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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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48g Carbs
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Drills to Ditch: Side kicking and 6-beat switch

Take Home Points on Drills to Ditch
    1. Hip rotation may contribute less to rotation than previous belief
    2. Hip stability is crucial for energy transfer
    3. Reconsider drills that teach hip rotation beyond the degree used in the full stroke
      Many non-scientific beliefs exist in swimming. One form of dogma is the role of hip

      rotation in long axis strokes.  Conventional wisdom says that increasing hip rotation is critical for propulsion, hydrodynamics, and healthy biomechanics.  While most would agree that a completely flat stroke devoid of any rotation is suboptimal, there’s great uncertainty in how much is optimal, both in general terms and for each individual.

      Some factors that may dictate hip rotation include:
      • Individual stroke preferences: Different types of freestyle (Body Roll in Freestyle)
      • Injury patterns: Some swimmers must adjust their strokes to avoid pain, as everyone brings different alignment to the pool.
      • Event: It has been suggested that sprinters require less hip rotation than middle distance and distance swimmers.
      • Kicking patterns: 2 beat versus 6 beat kick may dictate body roll patterns.
      Unfortunately, most data on hip rotation comes from the naked eye and from 2D still and video images.  Unlike land based sports such as baseball, golf, and tennis, there is far less data on swim strokes readily available to the coach.  Still there has been enough research for authors such as Maglischo (2003) to conclude,

      "Rolling the body from side to side is essential to efficient front-crawl and backstroke swimming, although not for the reasons usually espoused.  Body roll does not add to propulsive force, except indirectly."

      In an interview on this site, Dr. Jan Prins noted from research in his own lab (paraphrased):

      "Because water is unstable, stability must come from the hips. Hips are translators of velocity and roll in reaction to movements of the hands and feet. Hip velocity tells us how fast you are going. People assume you roll your body but that is incorrect. Previous biomechanical models were based on fixed resistance (land), but water is an unstable medium. Hip stability allows force transfer initiated by the hands and feet. Roll occurs naturally via arm extension. Don’t try to swim on your side like a fish." 

      Previously, Dr. John had begun a series on drillsto ditch segment focusing on traditional drills that deserve rethinking.  The discussion here begs the question whether drills involving side kicking merit continued use in light of what we know (or don’t know) about hip rotation.  Now, if the purpose of the drill is to improve side kicking (such as out of a wall), then perhaps that is more defensible.  But if the goal is to teach a swimmer to swim on their side mid-pool, the latter justification seems to sit on shakier ground. 

      Two drills coming to mind are side kicking and 6-kick switch on side.  Both drills may have merit for coaching beginners with zero concept of body rotation, but do they have merit for anyone beyond the beginner level (if even for novices?)?  Ultimately, there is no definitive answer, but given what the trends are regarding hip stability, perhaps any attempt to exaggerate hip rotation may infect the overall stroke pattern that we are aiming for. 


      While part of this post is as much theory and conjecture as the drills themselves, it does reflect how much is still unknown in this area.  Anecdotally there seems to a movement away from emphasizing hip rotation for the sake of hip rotation, as many now recognize that more factors come into play.  Ultimately, our drill selection should follow accordingly with changes in knowledge.    

      1. Maglischo, E.  Swimming Fastest.  Human Kinetics.  2003
      Written by Allan Phillips is a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) and owner of Pike Athletics. He is also an ASCA Level II coach and USA Triathlon coach. Allan is a co-author of the Troubleshooting System and was selected by Dr. Mullen as an assistant editor of the Swimming Science Research Review. He is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Physical Therapy at US Army-Baylor University.

      Hip Pain: Increase in Injury or Diagnosis?

      The incidence of hip abnormalities are dramatically increasing in all athletes. In swimmers, the breast kick is the most provocative to the hip joint, as the femoral head excessively rubs the acetabulum in areas of thin cartilage which I've discussed for Swimming World with Hip Pain in Swimmers. In this piece, I briefly discuss the increase in hip injury diagnosis and question if this rise in diagnosis is due an increased rate of injuries or simply from improved imaging techniques. More importantly, are athletic individuals being over diagnosed with hip injuries on diagnostic imaging, similar to the low back and shoulder which show an high rate of structural abnormalities, even in those without symptoms?

      A recent study by Register et al. analyzed hip images in asymptomatic individuals and found 73% had abnormalities in their hip, with the majority of these being labral pathologies which accounted for 69% of the injuries.

      Unfortunately, this study analyzed hips of active, not athletic individuals, with an average age of 38. However, one could argue a swimmer (specifically breast) would have more wear and tear at the hip compared to someone nearly twice their age. Future studies are necessary to look at the hips of athletes and determine if structural abnormalities are the cause or simply correlated with hip pain. However, it seems structural abnormalities are not always the cause of symptoms (as seen in the shoulders (Radiologic Imaging and the Asymptomatic Athletic Shoulder) and low back (10 Minute Solution: Low Back Pain Part I)), but may simply correlate with symptoms. Keep this in mind in those receiving imaging of the hip and ask, is this a new or old structural defect? 


      1. Register B, Pennock AT, Ho CP, Strickland CD, Lawand A, Philippon MJ. Prevalence of Abnormal Hip Findings in Asymptomatic Participants: A Prospective, Blinded Study. Am J Sports Med. 2012 Oct 25. [Epub ahead of print]
      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 Felicia Lee

      1) Please introduce yourself to the readers (how you started in swimming,education, experience, etc.).
      My name is Felicia Lee and I’m 19 years old. I’ve been swimming since I was about three, starting in the water just to learn safety and then when I was four, I joined my first swim team because my brother did. I’m originally from Wayne, New Jersey but when I was 12 I relocated to Baltimore, Maryland to swim for the prestigious North Baltimore Aquatic Club in order to get faster. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to compete internationally with the National Junior Team and the National Team, which I have been a member of since 2009. Currently I attend and compete for Stanford University.

      2) What is your current training schedule?
      A typical training schedule during the season would be swimming every day from 3:30-5:30 p.m. Monday thru Friday. Monday/Wednesday/Friday’s we also have morning practice from 6-8 a.m. and on Saturday we swim from 8-10 a.m. In addition to the pool workouts we have dryland/weights Monday to Friday from 2:30 p.m. -3:30 p.m.

      3) How do you incorporate mobility and stretching into your training?
      Before we start our dryland/weight workouts we also do a stretching routine to get the muscles ready for whatever might be in store for us. On my own, I like to stretch my hip flexors and quads a lot because they tend to get tight and sore the easiest.

      4) What aspects of your back and fly are you currently concentrating on?
      I think the most important aspect I am focusing on is utilizing and maximizing my potential in underwater kicking. I tend to not use this skill of the walls very efficiently, so this season I’ve been making a point to focus on it. This works for both fly and back.

      5) What drills/activities are you doing to achieve this?
      Recently Lea Maurer (my coach) has extended a stretch cord around the half way point of the pool…the goal of the game is to kick under the cord off of each walls. This gets especially tough as we increase in distance (usually starting at 50’s and moving our way up the 200’s).

      6) In your opinion, what was the biggest adjustment you made in your swimming career (stroke biomechanical, training, dryland)?
      In my swimming career, my biggest adjustment came from moving to Baltimore from my hometown of Wayne. Training with North Baltimore Aquatic Club was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced…..before moving I was only training about three to four times a week (as other days of the week would be taking up by practicing other sports) and then when I moved to Baltimore I expanded to five days. I also used to average only about 3,000 yards before moving, and that number definitely increased in Baltimore. It was a period of adjusting to being solely focused on swimming, having the mentality to push through workouts that were unlike anything I’ve ever done before, and an adjustment also on the social aspect as I moved because of swimming, so I had to make new friends and learn how to live without seeing my family everyday.

      But in other terms, another huge adjustment would have been my last year of swimming at North Baltimore, so my senior year in high school. It was the year we added weights to our program and the initial shock on my body from it was almost unbearable. Being sore for an extended amount of days was really uncomfortable, and it took me longer than some of my teammates to get adjusted to handling weights and swimming. But throughout the year, it payoff was unreal, I have never felt so strong in the water.

      7) Of all the testing sports performance testing you've done (underwater filming, blood lactate, etc.), what do you feel has been the most beneficial?
      I like all the above that you mentioned. I’m a bit fan of the doing lactate sets (for example: 6x100’s best stroke/all out/on 10 minutes) and taking blood lactate afterwards. I did this a lot my senior year of high school and after you do the set and get your lactate a few times (say you do the set 8 times throughout the year at various points of training), it’s amazing to see the improvement your body has made to buffer lactate in your system. Aside from that, I think filming is also an important aspect to swimming because it really allows you to see where your technique needs the most improvement. Technique is such a little thing, but so important that can help drop a ton of time, and this can been seen with filming because you can analyze your stroke in slow motion, what ever angle (underwater or above water), and multiple times.

      8) Over the past few years, what is the biggest change you've made with your training?
      I feel like every time I change coaches, I’m making a big change in my training because each one brings something new to the table, a new perspective, a new philosophy, but all with the same end goal: of making me reach my full potential. I’ve learned so much from the coaches I had: from Paul Yetter to Bob Bowman, to now Lea Maurer and I’m grateful for the knowledge and advice they have given me.

      9) What projects are you working on in and outside the pool?
      In the pool, the project is always the same: figure out how to get better, stronger, and faster. Outside of the pool….another story, there are so many different and wonderful opportunities available at Stanford, so I’m always working on something new.

      Thanks Felicia, Good Luck this Season

      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.

      Thoracic Mobility and Body Undulation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Weekly Round-Up

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

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

      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

      Friday Interview with Ricky Berens

      1) Please introduce yourself to the readers (how you started in swimming,education, experience, etc.).
      I am Olympic Gold Medalist Ricky Berens. I started swimming at the age of 4 on my moms summer league team in Charlotte, NC. At first I hated swimming, I hated the cold water. I would lay on the deck and just watch kids swim until about the age of 6 when I would actually start swimming laps. I guess one day I just got in the pool and said, "Hey Dad, watch me do a lap of butterfly!" and that is when it all began. I did summer league with my mom as coach until 9 when I started to swim year around at Mecklenburg Aquatic Club. I did not start winning races and being one of the top swimmers until I was about 11 or 12. Once in high school I got recruited to some of the major universities and chose to spend my college career at the University of Texas. After my sophomore year I qualified for the Beijing Olympic games by placing 3rd in the 200 free. In Beijing I was lucky enough to have the fastest time on our prelims relay and was chosen to swim it in finals where we won a gold medal and set a world record. My senior year of college at Texas was by far the biggest highlight in my NCAA career. I was captain of the winning NCAA Championship team, something that we had not been able to do the entire 4 years at school. Now I have graduated from school and am currently living in Southern California, training towards more goals of competing in the 2012 Olympic Games.

      2) How do you incorporate mobility and stretching into your training?
      I do a lot of stretching. I try to take about 20 minutes out of my day and just dedicate that to stretching. Now that I am done with school, I have plenty of time to do this.

      3)What is the weirdest training you've done throughout your career?
      Some of the weirdest training would have to be out here in CA with Dave Salo. We never do the same set with Dave and we do some of the most outside of the box things. He makes us swim with wiffle balls, do 80 meter sprints from the bottom of the deep end, up and back down again, and then there is doing flips on physio balls. All very creative fun things to mix it up.

      4) What aspects of your freestyle are you currently concentrating on?
      For freestyle I am really working on my head positioning and the back end of my stroke. My head tends to look a little too far forward so I am doing my best to keep my head looking directly at the bottom of the pool. This will help keep my hips floating and my body in a better line on top of the water. The more you float, the easier it is to swim. Also the back end of my stroke tends to be short, I am trying to keep it longer to extend more of a flow for my freestyle and more distance per stroke.

      5) What drills/activities are you doing to achieve this?
      Swimming with a snorkel always improves the head positioning, just have to make sure the head doesn't move back and forth. Swimming with paddles will really help me feel my stroke, making sure I am finishing all the way through.

      6) In your opinion, what was the biggest adjustment you made in your swimming career (stroke biomechanical, training, dryland)?
      All of the above. Stroke adjustments, training, and dryland. Each team I have been on we do something different than before and that is what is great. I had great training in high school to prepare me for college. In college I made some big stroke adjustments in my freestyle that really turned me into the freestyler I am today. Weights in college was something new to me, and that could never hurt. Now I am in California doing a whole different type of training which is expanding my base even more. I feel that all the adjustments I have made aren't really adjustments but me adding more and more to my swimming base and making me a better swimmer overall.

      7) 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. It has really helped me see what parts of my stroke I need to work on. Some of the things that you will see from underwater filming, can't be seen from the pool deck or from feel. This allows me to make sure I am getting everything I can out of my stroke, and to also compare my stroke to some of the best in the world.

      8) Over the past few years, what is the biggest change you've made with your training? Intensity. It is now at a point that I am sprinting everything in practice. It doesn't matter how I feel in the water, I have to be going fast to compete with my teammates. It is justing my perspective on what fast is, which helps mentally during a race. Holding 26's for a 50 free isn't as hard as it used to be.

      9) What projects are you working on in and outside the pool?
      Just making sure I am qualifying for those London Olympic games! This year is all about the Olympics. I am doing everything I can to stay healthy and to prepare myself the best I can for the Olympic trials and Olympic games. Outside the pool, I guess you could say I am working on my surfing. Now that I am living close to the ocean I can go to the beach when I need a break. I would still consider it a workout too, a very fun one!

      Thanks Ricky, good luck!

      Want Swimming Science to interview someone, have your own questions you'd like to ask or want to be interviewed yourself? E-mail the team at info@swimmingscience.net

      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.