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

Coded for Swimming Science by Cameron Yick

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Force Potential of the Early Vertical Forearm Part II

Last week the Force Potential of the Early Vertical Forearm was discussed . Unfortunately, knowing the definition does not necessarily cause improvement. Knowing is only half the battle!

Being able to adapt to and reduce potential flaws is essential for elite performance. Too often attention is given to the wrong area. For example, many coaches instruct the early vertical forearm, but the inhibitors may exist outside of the water that make these cues useless. It’s like yelling at a turtle to get up on its hind legs and dance- not physically possible!If something cannot be performed on land, then it is unlikely to occur in the water. This is not to say that performing the early vertical forearm repeatedly on land is a good idea, as this needlessly increases the risk of injury.  However,  screening to identify limitations is a mandatory step if coaches want their “EVF” cues to further their swimmers performance (rather than frustrate everyone involved.)

Deficiencies in muscle length, muscle strength, and muscle timing often prevent ideal movement. If a muscle is overactive, range of motion for the joint will be impaired. If it is weak, the body is unable to perform the movement properly. If it doesn’t have the muscle timing, then co-activation and aberrant movement exist, exacerbating and potentially inducing the aforementioned conditions. Much more about this can be found in the Swimmers Shoulder System or Troubleshooting publication with Allan Phillips (planned release date December 2012).

Another common mistake is to only consider the shoulder complex when addressing deficiencies. I believe that the shoulder is the first area to consider, as many of the answers are found in this joint. However, a joint by joint approach is necessary for maximum benefits. This typically means improving the joints proximal (cervical spine) and distal (thoracic spine) to the glenohumeral joint but could potentially be further away (hip or ankle). This makes it imperative to check for muscle length, strength, and timing at these joints as well.

The first step to assessing whether an athlete get achieve an EVF is determining whether the athlete has the necessary range of motion outside of the pool. If they do not, it is likely they have tight muscles (such as, potentially the infraspinatus) inhibiting this motion. However, assessing the muscle strength of the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizer muscles is key. Lastly, seeing if the athlete has control at the end range of internal and external rotation is key, as proper motor control or timing is essential for an proper early vertical forearm.

Next, check the neck range of motion, strength, and timing between the neck and the shoulder. If an athletes has any limitations at the neck, they could have impairments at the shoulder as many of the cervical muscles attach to the shoulder blades and collar bone.



The thoracic spine is a potential structure that limits EVF capability If the athlete has poor thoracic extension range, they it is likely their rotator cuff muscles have inadequate room for movement, potentially resulting in impingement. Also, if the thoracic spine and shoulder muscles do not work together, then as the shoulder flexes the thoracic spine may not respond with the necessary extension. Moreover, if the athlete performs flexion and internal rotation (EVF) the spine must slightly extend, allowing adequate rotator cuff and shoulder blade movement.

 

Think she has a good EVF?
As stated, the shoulder, neck, and thoracic spine are not the only areas for consideration. However, starting by investigating these areas often provides the most benefit. Make sure you are screening not only in the water, but also out of the water. This can be performed with the Swimmer Movement Screen.  Swim Sci now offer online movement screens via Skype, through which our expert team can help you and your swimmers to identify their structural limitations.
Only $50/screen

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.

Thoracic Mobility and Body Undulation Part II

In the last installment we discussed the importance of identifying T-spine limitations.  The most important question to ask is “What is preventing the swimmer from moving the thoracic spine properly?”  Placing swimmers into four categories of limitation can help identify the best intervention.
  • Conditioning – This swimmer has few (if any) stroke limitations and movement limitations, yet fatigues in longer races and/or lacks power in sprints.
  • Coordination – This swimmer has the necessary movement capacity for technical proficiency, but still has significant stroke flaws.
  • Stability – This swimmer has mobility but lacks the stability to match.
  • Mobility – Mobility limitations are just that: the swimmer can’t achieve adequate range of motion either passively or actively.  Swimmers with fixed kyphosis (mostly seen among masters and triathletes) commonly fall into this category.
Dryland screening is critical is to establish which mobility/stability limitations before addressing conditioning and coordination.  You won't know where the swimmer is unless you check!  We should strive to improve each category simultaneously, but must tailor the relative emphasis toward each swimmer’s needs.  Most coaches already know that the ceiling of improvement is small if you try to condition a flawed stroke.  If mobility or stability limitations are present, we should know what the limitations are before trying to correct the stroke.  Stroke modifications must harmonize with the swimmer’s present physical abilities.

Think of it like a recipe: conditioning, coordination, stability, and mobility are all ingredients.  The mix of these ingredients will change depending on what you are trying to make.  The best results come from adding the right ingredients in measured quantities; not from adding whatever we like without regard to how the ingredients mix.  Chocolate is great for chocolate brownies, but adding excess chocolate when the desert needs more milk or flour can ruin an otherwise good dish!


Screening and correction
The T-spine is a challenging area for even the best coaches and therapists.  What does the patient/athlete often do in the hours and days after a session?  Goes right back to the posture that we just spend an hour trying to correct!  Ergonomic awareness cannot be overstated.   Not only do elements of the short axis strokes encourage spinal flexion, the rest of life weighs us down and tries to undo the progress we make in the gym and the clinic.  Cars, desks, and heavy backpacks are the enemy of the T-spine.

Don’t assume anything with hypermobility.  Many swimmers appear hypermobile in the low back and the glenohumeral joint, but are actually limited in the T-spine.  Just because a swimmer can twist himself or herself into a pretzel does not mean they can move the T-spine in a manner required for the short axis strokes.  Extreme mobility in the lumbar spine can hide thoracic spine limitations, but this condition is hardly optimal and often unsustainable.

Great lumbar and cervical extension…but what about the T-spine?
Wall slide – A simple screen that’s also specific to fly and breast is the wall slide, offered by friend of the blog Dr. Brett Winchester and his co-author Dr. Craig Liebenson (2007).
If someone fails the wall slide, either by not being able to assume the start position or by not being able to move from the start position, we can investigate other areas such as the latissimus dorsi, pectorals, and scapulae to hone into the cause of limitation.  The wall slide can also be modified both as a screen and as an exercise based on starting position.  Lying supine (face up) is the easiest variation.  Situp position with knees bent and then moving to seated against the wall are both intermediate variations between supine and standing.  Always note the swimmer’s face angle (is it parallel to the ground?) and rib cage position (neutral or elevated?)

Breathing – Misuse of the primary inspiration muscles is closely tied to thoracic spine limitations.  Pay close attention to Dr. Mullen’s series about breathing for more details on the mechanics.  From a screening standpoint, know that breathing dysfunction can be both a cause and effect of thoracic mobility problems.   Faulty breathing transfers the load to the secondary breathing muscles, which biases the T-spine toward flexion due to hyperactivity of the upper traps, SCM, and pectorals.   It’s often hard to discern whether mood, conditioning, or habituation is the primary driving force behind breathing dysfunction.  However, we do know these all matter and deserve attention when trying to improve this area.

Soft tissue – (Foam roll, tennis balls, lacrosse balls).  If you read this blog frequently or are up to date with the current practices in the field, none of these implements are new.  What’s important is understanding how best to fit soft tissue work into a program.  Pair soft tissue work with exercise for optimal results.  Many people use these tools and even get massages, but neglect to follow-up and frequency with exercise to lock-in better posture and movement. 


Just as no single component of exercise should stand alone, soft tissue work will not achieve optimal results if not paired with exercise corrections.
Stability – Mobility means nothing if you don’t have stability to match.  Stability for the T-spine comes from the deep neck flexors, lower traps, and serratus anterior.  Addressing neck position in posterior dominant exercises can help provide stability for the T-spine mobility to express itself.  Note this picture of Eric Cressey below.  Taking away neck extension and demanding neck flexor activation forces mobility to come from the T-spine.  If the swimmer cheats with the neck, out of the water, there’s a good chance he or she will do the same in the water!


Mobility exercises can also train stability.  Cobra pose is quite popular both in yoga and as a temporary antidote for many with stiff lower backs (Dr. Mullen may have something to say about this in his low back series…).  However, modified Cobra pose can be used to train T-spine extension and neck stability.  Rather than arching the entire back and neck as in normal Cobra, keep the belly on the ground and the neck neutral (“packed”), as doing so forces the movement to come from the T-spine.  Press into the ground to create stability to support T-spine mobility.


Why is all this important for swimming?  
During the catch on fly and breast when the T-spine is at full extension (pressed toward the bottom of the pool), we want the neck neutral and eyes neutral or looking slightly upward.  An extended neck during the catch not only hinders one’s ability to press the chest down, it also distorts balance and is horribly un-hydrodynamic due to increasing the swimmer’s frontal surface area.  Neck extension is undoubtedly necessary to breathe outside water in butterfly, but if a swimmer can’t perform an exercise like the deadlift with a neutral neck and can’t provide the stability needed for an effective catch and T-spine extension in the short axis strokes, we should address the basics of posture and positioning first.

What NOT to do
Sometimes knowing what NOT to do is just as important knowing what TO do.  For certain athletes, a program emphasizing crunches, bench press, back squats, or dips may undermine efforts to correct T-spine limitations.  None of these are “bad” exercises, including the oft maligned crunches as Dr. Mullen pointed out.  What makes exercises “bad” is poor programming and poor execution.  However, since athletes often lift with limited or no supervision, we must consider all the relevant factors when assigning exercises.
Coaches must think prescriptively rather than programmatically.  If a swimmer needs to improve T-spine extension, flexion-biased exercises are usually not the priority.  Because an exercise worked for swimmer “A” does not mean it will be appropriate for swimmer “B” at this particular moment.  Earn the right to explore a greater library of exercises by demonstrating proficiency with the fundamentals of mobility, stability, and stroke technique.  If improving T-spine extension is a priority, find out where the limitation lies and prioritize exercises based on their role in correcting the limitation.

Reference:
Liebenson, C. Winchester, B.  A Key Link in the Locomotor System: The Upper Thoracic Spine. Dynamic Chiropractic.  June 17, 20011, Vol. 29, Issue 13.


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

Flip Turn Flaws


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

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

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


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



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



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

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


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


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

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



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


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

Skiers



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



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



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

Standing Psoas



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



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



Prone Alternating Arm and Leg



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


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



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



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

Dryland Mistakes: Spinal Flexion

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

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

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

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

Ecclesial Teaching

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

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

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

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

Research Reproductions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Problems

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

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

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

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

Non-Functional

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

Proper Form

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

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


Progression

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

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





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

Thoracic Mobility and Body Undulation

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Round-Up


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

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

All You Need to Know About Inspiratory Muscles Part I

No matter the distance, every swimmer is out of breath at the end of a race....excuse me if I just blew your mind!  This obvious statement has lead swim coaches to attempt various training means to prevent "being out of breath" as the main limiting factor in swimming.  The most common attempt was increasing swimming volume, while others implemented underwater training to improve this function, unfortunately some swimmers will have limitations secondary to inspiratory muscle fatigue.  Of the two aforementioned strategies, underwater training should improve isometric strength of the forced inspiratory muscles, but is this enough to maximize and optimize inspiratory muscle performance....
Quiet breathing is necessary to live and it is essential for athletes (and everyone) to breathe properly at rest.  At rest the diaphragm is the primary breathing muscle and improper use of their diaphragm can cause added stress to other structures.  From my experience, approximately 50% of Junior National level swimmers have improper diaphragm use and dissociation! 


This series will address the breathing muscles/biomechanics, importance of inspiratory strength, effects inspiratory fatigue demonstrates on performance, screening and lastly discuss a few dryland exercises to improve this deficiency. Lets start improving this number and optimizing swimming potential! 


Breathing Biomechanics
Breathing is a uniquely simplistically complex function performed by numerous muscles. It is commonly believed the chest is the primary location of respiration. This misconception is secondary to the location of the lungs, but when emphasized can lead to faulty breathing patterns.  Before we discuss faulty patterns, lets discuss the four types of breathing and typical biomechanics:
  1. Quiet Inspiration
  2. Quiet Expiration
  3. Forced Inspiration
  4. Forced Expiration
Here is what the John Hopkin's school of Medicine has to say about respiration: 

"During quiet breathing, the predominant muscle of respiration is the diaphragm. As it contracts, pleural pressure drops, which lowers the alveolar pressure, and draws air in down the pressure gradient from mouth to alveoli. Expiration during quiet breathing is predominantly a passive phenomenon, as the respiratory muscles are relaxed and the elastic lung and chest wall return passively to their resting volume, the functional residual capacity.

However, during exercise, many other muscles become important to respiration. During inspiration, the external intercostals raise the lower ribs up and out, increasing the lateral and anteroposterior dimensions of the thorax. The scalene muscles and sternomastoids also become involved, serving to raise and push out the upper ribs and the sternum.

During active expiration, the most important muscles are those of the abdominal wall (including the rectus abdominus, internal and external obliques, and transversus abdominus), which drive intra-abdominal pressure up when they contract, and thus push up the diaphragm, raising pleural pressure, which raises alveolar pressure, which in turn drives air out. The internal intercostals assist with active expiration by pulling the ribs down and in, thus decreasing thoracic volume."

During a deep inspiration these are the steps I look for:
  1. Diaphragm descends
  2. Ribs expand, elevate and rotate forward
  3. Shoulder blades move laterally

As stated, many people feel the chest and lungs need to be the primary mover for inspiration.  This is commonly due to the lack of understanding of which muscles are used during inspiration. Here's a list of the muscles during passive breathing and inspiration: 
  1. Diaphragm: This inspiratory muscle lies across the bottom of the rib cage and is essential for optimal swimming and breathing. Is commonly felt during belly breathing and helps raise and lower the abdominal wall, allowing expansion of the lungs. Used during all forms of breathing.
  2. Intercostal Muscles: These muscles help expand the chest and move the ribs, allowing for further chest expansion. Different fiber orientations are used during different times.  External fibers are used during inspiration and internal are used during expiration. Used during all forms of breathing.
  3. Scalenes: There are three scalene muscles which attach from the first few ribs to various vertebral structures.  These muscles should only be used during inspiration (preferably forced). 
  4. Pectoralis Minor: Runs from ribs 3-5 to a part of the shoulder blade (coracoid process).  Mainly used during inspiration. 
  5. Serratus Anterior: Spans from the outer surface of ribs 8 and 9 to the shoulder blade.  Used during inspiration.
  6. Sternocleidomastoid: Spans from the sternum and collar bone to the back of the head.  Used during inspiration.
  7. Levator Costarum: This muscle runs from the sides of the vertebrae to the posterior aspect of the ribs. Used during inspiration.
  8. Upper Trapezius: Runs from the back of the head to the outside of the collar bone. Used during inspiration.
  9. Latissmus Dorsi: Segments exist at multiple parts, most notably for breathing at the 3rd and 4th rib and shoulder blade running to the inside of the arm. Used during inspiration.
  10. Subclavis: Runs from the first rib to the shoulder blade. Used during inspiration.
As you can see, inspiration is a complex movement utilizing many muscles.  Ten muscles alone are used to breathe inward, this doesn't include the importance of expiratory muscles (mainly the abdominal muscles).   The epicenter of inspiratory breathing is the diaphragm, imagine if this muscle is not working correctly....more stress is placed on specific shoulder muscles, potentially leading to earlier fatigue in the arms and inspiratory muscle fatigue or worse, shoulder injury. Stay tuned for the next installments, focusing on the expiratory muscles, a literature on inspiratory muscle fatigue, screening and exercises.

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.

Friday Interview with Lori Briggs

Please introduce yourself to the readers (how you are involved in swimming, your credentials education, etc.) 

My name is Lori Briggs and as owner of Core Body Solutions my focus is to assist coaches, elite athletes, junior athletes, or clients who are interested in overall fitness and wellness in developing training programs that will enable them to reach their goals.


For 3.5 years I was the dry land specialist for the USA Swimming National Team.  I developed dry land training programs that were tailored to optimizing efficiency of Olympic swimmers.  I also developed programs for Fullerton Aquatic Sports Team (FAST) under the direction of Olympic Coach Jon Urbanchek.  In addition to this Post-Graduate Training Center in Fullerton, I have also worked one-on-one with athletes at the Olympic Training Center during high altitude training camps in Colorado Springs, CO.  In preparation for the 2008 Games in Beijing, I assisted the USA National Team Head Coach with strength and conditioning programs and dry land training for the athletes.  My experience also includes tailoring workouts for Figure Skaters and Ice Dancers at Junior National Competitions.     

I have over 30 years experience in the fitness industry.  My unique approach to health and fitness emphasize core strength and nutrition as the foundation for optimizing wellness.  I am a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) through the International Sports Medicine Association (ISMA).  I have written articles for Medical Voyce focusing on women’s health issues and created DVD’s on improving core strength.  Featured articles have been written about me in Colorado Avid Golfer Magazine, Orange County, CA Register and Western State College Alumni Magazine.  I have held positions of Athletic Director at the Club at Flying Horse, a private country club, and have been honored as Colorado’s top personal trainer.  Through the years, my involvement in bodybuilding and figure physique competitions, have brought me medals, trophies and great personal satisfaction.  I believe my success has been based upon my commitment, discipline and high intensity training.  For over 20 years I owned and operated a Jazzercise franchise that gave me an opportunity to use my gifts of empathy, humor, physical fitness and passion to mentor and nurture women to feel good about their bodies and health.  Other areas of expertise center on weight and lifestyle coaching from a total health perspective, healthy eating strategies, weight training and cardiovascular endurance.  I hold a certification in the TRX Suspension Training that utilizes total-body resistance exercises to achieve sport specific goals that my client’s have.  Pilates, Functional Integrated Movement Patterns, Training for Power and Partner-Assisted Stretch are certifications that enhance my areas of technical expertise when implementing training programs for all sports.  
 
My personal interests include:

  • Road races and cycling rides consisting of century rides and elevation climbs of 10,000 feet
  • Pikes Peak Incline – 2,000 feet vertical climb in 1 mile followed by a 4 mile run
  • National Physique Competitions   
How do you implement resistance training in an athlete’s off season?

Implementing resistance training in the off season can work major muscle groups when recovery and regeneration is the most important goal.  I use stretch cords, bands and tubing to strengthen many of the tiny connector muscles, ligaments and tendons that can become overused or overlooked while training in the pool during the season.  When used correctly, I use them for patterning, movement prep and correction.  If you are just using them as another form of resistance you’re missing the most important component of band training.  The reactive techniques are by far the most impressive because they yield quick results.  I believe using tubing and band work immediately following flexibility work during the off season is the best time.  That is also the best time for patterning and stability.  A swimmer must use the motion they gain or they will lose it and the must pattern it and stabilize it before they load it.  Strong and durable jump bands can be incorporated into workouts and allow for high tempo-dynamic movements with efficient thoracic rotations to be learned.  I like to also introduce power jump bands in the off season to teach proper knee alignment, balance, and explosiveness in jumping (mimics jumping off the blocks).  Resistance training can be combined with core stabilization and balance exercises for performing chops, lifts, presses, pushing, pulling, rotations and anti-rotations.  My favorite exercise is using a resistance band to fire the “powerhouse” core muscles while increasing flexibility and postural alignment in a supine position.  It is an exercise that adds elements of strength, intensity and balance during the off season.    

How long do you spend on correcting mobility, muscle imbalances, etc?

Understanding movement principles of the body and how they work can help coaches and their athletes exercise in a deeper and more meaningful way.  It is not so much a question of “how long” we spend correcting mobility or muscle imbalances as gaining an understanding of physiology and biomechanics so you can decide what is right and what is wrong for your athletes.  Below you will find nine key principles (briefly defined) that I use in my dry land training programs that address all foundations of movement:

  1. Breathing – Breath is integrated into every movement we do in order to keep our awareness on what exercise we are doing.  It is an essential link between our mind and the body.
  2. Concentration – Without concentration the exercises lose their form and their purpose.  When teaching swimmers it is important to have them do only as many repetitions as they can without losing their concentration.
  3. Control – To be in control is to understand and maintain the proper form, alignment and effort during an entire exercise.  My clients never perform an exercise without engaging the mind to control the movement and the effort that the body is making.
  4. Centering – All movement radiates outward from the center.  Developing a strong, stable and flexible center is one of the defining features of exercise.
  5. Precision – Understanding proper forms and placement and being able to perform exercises with efficiency comes with practice.  Precision is the end product of concentration, control, centering and practice.
  6. Balanced Muscle Development – Understanding, developing and maintaining correct alignment and form is essential.  With practice, these principles become second nature and lead to improved posture and enhanced performance for swimmers.
  7. Rhythm/Flow – All movements are done with a sense of rhythm and flow.  Flow creates smooth, graceful and functional movements.
  8. Whole Body Movement – Integrating the mind and body to create clarity, purpose and performance.
  9. Relaxation – We learn to use just the amount of effort needed to complete the exercise correctly, no more, no less.
How do you use speed training within your resistance training programs?

When training to increase speed in the water, obviously workouts differ significantly from endurance workouts.  The intensity of the training, not the distance you swim, is the critical part of the workout.  I leave the workouts designed for the “wet side” to the coaches and their expertise.  What I attempt to blend in with the dry land resistance training program are exercises focusing on the fast twitch muscles.  Often times I use very light dumbbells to accomplish this goal.  Dry land programs will mimic “interval training” where athletes attempt to perform each exercise for the duration of 2 minutes.  Of course form and alignment during the 2 minutes is always priority.  Athletes will be kept to a short 30-second recovery break before moving to the next dry land station.   

What aspect of resistance training or exercise in general do you feel coaches use incorrectly?

In the world of competitive swimming, coaches know the most important propulsive element in swimming is the Early Vertical Forearm (EVF) or the catch.  However utilizing resistance training properly so the athlete acquires and improves this critical skill can be the challenging factor.  If a swimmer can’t demonstrate the EVF out of the water, most won’t be able to accomplish the skill in the water.  Coaches should develop a dry land program that strengthens the posterior rotator cuff muscles.  Coaches should give themselves plenty of opportunities to see that their swimmers can perform the skill correctly.  Videotaping dry land exercises and isometric training drills on the pool deck can be effective training tools for an athlete.  Having athletes mimic the swimming stroke of world-class swimmers using a great EVF position can be very beneficial.  Resistance training exercises must be incorporated in every swimmers training regime.  From a variety of dry land positions on deck, the coach can tell their swimmer what they’re looking for, and then can manipulate a swimmer’s arm until they can hold the effective position without help.  Stabilizing and strengthening exercises specific to the rotator cuff, deltoids and the muscles of the upper and middle back can then be incorporated into a comprehensive resistance training program.  But most importantly, coaches should emphasize that all exercises are done with the principles of control, precision, breathing, focus, concentration, and finally stabilizing the joint and mobilizing the limb with fluid and efficient movement.  Using proper exercise form and learning to stabilize the shoulder girdle or scapula before beginning each shoulder exercise will help the athlete be more efficient in the water and with less chance of injury.  My goal in a resistance training program is to incorporate all three areas including:  stretch, stabilize and strengthen.  

What projects are you working on now or we should anticipate in the future?

I have just recently launched a professional website that coaches and athletes can utilize for additional training needs and programs.  You can log onto www.corebodysolutionsllc.com to view the site.  Core Body Solutions has a unique approach to developing dry land training programs for professional athletes.  

  • Step 1:  Core Body Solutions begins with an Evaluation Process that answers the question, “How Balanced Are You”?  Multidimensional training programs are designed to use fitness assessments to tailor strength, endurance, and flexibility exercises for individual needs.  Simple but challenging tests will determine whether you have deficiencies in body alignment, flexibility or lack of rotational movements.

  • Step 2:  We will design programs that guide you and show you how to train for smooth, fluid movements, prevent muscle imbalances, mobility, restrictions, stability problems and keep injuries at bay.  Putting together optimal movement skills and conditioning programs will enhance your athletic performance.

  • Step 3:  Evaluating and assessing your athletic goals and accomplishments will be addressed and necessary modifications will be made to your training programs