Friday Interview: Stefan Szczepan Ph.D. Discusses Immediate Feedback in Swimmers

1. Please introduce yourself to the readers (how you started in the profession, education, credentials, experience, etc.).
Hi, my name is Stefan Szczepan. I'm a scientist at University School of Physical Education in Wroclaw, Poland and I work at the Department of Swimming. This year I received a doctor degree. I'm interested in motor control and learning included motor skill acquisition processes in water environment, especially teaching communication, forms of instruction, augmented feedback, and practice schedules. My mentor is Professor Krystyna Zaton, the head of Institute of Physical Activity in Water Environment in my University. She guides me in the science. I’m very proud with this relationship and I am very thankful for the trust and the knowledge transfer. My most recent research is about the impact of immediate verbal feedback and concurrent visual feedback on the improvement of swimming technique. I am the author or co-author of few articles in research journals. I connect theory with practice while teaching swimming and swimmers trainer.

2. You recently published an article immediate feedback and swimming. What are the different types of feedback?
Feedback is sensory information that results from movement. There are two types of feedback: intrinsic (integral) and extrinsic (augmented feedback). Intrinsic feedback is the sensory information arising as a result of physical activity by the means of sensory mechanisms (exteroreceptors and proprioreceptors). Information that derives from the receptor allows for movement regulation as well as the adjustment of motor task completion to the desired model of physical activity. Extrinsic feedback is formed after the completion of a motor activity and is transmitted by a third. Examples of extrinsic information are verbal communication, gestures, video, timer displays. There are several distinct types of feedback which are categorized according to the time of its transmission: concurrent feedback (provided during motor task concern continuous information), immediate feedback (provided during motor task concern discrete information) and delayed (transmitted after the completion of the motor action). Types of feedback are the most important for me. The most effective information is verbal and immediate. If you are interested in it – follow this link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25114741

3. In your study you worked on improving the swimmers stroke length, can you explain how
you did this?
This study that we conducted together with Professor Zaton concerns the issues related to the importance of the transfer of feedback in an immediate manner to the learner during the learning swimming process. The work shows that the time in which the feedback reaches the learner is important in the motor control and that it improves swimming technique. The feedback communicated to the learner in real time manner regarding a performed motor function allows for the removal of errors in the short-term memory or prevents their formation. I chose a simple kinematic parameter of swimming movement as stroke length to confirm the importance of immediate verbal feedback. In this way the emergence of an error in the time-space structure of swimming motility was eliminated. The objective numerical dimension of the mistakes made allowed for a quantified relationship between the shortening of the swimming stroke length and the constant frequency of the propulsive movements. These factors led to a decrease in the efficiency of swimming, which was noted in the swimming velocity and a decrease in the economization of the swimming techniques, as indicated by the index SI. For these purpose I used special wireless tools including a system, transmitter and receiver for swimmer and teacher. This gave a possibility of a verbally and immediately control of swimming movement. It's an amazing technology that I spent significant money to develop and it works incredibly well.

4. What were the main results of your study?
The use of these tools in an experiment conducted on the experimental group, in which the information regarding the execution of the performed activity was transferred to students in an immediate manner, indicated that the swimming stroke is significantly improved along with an increased swimming speed while maintaining the same frequency of movements. This resulted in an effective movement in the aquatic environment. In the control group, however, where such information was not given, there was no observed swimming stroke elongation while maintaining the same frequency of movements. The transmission of immediate feedback in order to prevent the occurrence of errors or to eliminate them entirely, this also resulted in an improvement in the economization of swimming motor functions. The economization of swimming techniques was assessed using the index of SI [stroke index], which was considered as its measurement. Increase in the index SI values will see a decrease in the physiological cost of effort. In the control group this increase was not observed. It looks like that work tool and the assumptions of study can be used in any other motor swimming motor activity, not only stroke length. An example would be learning and improving movements of the legs and hands, body position in the water or coordination aspects, as well as other swimming motor elements.

5. What were the practical implications for coaches and swimmers from your study?
With the breaking of communication barriers, the following improve:
  1. Preventing the occurrence of errors and removing them from the motor memory.
  2. Improving motor structures and the cost reduction of physiological effort.
  3. Conditions will be created to improve the quality of swimming techniques with various degrees of accomplishment of utilitarian.
  4. Recreational values of physical culture, as well as antagonistic values noticeable in the competitive sports oriented towards maximizing achievement. 
The applied value of the method used, in which the verbal feedback was transmitted instantaneously in an immediate manner, in the practice of teaching and coaching is the enrichment of the communication technology regarding the correct structure of swimming motor functions. This is the main principle. The above assumptions are based on the physiological structure of human memory, whose different types are classified depending on how long information is stored in them. At first site, takes include human motor memory and second site augmented immediate verbal feedback. I give a method with used immediate verbal feedback for improves swimming technique and effectively the swimming learning process.
6. Do you think the results would be different if you had older, elite or untrained swimmers?
For sure people perceive information differently, due to age, sex or seniority. Probably we would observe differences between elite and non swimmers. This study showed the impact of immediate feedback on young swimmers. It can be apply for all swimmers, but the results may be a little different. In the future, I will plan other studies that answer on this question clearly.

7. Do you think immediate tactile or visual feedback would have different results?
Teaching and improvement of swimming technique is effective when external information is transmitted in three forms: words, images and practical actions. In case of the tactile I need to appeal to kinesthetic differentiation. It is one of the most important motor abilities. This ability is a precise perception of strength, time, and space. Feeling spatial movements, feeling of movement speed, what it’s called "water feeling” makes precise control of the movements. Tactile feedback can improve kinesthetic differentiation and makes to decrease energy cost and achieving better results. We deal this issue at my University. As regards the visual feedback I use special device. For example, it is the optical fiber giving the swimmer concurrent visual information. The light beam also provides the swimmer with the information on swimming speed. The ability to control the speed of swimming is an important part of preparation during swimming training. This is especially important when the desire is to obtain a pure training stimulus. Swimming with a defined - constant speed impacts on economical labor, and allows for maintaining a low physiological cost. Therefore, the development of a method that allows for acquisition and improvement of that skill is an important methodical goal in the process of swimming training optimization.

8. When working on biomechanics, how do you suggest tapering down feedback when the swimmer is progressing?
The role of the teacher is to provide feedback as long as the swimmer will acquire motor habit. Motor habit in human motor memory are formed after several thousand repetitions, therefore, the time of their acquisition is different. The next step in order to improve the quality of swimming mobility is multiple individual repetitions of the correct structure for motion, which was acquired by the use of immediate, verbal regulation regarding the swimming motor structures. Of course, if there are errors the teacher must again respond. Feedback can be addictive. In order to avoid the negative effects of frequent augmented feedback various techniques have been applied such as faded, bandwidth, summary, average or self-controlled schedules have been used.

9. Should teams utilize immediate auditory feedback?
I have a plan to develop my device and bring it to the swimming team. This allows the delivers of the individual swimmer and for the whole group. It will be easier to conduct training.

10. What makes your research different from others?
An innovative aspect of the subject undertaken is to identify empirically, that the time in which the information reaches the learner is important in the learning process and that it improves swimming technique. My work examines important aspect impeding the process of teaching of swimming and technique improvement. The interference in didactic communication – it is particularly noticeable when an exercise is executed in an atypical environment, for example in water. The aquatic environment hinders the reception of information because a number of disruptive factors such as the distance between the teacher and the learner or ambient noise favors errors in a given exercise. Thus, the environmental factors make it hard to use verbal feedback to its full communicative potential in the process of swimming acquisition or technique improvement. It may also be challenging to immediately eliminate or prevent (within short-term memory) errors as or before they appear, as I said early. I believe that the results of the present research work should contribute to defining the actual significance of immediate verbal feedback in swimming acquisition and improvement.

11. Which teachers have most influenced your research?
The person who influenced the most on my research has been my professor Krystyna ZatoĊ„. For me she is a really big scientist. All the time she teaches me how to be better. It requires a lot of my sacrifices. Since I started working with her at Department of Swimming my life sped up, but I like it. I can learn a lot from a great biomechanic of swimming, a professor Marek Rejman too. We work together. I guess that we are good scientific team. Also I take inspiration from different scientists who are engaged in motor control and learning. There are many in the world, so I need to check of the database brand new publications.

12. What research or projects are you currently working on or should we look from you in the future?
I’m currently working on the evaluation of the achievements of swimmers. This evaluation is performed during motor activity in real time. Ability to take correct feedback to evaluation swimming technique can increase swimming performance. Usually, data are obtained from delay, e.g. with using movement analysis software. In addition, the aquatic environment interferes common available device for the evaluation, e.g. Infrared. Therefore I develop telemetry measuring swimming techniques. It enables in real-time provide feedback on the structure of the swimming movement. Wireless method of assessing swimming techniques can be used for research purposes to create maps of swimming techniques, to quantify. In addition, I’m interested in biofeedback and the implementation of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in the verification of feedback in swimming learning. Both issues seem to be good for my future. Many questions pertaining to increase the process of swimming acquisition and teaching remain unanswered and further research appears necessary. I hope it finishes successfully. I have one rule in my life, that says never stop.
information reaches the learner is important in the learning process and that it improves swimming technique. My work examines important aspect impeding the process of teaching of swimming and technique improvement. The interference in didactic communication – it is particularly noticeable when an exercise is executed in an atypical environment, for example in water. The aquatic environment hinders the reception of information because a number of disruptive factors such as the distance between the teacher and the learner or ambient noise favors errors in a given exercise. Thus, the environmental factors make it hard to use verbal feedback to its full communicative potential in the process of swimming acquisition or technique improvement. It may also be challenging to immediately eliminate or prevent (within short-term memory) errors as or before they appear, as I said early. I believe that the results of the present research work should contribute to defining the actual significance of immediate verbal feedback in swimming acquisition and improvement.

Thanks Stefan!

Friday Interview: Liz Sanil Discusses Motor Learning

1) Please introduce yourself to the readers (how you started in the profession,
education, credentials, experience etc.).
I first became interested in kinesiology after a visit to an athletic therapist following a high school wrestling injury. During my undergraduate degree I became particularly interested in motor learning and control. My MSc, Ph.D. and postdoctoral research have focused on practice factors such as practice scheduling and feedback and providing choice to the learner during practice.

2) You have published many articles on motor learning. What are the different theories on motor learning?
Theory plays a large role in my research projects. The predominant formal theory in motor leaning today is Schmidt's schema theory, which addresses movement production and evaluation. This theory borrowed the effective parts of earlier motor learning and psychology theories and built upon them with knowledge about motor control and leaning processes. Schmidt's Schema theory does not however provide us with a complete understanding of motor learning and there are other important theoretical perspectives and hypotheses which can contribute to our understanding of motor learning.  Schmidt and Lee (2011, chapter 13) divide these perspectives into categories including the cognitive perspective which addresses the role of cognitive processes such as planning and evaluation of movement in motor leaning, the hierarchical control perspective which addresses the construction of motor programs, shifting control of a skill from higher to lower-level control processes, and the Bernstein perspective which addresses stages of learning though which degrees of freedom (e.g. joints) are progressively released and reorganized. This perspective also emphasizes the interaction between the sensory-motor system and the environment. Recently, some aspects of motor learning have also been examined from motivational perspectives originating in psychology theory.

3) What is the motor learning research confident about?
Much of the application of motor learning research is dependent upon factors such as the type of task to be learned, the characteristics of the learner (such as age or experience level) and the type of environment in which the skill is learned and performed. New theoretical perspectives and hypotheses are also being examined in attempts to address the shortfalls of current theories. Nonetheless, there are several general concepts we can be reasonably confident about that are applicable to coaching. One very  straightforward concept is termed "law of practice", which states that with all other things being equal, the more practice trials completed, the more learning will occur. Improvements are generally large at the start of practice and decrease in magnitude over time (Schmidt & Lee, 2011, chapter 11). Another example is the concept of stages of learning; several researchers have proposed that learners move through a series of stages in the learning of a motor skill.  While the number of stages and their specific names differ between researchers, it is generally agreed that at the start of practicing a new skill, learners engage in a lot of cognitive activity figuring out appropriate strategies. At this early stage performance is quite variable and many training techniques are most effective, aiding in the development of appropriate strategies. In the next stage learners have already figured out what it is they need to do and now focus more on adjustments to how the skill is performed. In this stage the movements become more consistent and effective through relatively small changes. After quite some time of practice the skill may become relatively automatic, freeing up resources for the learner to use on other tasks (Schmidt & Lee, 2011, chapter 13). Understanding approximately where a particular learner or athlete is in terms of these stages of learning can help a coach choose appropriate training techniques to benefit learning.

The research provides consistent evidence for the effectiveness of many training techniques in relation to factors such as practice scheduling, feedback, focus of attention, models, guidance and part versus whole practice, but in interest of space I won't go into great detail here (See chapters 11 & 12 in Schmidt & Lee, 2011).

4) What are some big unknowns or misconceptions?
Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about motorlearning, particularly in sport, is
that performance during practice is indicative of learning that has taken place. Because motor learning is considered a relatively permanent change in performance, due to practice, sometimes the changes that are taking place with learning are not immediately evident. Many strategies that have been shown to benefit learning can be detrimental to performance during a practice session. Dr. Damian Farrow gives a great example of this distinction using an example of swimming training sessions (see pages 372-375 in Skill Acquisition in Sport: Research, Theory and Practice, Hodges, N.J. & Williams A.M. eds.) He distinguishes between performance-based practice sessions and learning-focused practice sessions. Performance-based sessions have a focus on performance outcome measures (e.g. time, stoke rate) and the inclusion of all elements of a race environment (e.g. starting with a dive rather than at the edge of the pool), while learning-focused sessions focus on technical skill production, sometimes including trial and error, with much less emphasis on outcome measures. Even though swimmers may indeed be learning and improving technique during the learning-focused sessions, the changes may not be evident until a later performance -based session.

Another misconception is that learners (athletes) are good at predicting how well they have learned a skill. As discussed above, some training strategies may lead to poorer performance during a practice session even though significant learning has occurred. Conversely, a practice session during which an athlete has shown very good performance, may have resulted in relatively little learning. Often learners who have performed well during a practice session using a less effective training strategy for learning will over-estimate how much they have learned, while those who produced poorer performance using a more effective strategy will under-estimate how much they have learned (e.g. Simon & Bjork, 2001.)

5) What aspects of motor learning should coaches, particularly swim coaches use?
There are several training strategies, in particular, practice organization, instruction and feedback strategies with evidence from motor learning research, that are helpful for coaches. Distinguishing between performance and learning as discussed above is one aspect  of practice that should be considered by coaches. In general, coaches should also consider variety in practice schedules when deciding upon drills for a particular practice session. A simple application of this would be to space out the practice of a particular skill (e.g. flip-turn) throughout the practice rather than completing several in a row at the beginning of practice. Another consideration for coaches is that too much feedback from external sources, such as a coach, can produce a dependency on that feedback. One way to guard against this dependency is to ask swimmers how they felt they performed before providing feedback. Another way would be to withhold feedback from certain trials or delay the feedback provision until several trials have been performed. Dr. Farrow gives specific examples of changes he has suggested for typical swimming training sessions in the past. (see pages 372-375 in Skill Acquisition in Sport: Research, Theory and Practice, Hodges, N.J. & Williams A.M. eds.)

6) What were the practical implications for coaches and swimmers from your study?
One important thing to note is that our study used what we call a discrete skill (a skill with a definite beginning and end) while the majority of swimming would be considered a continuous skill (a skill with no inherent beginning and end). With this in mind, this study would be most applicable to aspects of swimming such as a dive or flip turn. However, please keep in mind that these swimming-specific skills are more complex and difficult than the simple crokinole-type skill used in our study. In our study one group started with the easiest version of a task and progressed through more difficult versions throughout practice. The other group began with the most difficult version and progressed through easier versions. In most sport situations where an athlete is learning a new skill, the schedule of the first group (easy-to-difficult progression) is the one followed. In our study the second group (difficult-to-easy progression) performed better during practice and on a transfer test. A transfer test measures how well a learner (or athlete) is able to adapt what has been practiced to a new version of a task. In swimming the need for this type of adaptation may arise when an athlete encounters an unfamiliar starting block, or begins a turn from a less-than-ideal location. In our study, the second group started practice with a large amount of error and decreased the amount of error throughout practice as the versions of the task got easier and as the learners gained more experience. This suggests that for some tasks (such as our relatively easy discrete task) error at the start of practice isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, we suggest that the challenge of a more difficult task at the right time during practice may be what benefits the learner on later transfer tests. In terms of practical implications for coaches, of course, with the safety of the athlete kept in mind, a coach might consider that errors at the beginning of practice are not necessarily detrimental to learning in the long run and may help with adaptation to new situations. Some factors to consider when designing practice schedules are the difficulty of the task itself, the experience of the learner and how important adaptation of the skill is. With further studies examining the role of errors at the beginning of practice for more difficult and/or continuous tasks, more specific recommendations applicable to swimming may come forth.

7) What is the future of motor learning and sports?
Motor learning researchers and coaches have much to offer each other. For example, coaches can help researchers understand the applied nature of skill-learning for his or her sport, while researchers can provide new evidence-based training strategies for coaches to consider. Skill acquisition specialists, knowledgeable about motor learning are currently working together with high-performance sport organizations (e.g. in Australia and New Zealand) to impact the performance of elite athletes.

8) What research projects are you currently working on or should we look from you in the future?
Plans for my future research program focus on practice variables such as scheduling and feedback and taking a look at the wider picture of the practice context as a whole. This work will be based in motor learning and control theory as well as sport and exercise psychology theory.

References and relevant reading
Schmidt, R. A., & Lee T.D. (2011) Motor Control and Learning a Behavioral Emphasis (5th ed.) Champaign, IL, Human Kinetics.
Hodges, N. J. & Williams, A.M. (Eds.).(2012). Skill Acquisition in Sport Research, Theory and Practice (2nd ed.) New York, NY, Routledge.
Simon, D.A., & Bjork, R.A. (2001) Metacognition in Motor Learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 27, 907-912.
Farrow, D., Baker, J., & MacMahon, C. (Eds.).(2013). Developing Sport Expertise Researchers and Coaches put Theory into Practice (2nd ed.) New York, NY, Routledge.

Friday Interview: Dr. Lizzie Hibberd Discusses Swimmer's Shoulder Prevention

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

Hello all! My name is Lizzie Hibberd and I am currently serving as an Assistant Professor and the Director of the Athletic Training Research Laboratory in the Department of Health Science at The University of Alabama. I received my B.A. and M.A. degrees in Athletic Training from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2008 and 2010) and received a Ph.D. in Human Movement Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2014.

My interest in athletic training began when I was in high school. After injuring my shoulder and relying on the help of athletic trainers for evaluation and rehabilitation, I began working as a student athletic trainer. From my experience as an injured athlete and working as a student athletic trainer, I chose to attend UNC-Chapel Hill and started in the Athletic Training Program. After undergrad, I stayed at UNC and worked as a graduate assistant athletic trainer for UNC’s Swimming and Diving and JV Basketball teams. As soon as I began working with the UNC Swim Team, I realized there was a huge gap in the literature about prevention, assessment, and treatment of swimming related shoulder injuries. In order to improve the quality of care for athletes and advance the profession through evidence-based medicine, I continued my education in the Human Movement Science Program. While in the program, my research focused on injury biomechanics and injury prevention in overhead athletes- primarily swimming and baseball.

2. You have been the predominant researcher in the US on swimming shoulder injuries. What have been your pieces and interest in the sport?
My interest in the sport developed when I was working as an athletic trainer with the UNC Swimming Team. This was really my first exposure to the sport, where I understood the demands that were placed on the athlete. The first few months were definitely a huge learning curve for me to really understand the training and the culture of the sport. During this time, I developed such an appreciation for a sport that very few people know anything about. As I was treating athletes and trying to develop injury prevention programs, I discovered that there was a huge gap in the literature related to swimming injuries. From this experience, I decided that I wanted to focus on clinically applicable research to improve the quality of care for swimmers and other overhead athletes and began my research career on injury biomechanics and injury prevention. During this time, I have worked with youth, collegiate, and masters swimmers both in clinical and research capacities.

3. For your paper regarding the general rehabilitation program and scapular stability (dyskinesia), what did you look at?
For this paper (Effect of a 6-Week Strengthening Program on Shoulder and Scapular-Stabilizer Strength and Scapular Kinematics in Division I Collegiate Swimmers), we looked at the effect of a shoulder injury prevention program on physical characteristics in collegiate swimmers during the training season. The injury prevention program that we used was adapted from exercises that have been shown to be effective for injury prevention or strengthening scapular stabilizing musculature in baseball players. The characteristics that we looked at as part of this project were glenohumeral range of motion, scapular kinematics, posture, shoulder and scapular stabilizer strength, and pain score.

4. What were the main results?
In this project, we found that overall all swimmers moved in to greater forward shoulder posture and altered scapular kinematics that promote impingement regardless of group assignment. The strengthening program that was used in this paper was not robust enough to counteract the demands of the training load during the training season.

5. How could the rehabilitation programs prescribed be improved?
From the results of this study, the biggest places for improvement is on the timing of implementation. While most swimmers take a short rest period before their training season, this may be the most beneficial time to complete an injury prevention program. During the training season, the fatigue they experience from high training loads increases their risk for the development of injury. Completing a strengthening program prior to this heavy training would put the athlete in better position to mitigate the demands of the training. During the training season, a maintenance program should be completed with a greater emphasis on stretching.

Also, the findings of this study highlighted the importance of research specific to swimmers. Many times all overhead athletes are grouped into the same category and programs that are effective for baseball players are automatically applied to swimming. The demands and adaptations are unique to each overhead sport, and research is needed specific to each sport to best help the athlete.

6. You had another study monitoring shoulder pain via questionnaire in club swimmers. What were the main results of this study?
In this study (Practice Habits and Attitudes and Behaviors Concerning Shoulder Pain in High School Competitive Club Swimmers), we looked at 13-18 year old competitive swimmers that are training on the top training level at their clubs in order to understand the culture of swimming. We found that these adolescent club swimmers have a high frequency of practices, comparable to collegiate and professional swimmers. They believe that shoulder pain is normal and should be tolerated to complete practice and are regularly taking pain medication in order to manage their pain so that they can complete practice yardage.

On the plus side, we found an association between the swimmers' attitudes and behaviors, which indicates that interventions that educate the swimmers, coaches and parents may be effective in changing their attitudes and ultimately their behaviors, and potentially changing these cultural norms.

7. As a PT, these results really upset me. What were your thoughts on the incidence of pain and current practice?
From working clinically with swimmers, I was not surprised that training with shoulder pain is the cultural norm in competitive swimmers. Currently, the training demands in these youth athletes are tremendous and so far, there is only anecdotal evidence that these training methods are effective. This high volume of training leads to alterations in physical characteristics that predispose swimmers to shoulder pain and injury. In the future, I hope coaches and researchers partner to identify training methods that maximize performance while minimizing injury risk. This will take a lot of collaborative work, but I will be imperative in preventing these injury and making evidence-based practice and injury prevention guidelines.

8. If a swimmer is having pain in their shoulder in practice, in your opinion, what should the coach do?
I think the biggest thing that the coach can do is make it known that injury prevention and awareness is a priority. It seems like many of the swimmers that I have previously worked with (across levels) are afraid to tell their coach or don’t even think that it is something they should report because shoulder pain has been normalized in the sport. It would be beneficial for coaches to have education sessions with their athletes, or even better bring in a sports medicine professional, to talk about shoulder pain and injury prevention.

If an athlete does report true shoulder pain, where they are having pain and altering their stroke mechanics in order to complete the necessary yardage, the coach should remove the athlete from practice for that session, have then kick (not with a kickboard because that is impingement position!), or have them do some type of cardio out of the water. Removing from practice is only one part of the solution, though. The coach should talk with the athlete to determine what bothers them and evaluate how dryland training, weights, or specific swimming drills may be contributing to their pain. Making these alterations would benefit that specific athlete, but also others who are not reporting their pain. It would also be imperative for this athlete to begin a rehab program- which is where a sports medicine professional (physician, athletic trainer, or physical therapist) would be crucial.

9. Recently, you were part of a study monitoring stroke biomechanics in college swimmers. What did this study look at and find?
In this study (Prevalence of Freestyle Biomechanical Errors in Elite Competitive Swimmers), we evaluated the prevalence of biomechanical stroke errors in collegiate swimmers using underwater cameras. We focused primarily on freestyle, because of the heavy training load in the freestyle stroke regardless of stroke specialty. Both coaches and an athletic trainer graded each swimmer based on the defined errors. The biomechanical errors that we defined were a dropped elbow during the pull-through phase, a dropped elbow during the recover phase, an eyes-forward head-carrying angle, incorrect hand position during hand entry, incorrect hand entry angle, incorrect pull-through patter, and inadequate body roll. We found a high prevalence of errors in these elite swimmers, with dropped elbow during the pull-through and the recovery phases with the highest prevalence. We also found relationship between dropped elbow during recovery and improper hand entry position and angle and eyes-forward heady carrying angle with incorrect pull-through pattern. This indicates that presence of one of these errors is related to having an additional error.
 
10. Did these results surprise you?
Not really. From previous work that we have done, most youth athletes believe that there is not enough time spent on technique work in practice. I think there is so much emphasis on the number of yards that the quality of the yards is sometimes put aside. Further, the errors that we identified were from a variety of coaching and biomechanical literature, but to our knowledge a comprehensive list of stroke errors related to injury had not previously been created. Finally, some of the coaches the evaluated the videos commented that while they understood why this was biomechanical error, performance-wise it was how they taught the stroke. This is another area of opportunity for biomechanists and coaches to work together to identify ways to maximize performance while minimizing injury risk.

11. What steps can be made for improving biomechanics in college swimmers?
In my opinion, the biggest way to improve biomechanics is to put an emphasis on it in age-group swimming. It is hard to change the motor patterns of a collegiate swimmer, who may have been swimming with a certain stroke for 13+ years. However, if you do have an athlete that you want to focus on changing their stroke, I believe video is one of the most important tools for the athlete. Many athletes, and especially swimmers because they rarely get to see their stroke, respond well underwater video where they see the problem in their stroke, as well as have their progress tracked as they make the change. While there are many expensive software and cameras out there for this, things like GoPros and even iPhones with an underwater case may be adequate as a beginning step in film evaluation.

12. Same question, but with age-group swimmers?
This is the place where there is the greatest opportunity for installing proper swimming mechanics and making changes! An emphasis on proper stroke regularly during practice, individual work if necessary, video analysis, and modeling of proper strokes is imperative at this age. Ensuring proper mechanics before moving on to high yardage is critical.

13. What research or projects are you currently working on or should we look from you in the future?
I recently completed a project tracking youth swimmers over the course of their training season to identify what physical characteristics change during the training season and how this relates to alterations in pain levels and another project tracking postural changes in collegiate swimmer during the season. The findings from this study will help in developing evidence based injury prevention programs.

My future research agenda includes: validation of an evidence-based injury prevention program, development of a swimming pain and function survey, prospective analysis of risk factors for injury in competitive swimmers, and research on training load and recovery. All of these areas/projects will hopefully help in maximizing performance while minimizing injury risk in competitive swimming!

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss my research with you! Please feel free to contact me with questions, research ideas, or comments.

Elizabeth Hibberd, PhD, ATC
The University of Alabama
483 Russell Hall
Box 870311
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0311
eehibberd@ches.ua.edu
205-348-7320

Friday Interview: Dr. Dennis O'Connell Discusses Grunting and Strength

1. Please introduce yourself to the readers (how you started in the profession, education, credentials, experience, etc.).
I started out becoming a certified physical education teacher in NY for grades K-12 and immediately pursued graduate education in Exercise Physiology at Kent State University. I was able to work in the field of heart disease prevention at Iowa State University and then returned to the University of Toledo to earn a Ph.D in Exercise Physiology. From there I moved into a position where I was Director of Research and Functional Electrical Stimulation for individuals with spinal cord injuries. I was then able to move into teaching Exercise Physiology to physical therapy students at UTHSC-San Antonio where I also became a physical therapist. For the past 20-years I have been a professor and Endowed Chair of Physical Therapy at Hardin-Simmons University. Along the way I have picked up a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree and am certified in Strength and Conditioning and Ergonomics.

2. You recently published an article on grunting and tennis serve velocity. What do we know and not know about grunting and performance?
Interestingly, there is published research on shouting during grip strength testing and during a kiap used in martial arts. Those studies show increases in force when subjects vocalized. Prior to our tennis study, we performed two research projects using grunting during the isometric dead lift. This involved pulling up on an immovable bar (and force transducer) at the level of subjects shins. The increases in force were small and similar to the grip studies mentioned above.
 
3. What did your study look at?
Our latest published study on tennis examined whether grunting or not-grunting increased serve and forehand velocities in male and female D-II and D-III tennis players. We had all subjects grunt as loudly as possible before the study began. During the study they had to grunt at a decibel 90% of what they achieved prior to the study for the trial to be counted as good. Conversely, in the non-grunt condition, the dB level had to be less than 30% of maximal dB level.

We also attached a device to the players racquets that measured force during a static or isometric forehand and serve.

4. What were the results of your study?
Our research shows that regardless of gender (we had approx equal numbers of males and females), perception about grunting (+ or -) or grunting experience, grunting increased serve and forehand velocities by about 5mph. This was a field study conducted on the tennis court.

Isometric serve and forehand forces increased from 15-20% with grunting.

5. Do you think yelling and grunting and yelling result in the same improvement?
I would guess that yelling and grunting yield similar results. By the way, we measured pectoralis muscle and external oblique muscle activity and found that they increased with grunting. Thus, there appears to a connection between brainstem cells that regulate inspiration and the motor cortex causing enhanced muscle recruitment with deep exhalation.

6. Do you think these results to other sports?
I would guess that yelling or grunting would cause increases in forces, velocities, etc. in dynamic sports and to a lesser extent in isometric or static force production situations.

7. How can future research on this subject improve our knowledge?
If would be nice to examine the brain during grunting and force production to learn if my hypothesis of increased communication between the breathing and motor control centers increases during forced or deep exhalation.

8. What research or projects are you currently working on or should we look from you in the future?
We have completed a study in the lab where we had D-III male and female tennis players push against a force place mimicking a forehand stroke. We asked them to either deeply exhale, deeply inhale, perform a straining or Valsalva maneuver and grunt. Forces increased significantly with grunting and these forces were not different than when forcefully (and moreo quietly) exhaling. Forces with deep inhalation or during straining were significantly less. Thus, one may be able to substitute deep exhalation for grunting and still get the same increased force production. We are writing this study up for publication and hope to officially share the results with the scientific community in the near future.

We have also just completed a study of female collegiate soccer and volleyball players who were tested before and after practice with a test battery called the Functional Movement Screen (FMS). It has been shown in some populations to predict who would get injured during a season. Since players are injured during practice or games, we thought it would be novel to see what happened to the FMS scores if they were fatigued (which is when injuries happen). Interestingly, their scores stayed the same or improved. They did not worsen as we expected. Additionally, we did not find this test to be predictive of injuries in our female sample. Both of these studies have been submitted for presentation at an upcoming national physical therapy meeting.

We are currently performing a study on windmill assembly workers where we are testing the effects of their current static stretching routine vs. a dynamic ballistic warm-up. We are hoping that we might create a better warm-up for them to prevent work-related injuries.

Friday Interview: Dr. Paul Marshall Discusses Flexibility Between Men and Women

1. Please introduce yourself to the readers (how you started in the profession, education, credentials, experience, etc.).
I am an exercise physiologist currently working in the School of Science and Health at the University of Western Sydney. I was awarded my PhD from the University of Auckland in 2007. From 2004 to 2009 I was clinical supervisor, then academic director of the University of Auckland Exercise Rehabilitation Clinic. Separate to this, I have worked as a personal training, sports conditioning coach, and exercise consultant since 1996.

2. You recently published an article on hamstring extensibility differences between men and women. Why is knowing this important?
This article helps us understand why a lot of previous research provides confusing findings for whether or not stretching works for changing muscle flexibility. A lot of previous research uses small, mixed-sex samples for training, and results can be confused because men and women have very different reasons for why their muscles can stretch to certain points.

3. What is the difference between flexibility, mobility, extensibility, etc.?
Flexibility and extensibility are essentially the same thing, whereas mobility, from a clinical perspective, typically describes the overall pattern of movement around a joint in a given task (e.g. mobility of the lumbo-sacral joint during bending, mobility of the ankle during a squat exercise). Flexibility (extensibility) could be considered contributors to mobility, but in my opinion mobility integrates neural control elements as well.
 
4. Does lack of hamstring extensibility predict anything?
Hamstring strain injuries in field sport (e.g. soccer, rugby union). We published a paper in 2012 which showed that a ‘tight’ hamstring does not predict back pain development in a 2h prolonged standing task. People with chronic back pain tend to have ‘tight’ hamstrings, but I believe this is more a change that occurs subsequent to symptom onset rather than cause.

5. How/should swim coaches/trainers implement extensibility testing?
Muscle group specific, and be mindful of the fact that for men it appears their ability to ‘tolerate’ the stretch probably explains range of motion more than the characteristics of the tissue.

6. Is there any testing swimmers can do for oxidative status?
Not really my area of expertise, although this is a growing area of interest in research and clinical practice.

7. What do we know about extensibility and sports performance?
Poor extensibility measured pre-season tends to predict strain injuries in field based sports.
 
8. If someone has poor hamstrings extensibility, what do you suggest they do?
Our 2011 paper “A randomized controlled trial for the effect of passive stretching on measures of hamstring extensibility, passive stiffness, strength, and stretch tolerance, J Sci Med Sport, 2011; 14: 535-540”, found that using four posterior kinetic chain stretches, with each stretch prescribed for 30s and repeated three times in the session, with five sessions per week, increased extensibility of the hamstrings. When you inspect studies that do, and do not work for increasing extensibility you see that volume is a key factor. One stretch, performed one or two times per week does not work. Stretching five times per week, with multiple repetitions does.

9. What makes your research different from others?
I try to design research and ask questions that come from my clinical experience and I think other clinically focussed people want to ask. Most of my early research pioneered examination of what Swiss ball exercise does. In addition, some of my recent research was the first to show that in resistance trained men using high volume (>4 sets) of heavy loading was more effective than one or four sets. Recently, we were the first to clearly test a program that had no core stability exercise (cycling), but was prescribed by actual cycling instructors so the program was valid to how a cycling coach in the real-world might work with back pain patients. This was compared to Pilates, and showed equivalent improvements (so long as patients adhered). I try to use strong scientific measures, but I also try to stay applied and relevant to avoid the ‘ivory tower’ world academics are often accused of being in.

Publication examples.
1. Core stability exercises on and off a swiss ball. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2005;86:242-249.

2. Increased deltoid and abdominal muscle activity during swiss ball bench press. J Strength Cond Res. 2006;20(4):745-750.
 
3. Strength and neuromuscular adaptation following one, four, and eight sets of high intensity resistance exercise in trained males, Eur J Appl Physiol, 2011; 111: 3007-3016.

4. Pilates exercise or stationary cycling for chronic non-specific low back pain: does it matter? A randomized controlled trial with 6-month follow-up. Spine, 2013, 38(15): 952-959.

10. What research or projects are you currently working on or should we look from you in the future?
We have some exciting research modelling central nervous system and peripheral muscle fatigue during high and low intensity exercise protocols. We also have an exciting series of papers modelling the Nordic hamstring exercise for the acute fatigue response, the effect this exercise has on a training session, and the changes that occur in the hamstrings over a training intervention period.

We also have an extremely novel paper coming out in PLoS One on the 21st July 2014, which will be the first to report selective reductions in central motor output to the biceps femoris muscle during a simulated soccer match. This is extremely important for understanding why this muscle appears so susceptible to injury in sport.

Friday Interview: Dr. Vassilis Mougios Discuses Nutrition for Swimmers

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

I am Professor of Exercise Biochemistry at the School of Physical Education and Sport Science at Thessaloniki, the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTh), Greece. I am a chemist by training and did my PhD in muscle biochemistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I have been a faculty at the AUTh for 25 years, teaching both undergraduate and graduate students, mentoring, doing research on exercise biochemistry and physiology, as well as writing scientific papers and books.

2. You recently published numerous articles on swimming and nutrition. What do we know about swimmers and their nutrition? 
Research on swimmers’ nutrition has yielded many interesting findings. Swimmers are, in several cases, not meeting their macronutrient requirements (for example, excessive intake of fats in place of carbohydrates) or micronutrient needs (for example, suboptimal intake of iron). Nevertheless, energy intake, as a whole, seems to balance energy expenditure. Another finding is that swimmers use dietary supplements that are frequently excessive and unnecessary. 

3. What are some myths about swimmers’ nutrition?
Extremely low-energy, or crash, diets, aiming at rapidly reducing body weight, are unsafe and usually accompanied by a drop in performance. Energy intake should just be individually tailored to meet energy demands and nutrient needs of the swimmer during each training phase. If weight loss is needed or desired, energy balance should be moderately negative so as not to compromise health and hamper performance.

Dietary supplement use among swimmers is, in many cases, scientifically unjustified. Swimmers should not give in to nutritional trends before seeking advice from a qualified professional.

4. How can swimmers nutrition be improved? 
Nutritional education can help swimmers implement good dietary habits, which, in turn will help them meet their nutritional needs. The need for nutritional education targeted at athletes, their parents and coaches is often highlighted in the literature. Dietary analysis and evaluation, along with hematologic and biochemical testing, as well as anthropometric evaluation, are indispensable in order to estimate individual needs and pinpoint possible inadequacies. Regular re-evaluation should also be in order.

As a general guideline, swimmers should incorporate a great variety of foods (such as vegetables, fruits, pasta, red and white meat, dairy products, cereals and fluids) in a carefully planned daily schedule (encompassing 5-6 meals) and adapt this schedule to the particular demands of training phase and goals.


5. Many athletes are attempting a Low Carb High Fat diet, what do you think of this idea for sprint and distance swimmers? 
Such diets seem improper for swimmers from both a health and performance standpoint. Surely, sprinters do not rely on fats for success in their events. Distance swimmers use more fats (compared to sprinters), mostly during prolonged training sessions; however, these too draw more energy from carbohydrates than fats. Low carbohydrate availability, although it may facilitate some training adaptations in some cases, has not been tested in a competitive environment, more so in swimmers. Low Carb High Fat diets can have negative effects on performance, recovery, body mass, body composition, immune system and lipidemic profile of swimmers.

6. If an athlete could afford any testing or consulting on nutrition, what should they do?
They should have their diet analyzed in conjunction with hematologic/biochemical testing as a first step towards better nutrition. A qualified professional could use this information to assess possible inadequacies and suggest corrective measures. Such procedure can improve training adaptations, recovery, performance and the overall health of swimmers.

7. What supplements do you think are helpful for swimmers?
Creatine can enhance the yields of power training and performance in events relying on the ATP-phosphocreatine system. Sodium bicarbonate has been found to enhance performance in events relying on the anaerobic breakdown of carbohydrates. Caffeine has been found to enhance performance in events lasting longer than 4 minutes by decreasing the rate of perceived exertion. Nitrates have been found to increase exercise economy, although data on swimming performance are scarce. Sports drinks (containing carbohydrates and electrolytes) are suggested during training and prolonged events to prevent carbohydrate depletion and dehydration. Micronutrient (such as iron and magnesium) or macronutrient supplements (such as carbohydrate and protein) can be helpful in cases of inadequate or imbalanced nutrition. Supplements should only be used under expert supervision and should be tailored to the specific needs of the swimmer. Always bear in mind that supplements are, well, supplements; they can’t substitute for a well-balanced diet.

8. How should supplement use be improved in swimming?
Primarily, through nutritional education of swimmers, their parents, and coaches. All these should be thoroughly informed about best nutritional practices, optimal food selection, as well as the pros and cons of the various supplements on the basis of available scientific evidence. Second, through the implementation of dietary analysis and hematologic/biochemical testing in order for inadequacies to be spotted and remedied. An expert on sport nutrition should always be the one to recommend supplements and the way they should be used. Adverse health effects or doping outcomes are a real danger of sloppy supplement use.

9. If someone is on a budget, what are the easiest nutritional tips for elite swimming performance?
A wide variety of foods can improve a swimmer’s dietary status and performance. Foods that are inexpensive in most countries can easily supply swimmers with all the nutrients they need. Fruits and vegetables are rich in micronutrients; pasta, rice and potatoes are rich in carbohydrates; chicken and dairy products are rich in proteins, minerals, and vitamins. All these foods are rather low-cost. Use the highest variety possible; it’s the best recipe against nutrient deficiency and the need for expensive supplements.

10. What are some emerging ideas/hypotheses about elite athlete nutrition? 
Nutrient timing, especially around training sessions or competition, seems to be a promising concept regarding swimmers’ nutrition. Optimal energy supply, recovery, and adaptations, all leading to increased performance, might be achieved through proper timing and control of dietary intakes.

11. What research or projects are you currently working on or should we look from you in the future?
Over the past few years, our attention has been attracted by a rather overlooked biological specimen in exercise science: urine. Our data from running and swimming studies show that urine possesses certain advantages over blood in terms of the information they provide about exercise metabolism. We plan to publish such information from swimmers’ urine analyses in the very near future. 

Swimming has also been an attractive exercise model to apply on laboratory animals. We are currently examining the effects of life-long exercise (daily swimming) on metabolism and frailty status of rats. Naturally, it would be preferable to conduct such a study on humans but this would take a lifetime (literally). In contrast, it’s easier to do it with rats that live about two years. Hopefully, the results of this study will be applicable to us humans.

Friday Interview: Danny Taylor Discusses Deceptive Training

1. Please introduce yourself to the readers (how you started in the profession, education, credentials, experience, etc.).
My name is Danny Taylor and I am now in the final stages of a part-time PhD which is concerned with how pacing, physiology and perceptual responses influence triathlon performance, specifically in the presence of deceptively manipulated performance beliefs/feedback. I am fortunate enough to have had a number of studies from this thesis already published in peer-reviewed journals or at scientific conferences. My career in sports science began in 2007, when I completed my undergraduate Sport & Exercise Science degree here at the University of Lincoln, gaining first class honours. I then worked as a Sports Science Technician and visiting lecturer on the Schools undergraduate programmes, before moving into my current role as an Instructor in Sport (Physical Sciences) in 2009. Alongside my teaching and research activity I continue to provide physiological support to athletes from a variety of sports, including triathlon, kayaking and professional motor racing, establishing training recommendations based on sport-specific assessments and combined athlete/coach goals. I also try to practice what I preach/study, having competed locally for the last 6 years or so as an (enthusiastic but mid-pack!) age-group triathlete - from sprint events up to Ironman distance (but not beyond……yet!).

2. You recently published an article on deceptive training for triathletes. First, what is deceptive training?
We did indeed, although rather than looking at deceptive methods during a period of training this particular study examined the impact of deception during an endurance event (triathlon). From this perspective, the study of deception in sport to date usually involves providing some form of incorrect information to athletes (about one or more key performance-related variable) to try and improve their performance.

All competing endurance athletes have to constantly balance their desire to achieve the fastest possible finishing time against the sustainability of their pace. To protect them from premature exhaustion or harm during such performance, it is thought that an athlete’s brain incorporates a substantial ‘reserve’ capacity, which essentially ‘caps’ exercise intensity so that their absolute physiological capacity is never fully reached. Allowing endurance athletes to safely access any amount of this ‘physiological overdraft’ may therefore improve their performance. Providing deceptive feedback has the potential to achieve this, as it can manipulate the expectations or beliefs that an athlete’s brain will use as a reference to base any on-going pacing decisions on.

3. What do we know about deceptive training?
In terms of the effects of deception on performance and pacing, researchers from Edge Hill University in the UK have only recently published two nice review articles summarising the current state-of-play (see below) - primarily that there are so many inconsistencies in the way deception is studied that it is difficult to draw any definitive conclusions about how pacing strategy and performance are affected by its use (so further work, such as our recent study, is much needed!). Some practical recommendations are that deception of exercise intensity (rather than time, distance etc.), using some method of real-time visual feedback and in a competitive setting (e.g. an on-screen competitor) may provide the most successful means to enhance performance, compared to other methods. Also, there is potential to incorporate deception into training and/or test efforts to elevate how athletes perceive the success of previous performances (and therefore alter their experience and expectation of similar future tasks), as this appears to improve subsequent performance. However, the study of how effective deceptive methods are during training is somewhat thin on the ground, and requires much more attention moving forwards.

Jones, H. S., Williams, E. L., Bridge, C. A., Marchant, D., Midgley, A. W., Micklewright, D., & Mc Naughton, L. R. (2013). Physiological and Psychological Effects of Deception on Pacing Strategy and Performance: A Review. Sports Medicine, 43(12), 1243-1257.
Williams, E. L., Jones, H. S., Sparks, S. A., Marchant, D., Micklewright, D., & Mc Naughton, L. R. (2013). Deception Studies Manipulating Centrally Acting Performance Modifiers: A Review. Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise [in press].

4. What did your study look at?
We examined the effects of speed deception on performance, physiological and perceptual responses, and pacing during the run section of sprint-distance triathlon. Specifically, we asked a group of competitive triathletes to complete three separate lab-based sprint-distance triathlons (at least 3 days apart), with all swimming and cycling sections mimicking a previous baseline triathlon performance. During the first 1.66 km of the run each athlete was required to maintain an imposed speed, and then complete the remaining 3.33 km as quickly as possible. Although the athletes were told that this initially imposed running speed would always reflect baseline performance, this was true during only one trial. As such, other trials were either 3% faster, or 3% slower than their baseline run speed during this initial period.

5. Why did you choose 3% deceptions? 
In a previous study (Taylor, Smith & Vleck, 2012) we found that the typical trial-to-trial fluctuation in triathlon run performance for age-group athletes (without any kind of experimental intervention) was between 0.8 and 2.9%, or between 10 and 38 seconds in terms of overall 5 km run time. We therefore reasoned that a deceptive running speed of 3% would allow a worthwhile change in performance to be imposed (i.e. big enough to alter the outcome of non-elite, sprint-distance triathlon competition), whilst also minimising the chance of the participants noticing the manipulation of running speed between trials. We imposed this speed during the first 1.66 km of the run as this initial phase has been shown to be particularly important to the development and success of pacing strategies during sprint-distance triathlon, as well as during standalone 5 km road races.

6. What were the main results of the study?
In terms of run performance, an important finding of this study was that the aggressively paced deception condition was likely faster than other trials, with a typical time advantage of between 14 and 25 seconds observed over the more conservative starting strategies for the entire 5 km distance. Based on a combination of our previous research findings (see question 5 above) and typical performance trends reported during international triathlon competition, we concluded that the differences observed between each of the running trials would be enough to alter the outcome of non-elite, sprint-distance triathlon competition. As such, our results appear to disagree with the suggestion that initially aggressive pacing strategies may be detrimental to triathlon running performance, at least over the shorter sprint-distance format.

In terms of the broader issue of pacing, our findings provide further evidence that expectations or beliefs play a key role in how an athlete’s brain regulates exercise intensity so as to minimise the risk of damaging levels of physiological strain. Indeed, it would appear that even during ‘all-out’ triathlon running, athletes maintain a substantial protective ‘reserve’ capacity which can be accessed to some extent by deception to improve performance.

7. Do you think the results would differ if you had different deception percentages?
I think that this would be highly likely, although specifically how the results would be different remains to be seen. If a less severe deception percentage was used (e.g. 1-2%) then the chance of this being detected by athletes would be less likely, but it could be argued that the potential performance gains may also be reduced, compared to a higher deception percentage (e.g. 4-5%). However, the more aggressive the deception becomes then the greater the risk of it being detected and, more importantly, of it being unsustainable and negatively impacting on overall performance - so deception is a difficult balancing act. Indeed, whilst our study suggests that manipulating an athlete’s beliefs can strongly influence pace regulation, and may allow them to access a previously untapped physiological ‘reserve’, it is clear that this ‘reserve’ is not limitless. As a rule of thumb, if you have a good idea of the percentage that an athlete typically varies by (day-to-day, week-to-week) between performances in a particular event (or training/test set), then an effective and worthwhile deception percentage would be roughly half of this typical variability.

8. What are the practical implications for coaches from this study?
That even during supposed all-out performance, most athletes will hold back some form of ‘reserve’ as part of an inherent pacing/protection mechanism, and that access to this ‘reserve’ (by deception) may be beneficial in order to optimise intensity and effort during performance (or training).

In adopting deceptive methods, coaches therefore need to decide whether the key aim of that particular session is to sustain particular (high) levels effort/intensity (rather than technique, for example). If so, they need to establish an appropriate level of deception and method of delivering this - as covered in previous questions/answers. Deceptive pacing of interval/CSS sessions, by using an aquapacer, may be one type of session which would fit this description.   

9. What do we still need to understand about deception training?
An awful lot! If further work is needed to understand the effects of deception on performance and pacing generally, then we have even less research evidence relating to deceptive training methods, and even fewer studies still which relate to this in a swim-specific context. Sport-specificity is an important point in all of this, as deceptive methods may not be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ across differing events and distances, particularly in the case of swimming. Indeed, a recent study of junior 400 m swim performance suggests that initially aggressive pacing could be detrimental compared to more conservative starting strategies (see below) - potentially opposing our findings during triathlon running (although importantly these swimmers were not deceived of their pace). As such, the effectiveness of deceptive methods during training is certainly the next logical focus of my research work, both in the disciplines of triathlon and beyond.

Skorski, S., Faude, O., Abbiss, C. R., Caviezel, S., Wengert, N., & Meyer, T. (2014). Influence of Pacing Manipulation on Performance of Juniors in Simulated 400 m Swim Competition. International journal of sports physiology and performance [in press].

10. Right now, should swim coaches use deception training and if so, how would you advise?
Based on the points covered in previous questions, it is certainly a case of ‘could’ rather than ‘should’. There are simply too many unknowns, particularly in relation to swimming specifically, to give any kind of definitive answer. If coaches are thinking about using deceptive methods in training then, aside from the advice given already (e.g. recommended percentages of deception), they need to consider how to implement this type of training ethically - athletes may not be particularly happy to find out they have had the wool pulled over their eyes about their effort during training/racing! One suggested approach is to incorporate some form of disclaimer within a general informed consent form ahead of the upcoming season/training cycle. This would broadly state (amongst other important points) that some of their coached sessions could, at some point, utilise deceptive methods, but would not be specific enough to allow athlete’s to detect or guess when the methods were being used. Likewise, having completed a block of training which used deceptive methods, it is important that athletes are informed/debriefed about these afterwards. With this in mind, coaches should also be wary of using deception sparingly rather than ‘crying wolf’ – if it is used too often then it could lose its effectiveness or, worse still, have a negative effect on the coach-athlete dynamic during training.
 
11. What research or projects are you currently working on or should we look from you in the future?
I have just completed the data collection for my final PhD study which examines the effects of deceptively aggressive cycle pacing on physiology, perceptual responses, and performance during sprint-distance triathlon. Once the findings of this study have been worked through and written up, then I hope to complete my PhD in early 2015. As mentioned previously, my research beyond this will hopefully begin to address the use of deceptive methods during training.

For more information see: