extremely lean and defined physique and the lowest I have ever been on the DEXA is 9%, so I doubt your male athletes are walking around with sub 5%!

Lie Number 3: Weight Lifting is Dangerous

A weight lifting program with proper instruction and monitoring is no more dangerous than hours in the pool, simply put. This is why swim coaches need to get their ass in gear and become familiar with proper lifting techniques or reach out to a qualified professional when necessary. I mean I don't mind working with swimmers and injuries, but it's sad to hear the horror stories of injuries which could have been easily prevented. While I'm ranting, how is the United States ranked 12th in the world for broadband connection speed...ridiculous!

Anyway, weight lifting should be a must for all athletes and especially swimmers. Swimmers have highly developed areas of their body (shoulder internal rotators, hip flexors, etc.) which can become more balanced outside of the pool in the weight room.

I'm also going to break a bit of bad news to all your high school and collegiate coaches, half of your female swimmers have a devastating, life altering disease which you can help reverse....Osteopenia (pre-osteoporosis). Everyone has heard of the older adults falling down, breaking their hip and dying soon in the hospital. If you are not using resistance training with your team, you might as well write them a prescription for Boniva in 2020 and tell them to work on their balance. If you think I'm over reacting, look an extract from a recent study:

"Study demonstrated more discouraging results as the collegiate female swimmers had lower bone mineral density (BMD) during the preseason by 10-15% compared to all other sports with the largest difference in the lower body, pelvis and spine mineral density. In fact, their total body BMD of 1.121 g/cm2 puts them more than two standard deviations from the mean for their age, indicating a risk for osteoporosis"

Put this on top of any eating disorders your females may have...help them by getting them in the weight room. Don't perpetuate the problem, help stop it in the tracks, remember as coaches we must improve our swimmers health in the present and future.

Lie Number 4: You Have to Starve Yourself

Some swimmers (mostly females...not to point fingers) have the misconception that strict dietary restrictions are necessary to prevent large mass gains. This is far from the truth, dangerous and impedes performance. Relative strength athletes' consumption is far more important than their absolute strength counterparts. If a swimmer does not eat adequately, their body will run on fumes and will be forced to use gluconeogenesis to form glucose (energy) by degrading amino acids. This outcome is disastrous for performance and health. Building lean body mass (muscle) is essential for optimal performance and maintaining correct fat mass. Lean body mass is the most metabolic form of mass in the body, this is why large muscle bound individuals can consume more calories, they need to feed the beast!

Instead of volume restrictions, nutrient timing and food selection are healthier and beneficial options. Some swimmers will not eat during workouts, to avoid putting on more mass. These swimmers also feel that workout drinks like Surge are a bad idea and lead to weight gain. This is far from the truth and I feel these skinny minnies need Surge and similar drinks more than their bigger counterparts. Small athletes can typically go for a while, and then they suddenly hit a wall. Sometimes an extra boost is needed to scale this wall, preventing increased levels in cortisol and skeletal muscle catabolism. These two physiological results are the reason why skinny jean guys feel like Muammar Gaddafi after a tough workout. Don't exercise on fumes, fuel the fire.

Being able to maintain a higher training frequency is essential for swimmers. No matter if your program is more yardage based like Gregg Troy or analytical like Dave Salo, frequency is the key for these athletes. Think about it, neural drive is a huge component in swimming; this is why a swimmer can miss only 1-2 days of swimming and feel like a wet noodle when they return to the pool. This is also why weak individuals on land can be so good in the water; they have the neural drive and "feel" for the water. Frequency is the key, no coach will deny this. Provide yourself with the tools to handle the frequency and recover.

Lie Number 5: Eccentrics/Negatives Build Mass

This statement does not apply to many swim coaches, because unfortunately many swim coaches do not know what eccentric means. Let’s break down the three phases of muscle contraction: concentric, isometric, and eccentric. To illustrate the differences lets use a bicep curl (you know curls for the girls!)
Curls + bluetooth=infinite girls

  • Concentric: This is the common action associated with muscle contraction. In the bicep curl, when you lift the weight towards your upper arm you are performing a concentric contraction.
  • Isometric: Isometric literally means zero movement. When you hold the weight at the top of your bicep curl you are performing an isometric hold
  • Eccentric: As you lower the weight, the muscle fibers are stretched and ripped apart. This highly damages the muscle and causes increased soreness (have you ever been sore 24-48 hours after performing an exercise, you are experiencing DOMS: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness secondary to the eccentric phase of the motion).

Despite the belief of eccentrics or negatives making an athlete huge, these forms of movement can be beneficial in the following ways:
  1. Improve tendinopathies. If you've read any of my pieces, you will know that every athlete's body is messed up. Every swim team has swimmers with tendinopathies and labral tears left and right. Eccentric movements help strength and heal tendinopathies, specifically tendinosis.
  2. Improved connective tissue health. If you are performing longer eccentric exercises, then the time under tension (TUT) is increased. This is valuable in connective tissue health.
  3. Improve strength. Using supramaximal lifts can help an athlete gain confidence holding a weight. Moreover, it can help build tendon strength. This should be used sparingly, but must be used during specific phases of training.

I hope this article cleared up some items about resistance training and swimming. There are many benefits for resistance training and swimming, if you don't perform resistance training you are behind the ball. However, make sure a proper individualized program is performed. Many swim coaches do not know the basics of resistance training, so you may have to look elsewhere for training (not a knock, many strength coaches don't know what they're doing either).

If you don't resistance train as you feel it will make you too big or you were told by your coach it won't help, it is time to start erasing the lies. Don't spread the lies any further, begin passing along the truth today!

  • Carbuhn A, Fernandez T, Bragg A, Green J, Crouse S. Sport and training influence bone and body composition in women collegiate athletes. J Strength Cond Res. Jul 2010;24(7):1710-1717.
  • Cressey, E. Relative Strength Myths. T Nation. 
  • Guadalupe-Grau A, Fuentes T, Guerra B, Calbet J. Exercise and bone mass in adults.Sports Med. 2009;39(6):439-468.
  • Hallström H, Melhus H, Glynn A, Lind L, Syvänen A, Michaëlsson K. Coffee consumption and CYP1A2 genotype in relation to bone mineral density of the proximal femur in elderly men and women: a cohort study. Nutr Metab (Lond).2010;7:12.
  • Mudd L, Fornetti W, Pivarnik J. Bone mineral density in collegiate female athletes: comparisons among sports. J Athl Train. 2007 Jul-Sep 2007;42(3):403-408.
  • Velez N, Zhang A, Stone B, Perera S, Miller M, Greenspan S. The effect of moderate impact exercise on skeletal integrity in master athletes. Osteoporos Int. Oct 2008;19(10):1457-1464.
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.

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.
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.

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:

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.
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.


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.).


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.


  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.

Knee Hyperextension and Kicking: Is it Trainable?

This series of posts will address attributes found in elite swimmers. Remember there is a thin line between injury/dysfunction and elite level athletes, so be cautious!
A common trait of many elite freestyle and backstroke kickers is the ability to hyperextend the knee while kicking.  Knee hyperextension creates a more powerful lever arm to generate force.  Extreme laxity at the knee also allows the leg to transfer energy like the crack of a whip. 

At the other extreme are poor kickers (novice swimmers and triathletes) who maintain knee flexion throughout an entire kick cycle and transfer very little energy into propulsion.  In trying to emulate the traits of the best swimmers in the world, we reach our main question: Is knee hyperextension trainable?  

Clinically, a hyperextended knee in passive standing posture is referred to as genu recurvatum.  Because ligamentous structures are at high risk via hyperextension (as compared with muscles or tendons, which are more malleable), this certainly is an area to tread with caution.  On land, knee hyperextension is frequently linked to injuries such as anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears.  However, because land-based ACL tears typically occur via a closed chain movement with the foot anchored on the ground, this risk is not as great in the water.  Passive hyperextension has also been shown to cause both ACL and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) tears (Meyer 2011), but since the study was done with cadavers, the subjects could not provide the deceleration needed to prevent a rupture.  

One thing is clear from the research: if you are going to train knee hyperextension, the largest window of opportunity exists in youth.  Overall joint laxity and knee extension decreases as kids get older.  If we look at other sports requiring extreme ranges of motion (pitching in baseball, splits in gymnastics and dance), a common thread is exposure to the activity at a young age.  Knee hyperextension may still be trainable at older ages, but is definitely easier when young.  Gender differences are present as well: joint laxity decreases sooner in males than in females. (Hinton 2009; Shultz 2008)

Other factors
Limb dominance also affects laxity (Lin 2009):  It is easier to create knee extension in the dominant leg than the non-dominant leg.  Note that the dominant leg is often different than the dominant arm.  

Posture characteristics: Shultz (2009) found that genu recurvatum, less anterior pelvic tilt, and navicular drop (lower arch in the foot) were predictive of anterior knee laxity in both genders.  A reduced tibiofemoral angle in women and greater hip anteversion in men were also predictive of anterior knee laxity.  

Tibial translation after a swimming workout was not statistically significant: After a swimming workout, tibial translation did not change significantly in a group of elite swimmers (Kvist 2006).  This result would suggest that increasing knee extension in adults requires dryland interventions in addition to kick training in the water.

Training implications
To maximize the window of opportunity for kids, young swimmers should be exposed to fast kicking in short bursts.  Save the gentle two beat distance kick for adolescence and beyond.  One analogy is to baseball players and golfers who are encouraged to swing as hard as they can and then learn control later.  The best chance to safely explore extreme mobility is with kids.  It is much easier to make a powerful kick more efficient than the other way around.

However, one thing to consider from the research is that studies have not definitively concluded that knee laxity is independent of overall joint laxity.  In other words, improving overall flexibility may yield improvements at the knee joint even without local interventions.  Before trying to improve knee extension, coaches must ensure the athlete can passively and dynamically add range of motion.  If added range of motion is possible, in-water and dryland training must develop passive and dynamic stability to control the added range.  
Hinton, R., Rivera, V, Pautz, M., Sponseller P.  Ligamentous laxity of the knee during childhood and adolescence.  Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics.  2008 Mar 28(2): 184-7.

Kvist, J., Cunningham, D., Tigerstrand-Weklemark, H.  Gender Differences in post-exercise saggital knee translation in comparison between elite volleyball players and swimmers.  Knee. 2006 Mar 13(2): 132-6.

Lin, HC, Lai, WH, Shih, YF, Chang, CM, Lo, CY, Hsu, HC. Physiological anterior laxity in healthy young females: the effect of knee hyperextension and dominance.  Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, and Arthroscopy. 2009 Sep 17 (9): 1083-8.

Meyer, E., Baumer. T., Haut, R.  Pure passive hyperextension of the human cadaver knee generates simultaneous bicruciate ligament rupture. Journal of Biomechanical Engineering. 2011 Jan 133(1): 011012.

Shultz, J., Nguyen, A., Schmitz, R. Differences in lower extremity anatomical and postural characteristics in males and females between maturation groups.  Journal of Orthopedic Sports Physical Therapy.  2008 Mar 38(3): 137-49

Shultz, J., Nguyen, A., Levine, B. The Relationship Between Lower Extremity Alignment Characteristics and Anterior Knee Joint Laxity.  Sports Health.  2009 Jan; 1(1): 56-60

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