Friday Interview: Dr. Santi Veiga Discusses Backstroke Turns

1. Please introduce yourself to the readers (how you started in the profession, education, credentials, experience, etc.). 
I am a swimming coach for Madrid Swimming Federation working with swimmers on the Junior National Team. We are based in the Madrid High Performance Center where we work together with the elite group of Olympic swimmer and coach Bart Kizierowski. Our swimmers have obtained medals at international competitions both at junior and senior level. I am also Associate Professor at the Faculty of Sport Sciences (Technical Madrid University, Spain) where I teach biomechanics and skill acquisition. In 2010 I received my Doctorate in Sports Performance at the University Castilla La-Mancha (Spain) and I am a certified national swimming coach (Royal Spanish Swimming Federation) since 2005. My main research topic is performance analysis in swimming. 

2. You recently published an article on backstroke turns, what do we know about backstroke turns?
The turn segment is a major contributor to swimming races that could represent up to one third of the total race time, especially in the short course events. Coaches and swimmers should be aware that swimming turns have a crucial impact on swimming performance because they can compensate slower swimming phases, especially in the longer events where the turning skills are repeated every lap. 

In backstroke, despite previous studies have reported that swimmers perform a long underwater kicking phase (Blanksby et al., 2004; Kennedy et al., 1990) and that races rely more on the starts and turns (Kjendlie et al., 2006), there is a lack of investigations studying the key kinematic variables for the turning performance. Some studies have shown that higher skilled swimmers cut the turning times by increasing head to wall distance at the beginning of the turn, by extending the legs (between 100 and 120º angle) at the moment of touch to reduce contact time with the wall (Araujo et al., 2010; Blanksby et al., 2004; Puel et al., 2012) and by kicking efficiently in the first meters after the turn (Zamparo et al., 2012). However, most of the studies focus only on the freestyle turn. 

In competition, the faster swimmers have been reported to obtain shorter 15 m turning times (Arellano et al., 1994) but very few studies have analyzed the complete turning movements including the complete underwater kicking phase (Blanksby et al., 2004; Chow et al., 1984, Mason and Cossor, 2001). Therefore, there are plenty of unknown questions about turn performance: How far should be the underwater kicking phase for competitive backstroke turns?, Is there any critical variable of the competitive backstroke turns?, Do significant changes occur in the competitive backstroke turn as the race progress?, …

3. What were the main findings in your study?
Our research group in the Madrid Technical University developed a new method for race analysis in swimming based on direct measurements of the distance traveled by swimmers during the starting or turning movements (Veiga et al., 2013). With this individualized-distance model we analyzed the turns of national and regional level swimmers throughout 200 m backstroke races focusing on the underwater swimming parameters (Veiga et al., 2013). 

Our main finding was to reveal the underwater turn velocity as a critical variable for turning performance and it relationships to the swimmer’s level of skill. In our research, the fastest swimmers performed faster but no longer turns during the 200 m backstroke races. Previous studies had related the underwater velocity to the start performance (Burkett et al., 2010; Cossor and Mason, 2001; de Jesus et al., 2011; Pereira et al., 2006; Vantorre et al., 2010) but, to our knowledge, no such finding had been ever reported in the turn segment. 

Another important finding was to report that the fastest swimmers maintained their turning times at the end of the race by increasing the underwater velocity in the last turn. They subordinated the underwater distance in order to maximize the underwater velocity and, therefore, to obtain a gain of mean race speed. 

Finally, 200 m backstroke swimmers in our study only swim for about 75% of the race and rest is being done under water. Therefore, a short course swimmer will do a lot fewer cycles than in a Olympic size pool in comparison with other strokes. 

4. What are the most common mistakes on backstroke turns in trained swimmers?
When approaching the wall, trained swimmers tend to lose stroke frequency as they pay attention to the timing of the rolling from the supine to the prone position before commencing the tumble turn. One useful tip should be increasing kicking power in the last strokes before the turn. 

During the tumble turn, swimmers often do not approach their limbs to the center of gravity resulting in a greater radius of gyration and a slower angular velocity. Swimmers should simultaneously move a) the chin closer to the neck b) the knees closer to the chest and c) the heels closer to the hips. The hands propulsion should also help to turn faster by moving the arms from the sides of the trunk (initial position) to the hydrodynamic position (final position). 

Finally, on the underwater swimming phase, trained swimmers rarely adopt a good hydrodynamic position with fast underwater kicking. They should move the shoulders closer to the ears in order to avoid any space between the arms and the head and they should control the hip position to avoid an hyperextension of the trunk during the glide. Regarding the underwater kicking, they should avoid long apneas with slow underwater velocity. The underwater kicking is only efficient when it is performed faster than swimming above water velocity. 

5. What are the most common mistakes on backstroke turns in elite swimmers?
Despite elite swimmers have usually overcome most of the common mistakes presented in trained swimmers, they often present two weak spots:

During wall feet contact swimmers should place feet parallel and with the toes looking upwards. This would represent a previous fast forward (not slightly sideward) tumble turn and would allow them to push off forcefully with the maximum peak forces on the wall. 

From the beginning of the legs extension during the wall push off swimmers should adopt a hydrodynamic arm position. Usually, swimmers only adopt a minimum resistance arm position when the legs are almost fully extended and this impede them to maximize their velocity out off the wall. 

For elite swimmers, the underwater turn phase represent a huge improvement area as most of them do not explode their maximum potential. They should play attention to the following key points:

Many elite swimmers with fast underwater velocities emerge at distances from the 15 m mark, specially on the 200 m events, due to their lack of conditioning. 

Other elite swimmers extend their underwater kick too much resulting in a loss of speed because they are moving slower than above water. 

Finally, the transition of the underwater kick to the swimming phase of the race should be made with a perfect breakout. The frequency of the two first strokes should be higher than the average swimming rate and it should allow for the swimmer head emersion at the moment the first arm push is over. 

6. How can swimmers improve their turns?
The turning skills must be emphasized both with specific drills and also during long training sets. It is very important to work on turns at race velocities and paying attention at the tactical strategies during competition. Coaches must provide swimmers with specific protocols regarding the number of underwater kicking depending on the speed (sprint, mid-distance or distance races) but also depending on the turn order (controlled speed throughout the race but maximum speed on the last turn underwater kicking). These underwater kicking protocols must be rehearsed on a daily basis when performing race pace sets in training. Of course, the approach to the wall and the tumble turn should always be FAST.

For example, on a typical Heart Rate Set of 30x100 on 1’40 (50 m) descend 2-2-2, the turn kicking protocols could be set as: 
  • 2 sets focusing on pushing off the wall and streamlined position. 
  • 2 sets with mid-turn race kicking protocol. 
  • 2 sets with last-turn race kicking protocol. 
7. How can swimmers improve their dolphin kicks?
For coaches and swimmers, the dolphin kicking must be considered as relevant as any other competitive stroke and coaches should program specific drills and training sets to work on it:

At the early ages, swimmers must work on their dolphin kick when performing kicking with a board. Swimmers must seek for the maximum forward displacement on each kick and, at the same time, they must intend to maintain and stable upper trunk and head position. The vertical displacement up and down must be performed only with lower body. At these ages, the main emphasis should not be put on the apnea kicking as children have not developed yet their anaerobic capacities to a high level. 

As the swimmers develop, their training programs should include some apnea kicking sets on a daily basis, specially for the backstroke and butterfly specialists. These sets could assisted with fins or monofin and should focus both on the upward and downward kicking as both phases can provide propulsion [check out Monofin Kicking Doesn't Equal Double-Leg Kicking!]

Another useful way to improve dolphin kicks in swimmers of all ages is to work vertical kicking which can be easily arranged as a progression depending on the parts of the body above the surface level (hand, elbow, one arm, …)

8. What progressions do you see for the future of backstroke turns?
Considering that the underwater adulatory swimming (if performed properly) can be one of the fastest way of water human propulsion, I see most of elite swimmers in the near future increasing distances they travel underwater up to 15 m in each turn segment throughout races. This will not only happen for elite but also for trained swimmers who are also taking profit of this skill to improve average race velocity. Data from our researches reveals that in the last two decades the underwater turn distances in 200 m events have increased around 1 to 3 m per turn depending on the stroke. 

9. What research or projects are you currently working on or should we look from you in the future?
After having validated the new procedure for race analysis in swimming (Veiga et al. 2010), we are now focused on producing race parameters using individual measurements on different populations of swimmers (elite to average levels of skill, males and females, long and short course, …)

During last 2012 Paralympic Games in London we carried out an International Paralympic Committee research project in conjunction with Manchester Metropolitan University where we obtained race parameters using individual measurements of the swimming races. Sheet reports have been sent to all the team managers and we are currently establishing the effect of specific sub-groups on the race parameters. 

We are also working with individual distance data from last FINA World Swimming Championships Barcelona 2013 obtained by Biomechanics Department of the High Performance Center Sant Cugat (Barcelona, Spain). In the near future, we hope to obtain a clear state of the art of the individual distance race parameters for different performance levels as well as providing an accurate feedback of improvement areas for coaches and swimmers.

References
  1. Araujo, L., Pereira, S., Gatti, R., Freitas, E., Jacomel, G., Roesler, H., and Villas-Boas, J. (2010) Analysis of the lateral push-off in the freestyle flip turn. Journal of Sport Sciences 28(11), 1175-81.
  2. Arellano, R., Brown, P., Cappaert, J., and Nelson, R. (1994) Analysis of 50, 100, and 200 m Freestyle Swimmers at the 1992 Olympic Games. Journal of Applied Biomechanics 10, 189-199.
  3. Blanksby, B., Skender, S., Elliott, B., McElroy, K., and Landers, G. (2004) An analysis of the rollover backstroke turn by age-group swimmers. Sports Biomechanics 3(1), 1-14.
  4. Burkett, B., Mellifont, R., and Mason, B. (2010) The Influence of swimming start components for selected Olympic and Paralympic swimmers. Journal of Applied Biomechanics 26, 134-140.
  5. Chow, J., Hay, J., Wilson, B. and Imel, C. (1984) Turning techniques of elite swimmers. Journal of Sports Sciences 2, 241-255. 
  6. de Jesus, K., Vilas-Boas, J.P., Fernandes, R.J., Figueiredo, P., Gonçalves, P. and Pereira, S. (2011) Biomechanical analysis of backstroke swimming starts. International Journal of sports medicine 32, 546-551.
  7. Kennedy, P., Brown, P., Chengalur, S.N., and Nelson, R.C. (1990) Analysis of male and female Olympic swimmers in the 100-meter events. International Journal of Sport Biomechanics 6, 187-197.
  8. Kjendlie, P. S., Haljand, R., Fjortoft, O., and Stallman, R. K. (2006) The temporal distribution of race elements in elite swimmers. Portuguese Journal of Sport Sciences 6(2 Suppl), 54-56.
  9. Mason, B. R., and Cossor, J. M. (2001) Swim turn performances at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. In: Proceedings of Swim Sessions XIX International Symposium on Biomechanics in Sports. Ed: Blackwell, J. and Sanders, R.H. International Society of Biomechanics in Sports, San Francisco: 65-69.
  10. Pereira, S., Ruschel, C., and Araujo, L. G. (2006) Biomechanical analysis of the underwater phase in swimming starts. Portuguese Journal of Sport Sciences 6(2 Suppl), 79-81.
  11. Puel, F., Morlier, J., Avalos, M., Mesnard, M., Cid, M., and Hellard, P. (2012) 3D kinematic and dynamic analysis of the front crawl tumble turn in elite male swimmers. Journal of Biomechanics 45, 510–515.
  12. Vantorre, J., Seifert, L., Fernandes, R. J., Vilas Boas, J. P., and Chollet, D. (2010) Kinematical Profiling of the Front Crawl Start. International Journal of Sports Medicine 31, 16-21.
  13. Veiga, S., Cala, A., González Frutos, P., & Navarro, E. (2010). The validity and reliability of a procedure for competition analysis in swimming based on individual distance measurements. XIth International Symposium for Biomechanics & Medicine in Swimming, 11, 182–184.
  14. Veiga, S., Cala, A., González Frutos, P., & Navarro, E. (2013). Kinematical comparison of the 200 m backstroke turns between national and regional level swimmers. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 12, 730-737.
  15. Veiga, S., Cala, A., Mallo, J., & Navarro, E. (2013) A new procedure for race analysis in swimming based on individual distance measurements. Journal of Sports Sciences, 31, 159–165.
  16. Zamparo, P., Vicentini, M., Scattolini, A., Rigamonti, M., and Bonifazi, M. (2012) The contribution of underwater kicking efficiency in determining “turning performance” in front crawl swimming. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 52(5), 457-464.













Five Flip Turn Fundamentals

Side-spins, crossed feet, and skidding the surface are common flip turn errors which I discussed in Flip Turn Flaws I and Flip Turn Flaws II. I've been to enough practices to see these improper turning styles be used in swimmers of all skill levels, but it is time to start making changes and learn to incorporate correct methods in every aspect of the sport for elite success. The flip turn is one of the easiest places to make a positive habit and improve performance! 

Unfortunately, many swimmers don't see the flip turn as area to improve speed or beat a competitor, but simply as a place to rest from a grueling practice. I'm sure many of you are exhausted from 10,000 meter sets (yes sets, not practices), but the practice of poor turns is unacceptable. Imagine if you saw a group of elite swimmers perform Tarzan freestyle when they fatigued, well guess what, this is nearly the same practice as performing improper turns! In fact, performing poor turns which increase torsional stress on the low back is equally as injurious on the low back as Tarzan freestyle is on the shoulders (read low back instability in swimmers for more information). 


Enough negative thoughts, it is a New Year and positivity is key for optimal health, so without further ado, here are Five flip turn fundamentals:

Five flip turn fundamentals
  1. Pull with your bottom hand! Luckily, this is a common practice on pool decks, but it still needs to be reiterated as Larsen et al. (2005) showed elite swimmers initiate their swimming with their bottom arm off a turn. This makes sense, as pulling with the bottom arm likely aides in rotation. However, future research must analyze the effects of pulling with the dominant or non-dominant arm when the swimmer is parallel to the bottom (as seen in those performing longer underwater dolphin kicking).
  2. Consider not kicking for the first 5-meters! Many anxious swimmers begin kicking immediately off the turn, likely impeding explosiveness from the push-off (Zamparo 2010). One study, found the highest velocity during the first 0.08 seconds off the wall (Wada 2010). Instead of kicking immediately off the turn, be patient and conserve same of your energy. Unfortunately, I can't provide concrete times to start kicking, as everyone is different, but make sure you are trying different distances off the wall. 
  3. Swim fast into the wall! The faster an object goes in, the faster it goes out! This applies to bouncy balls and swimming. High correlations have been suggested between speed entering a turn, speed of the flip, and turning performance (Puel 2010; Puel 2012). 
  4. Get deep off the turn! As underwater kicking becomes more prevalent, it is essential to optimize under water speed. It seems the deeper one performs their underwater kicking, the greater the likelihood of improved performance, as the water is less turbulent and slowing in deeper water (Marinho 2010).
  5. Dive into the turn! Swimmers with better turns start their turns further away from the wall with a faster speed providing them a quicker push from the wall (Puel 2012). This makes diving into the turn a key move, likely decreasing their turning time.
Summary
Every swimmer performs countless turns at practice. Make sure every turn counts and you're implementing these five flip turn fundamentals, as the turn is a high yield area of improvement!

References:
  1. Larsen, B., & Hinrichs, R. N. (2005). Transition from the glide phase to free swimming following a freestyle flip turn: Which arm pulls first? Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 37(5), Supplement abstract 609.
  2. Zamparo, P., Vicentini, M., Zorzi, E., Scattolini, A., Rigamonti, A., & Bonifazi, M. (2010). The interplay between leg kick efficiency and pushing phase acceleration in determining the "turning speed" in front crawl swimming. A paper presented at the XIth International Symposium for Biomechanics and Medicine in Swimming, Oslo, June 16–19, 2010.
  3. Wada, T., Sato, T., Ohishi, K., Tago, T., Izumi, T, Matsumoto, T., Yamamoto, N., Isaka, T., & Shimoyama, Y. (2010). An analysis of the underwater gliding motion in collegiate competitive swimmers. A paper presented at the XIth International Symposium for Biomechanics and Medicine in Swimming, Oslo, June 16–19, 2010.
  4. Puel, F., Morlier, J., Cid, M., Chollet, D., & Hellard, P. (2010). Biomechanical factors influencing tumble turn performance of elite female swimmers. A paper presented at the XIth International Symposium for Biomechanics and Medicine in Swimming, Oslo, June 16–19, 2010.
  5. Marinho, D. A., Barbosa, T. M., Mantripragada, N., Vilas-Boas, J. P., Rouard, A. H., Mantha, V., Rouboa, A. I., & Silva, A. J. (2010). The gliding phase in swimming: The effect of water depth. A paper presented at the XIth International Symposium for Biomechanics and Medicine in Swimming, Oslo, June 16–19, 2010.
  6. Puel F, Morlier J, Avalos M, Mesnard M, Cid M, Hellard P. 3D kinematic and dynamic analysis of the front crawl tumble turn in elite male swimmers. J Biomech. 2012 Feb 2;45(3):510-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2011.11.043. Epub 2011 Dec 15
By G. John Mullen founder of the Center of Optimal Restoration, head strength coach at Santa Clara Swim Club, creator of the Swimmer's Shoulder System, and chief editor of the Swimming Science Research Review.

Friday Interview with Jeff Commings

1) Please introduce yourself to the readers (how you started in swimming,education, experience, etc.).
My name is Jeff Commings and I've been swimming for more than 30 years. I started when I was 4 as a way to have something to do at a boys' club in St. Louis. I graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in journalism and numerous All-America accolades. I was a part of the USA Swimming national team from 1989 to 1994, won a bronze medal in the 100 breaststroke at the 1991 Pan American Games and competed in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Trials. (He forgot to mention he is the author of Odd Man Out).


2) Anyone on Swimming World has seen your practices, but what is your current training schedule and how did you decide on frequency/intensity?
I swim five days a week, usually taking off Saturday and Monday. My days off are just that -- no exercise! In my younger days, it was OK to swim six days a week at high intensity, with a day of rest. But now that I'm in my 30s, my body needs time to recover. I try to have one day each week focus on aerobic work in the pool, but that depends on the phase I'm in each season. Intensity also depends on the phase of the season. The first part of the season focuses on maintaining the aerobic base, with focus on technique and endurance. Most sets are at a fast pace with little rest. About eight or nine weeks from the taper meet, I do workouts that focus heavily on race pace training. That's doing repeats of fast swims of usually no more than 100 yards/meters at all-out speed, with rest at least twice as long as the fast swims.


3) How do you incorporate mobility and stretching into your training?
I stretch quite often, but I used to scoff at people who thought it was a vital part of being a good swimmer. The irony is that I have very inflexible ankles -- at least when it comes to flutter and dolphin kick. It also hurts my breaststroke kick, since my ankle flexion isn't very good at the end of the kick. Maybe that's genetic, but it could have been improved if I had realized that I could increase ankle flexibility as I was growing into my body. There was a guy on my college team that used to stretch 20 minutes or more after every workout. We laughed at him. Now, I would love to have the time for 20 minutes of stretching. It would help with the knots I get in my back and legs every day! Right now, I try my best to stretch for five minutes after swimming and about that much after dryland workouts. I always do some dynamic stretching before diving into the pool, and do a little more after about 500 yards.


4)What is the weirdest training you've done throughout your career?
After more than 30 years in the sport, you would think I would have an answer for this, but I don't! None of my coaches thought so far out of the box that I thought anything they gave me was weird. In college, we used to do a 400 fly for time every six weeks or so, but that wasn't weird. When I lived at the Olympic Training Center, I had to do a 2000-meter breaststroke for time once a month, to gauge my progress. It was agonizing, but not weird, because everyone does those.


5) What aspects of your swimming are you currently concentrating on?
As an "older" swimmer, I know I can't really get stronger, so I'm working on getting faster, or staying as fast as I am now, through technique improvement. I have been aided in this by Takahisa "Tako" Ide, an assistant coach at Phoenix Swim Club who has taught me a lot about streamlining on starts and turns and how to get the most out of my pull and kick with the same effort. I'm currently working on a suggestion he gave me for the finish of my kick. It's a little difficult to explain, but it involves not kicking back, but down and back. He uses Kosuke Kitajima as a model every time.


6) What drills/activities are you doing to achieve this?
Lots of breaststroke kick drills, which is basically an extra kick at the end of each stroke. I'm working on hand pitch on my pull, and that involves lots of sculling, and I really find it useful.


7) In your opinion, what was the biggest adjustment you made in your swimming career (stroke biomechanical, training, dryland)? Has there been any particular changes secondary to age?
When I started Masters, I had a few nasty habits in my backstroke. I managed to get rid of my head movement while in college, but I still had a severe scissors/breaststroke kick that I resolved to fix in January 2002, one of many New Year's resolutions that year. I put on fins every time I swam backstroke for three months, which got rid of the urge to kick breaststroke. By June, I had evolved from full-on breaststroke kick to a three-beat flutter kick with a little scissor kick thrown in. In November 2002, I broke 1:00 in the 100-meter backstroke for the first time in my life! I credit a lot of it to the improved kick.


Besides the stuff Tako is teaching me, all my strokes have pretty much stayed the same as I got older.


8) Of all the testing sports performance testing you've done (underwater filming, blood lactate, etc.), what do you feel has been the most beneficial?
Underwater filming is extremely underrated. Your coach may be looking at your stroke and might see something, but he's not always at the right angle to see if your hand pitch is right or if you have a good underwater streamline. Likewise, you might feel like your stroke is correct, but I've always seen differently when I look at myself underwater. Last February, Tako filmed me underwater doing a 100 breast at an in-season meet. I was appalled at what I saw, but encouraged when I knew how to fix the flaws. Before then, I thought my stroke was fine, and that's because after many years, I had grown used to the flaws.


When I was training at the Olympic Training Center, I did every kind of test under the sun. Most of the results meant little to me, except for the simple thing of turning on the camera and following me down the pool.


9) You've been swimming for a while, what do you feel is the most important criteria for a life long love of swimming?
You mentioned the key word in your question: love. You have to love this sport, even when you don't perform as well as you want. I love to compete, and no matter the outcome, I usually walk away from the race feeling good that I did my best to race the guy next to me. I didn't have that love of the sport from age 20 to 26, and my swimming suffered dramatically. Masters swimming helped me rediscover how much I love swimming, and a lot of that comes from realizing that getting second place -- or fourth place or eighth place -- isn't the end of the world. Sometimes improvement doesn't come from working harder in the pool or fixing your stroke; it happens in the mind! I discovered that as I started making the goal of qualifying for the 2012 Olympic Trials.


10) What projects are you working on in and outside the pool?
Every day is a possible story to tell in the second edition of my autobiography, "Odd Man Out," though the second edition is many years away! I'm enjoying all the positive responses I'm getting from the first edition, which was published last year, and loving the fact that people are reading between the lines of my life and finding their own lives reflected back at them.


Thanks Jeff

Flip Turn Flaws Part II

If you missed part I, read it here. Remember, flip turns are the easiest way to greatly improve your swimming without directly changing your stroke biomechancis or swimming capacity. As we discussed in part I, flip turn fallacies are multifaceted, luckily improvements can be made with targeted dryland tools. However, just having the tools doesn't build the shed, using the tools properly will get the job done. This article will discuss the "correct" biomechanics of a flip turn, providing you the directions to use the tools. Remember, tweaks and alterations are mandatory to meet the various demands of each swimmer depending on their body characteristics.


The goal of the flip turn is to transfer energy from one direction to the other. If performed properly, the flip turn is the fastest portion of your swimming (outside the start). Unfortunately, many swimmers land stiff-legged, instead of absorbing and transferring energy into the wall, look at the wall prior to the flip, or rotate while they are on the wall. These errors impede velocity and produce greater shear force. Shear forces disperse the direction of force, impairing composite linear force. These side spinners don't need to look far from the pool deck to see correctly flipping biomechanics...check out the diving boards. Our diving brothers always flip directly over their feet, to maximize forward momentum, decrease air resistance (water resistance for our case) and to not look like a dog chasing their tail! Those a few of the common errors, but lets tackle the essential steps for a proper flip turn.


10 Step Solution


These steps are essential for optimal turns, follow all ten and you will be out flipping your peers in the no time. 
Step 1 Approach the wall with maximal velocity.
This should be obvious, but many slow down at the turn. Approach the wall with maximal speed to transfer this energy. 
Step 2 Tuck your chin towards your chest on your last stroke. 
This will allow momentum from your final stroke to initiate your turn. 



Step 3 Initiate your flip from your core and hips. 
During your last stroke, begin using your core. This will keep your center of gravity close to your body maximizing velocity. Remember, being as compact as possible is essential to maintain velocity by decreasing drag. Remember, divers don't do flying squirrels for a reason, especially if you are on the Red Bull Diving Tour. 
Minimal Hip Flexion, All Core!


Step 4 Get your feet to the wall! 
Driving your speed from your core (not your feet) allows maximal rotational velocity to get to the wall. Get your feet to the wall as fast as possible, this is accomplished with a tight core rotation. At this time you should be on your back, not side! 


Step 5 Absorb the impact of the wall
 Many swimmers try to push-off the wall as soon as possible. This is WRONG! For example, do a squat jump. If you absorb the impact of the jump, you will bend your knees on the landing. Flip turns are no different. Absorb the energy and transfer it into the push. Don't land stiff-legged, trust me. Also, it should go without saying, but land shoulder width apart. Back to the squat jump, you are not (at least I hope) landing with your knees kissing or your feet on top of each other, why would you do this in the pool. Swimming is unique, but don't make it more complicated, land shoulder width apart, absorb the turn with knee flexion and explode off. 
Step 6 Push! 
If you performed it correctly, you have absorbed all your swimming energy in combination of generating energy from your tuck. Now it is time to transfer it in the other direction. Unlike a squat, you should push-off the wall with slightly less knee flexion (approximately 100-120 degrees). This difference is due to the fact that you push-off on the balls of your feet, not your heels. The flip turn is a squat jump, not a squat. Small but essential difference to note as I've seen many coaches try to generalize squats and turns. 


Step 7 Stay on your back for a second 
Many rotate as they push off the wall. This combination of phases will decrease linear force production.. However, once you're off the wall it is essential for spiral back to your stomach like a vortex. 


Step 8 Kick Before Slowing Down
Initiate kicking slightly before you lose your velocity from pushing-off the wall. Kicking will need to occur while you rotate to your stomach. This step is difficult to learn, but after millions (or 10,000 hours in Malcolm Gladwell's opinion) of flip turns it is possible. Some people start kicking right off the wall, this will impair their hydrodrynamics and speed from the push. Others will start kicking once their velocity greatly decreases. This is not beneficial as it will waste energy (gas), similar to slamming the gas after slowing down. Integrate your leg speed with your pushing speed. Kicking moments before a speed decrements will improve velocity carryover and speed. By the way, this goes for dolphin and flutter kick. 


Step 9 Tight Transitions 
Every coach has seen the sprinter who has difficulties transitioning from dolphin kicking to flutter kicking. This is due to the transfer of speed from a short axis to a long axis movement. Minimizing this pause is important and some coaches suggest doing a dolphin kick hip motion with flutter kick at the end of the dolphin kicking to ease the transition. I have found this over complicated, but recall one size fits none. 
Initial Small Flutter Kicks

Late Large Flutter Kicks
Step 10 Breakout Proficiency
Breakout flaws are massively dehabiliting. A whole underwater pull occurs before the break out to prevent a refractory period. Unfortunately, many swimmers incorrectly time this pull and start their first arm recovery underwater. This will greatly increase water resistance and impede speed. A smooth transition is essential, this is simply improved with trial-and-error practice. Some coaches advocate starting the pull with your bottom arm during the rotation, to accelerate the rotation.Once again, this variation depends on the swimmer and circumstance (for example, do they get stuck or slow down rotating?). 


Wrap-up 
These ten steps can greatly enhance swimming flip turns and are often times over looked. Don't overlook the easy stuff, because doing the easy stuff correctly will set you apart from the rest.



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.

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.