Are Push-Ups Safe for Swimmers?

Take Home Points on Are Push-Ups Safe for Swimmers?
  1. Push-ups are a safe and effective exercise for swimmers with proper biomechanics and programming.
Questioning the safety of push-ups seems like it would make for a rather straightforward article, and 
if it was as straightforward as it seems, I would say that they are undoubtedly safe, and an extremely effective exercise for swimmers, at that; however, we need to create some more questions in order to form an educated answer. Is the coach qualified to supervise a push-up? Do they know what to look for in the exercise? Do they understand what variations may be best for different populations? Is the athlete doing enough mid and upper back work to balance the effect push-ups may have on the muscles of the shoulder girdle? 

Is the Coach Qualified to Supervise a Push-Up and Do They Know What to Look For?

When I say ‘qualified’ I don’t mean certified in Strength and Conditioning, or having a background in exercise science, all I mean by this, is that the coach or athlete has a basic understanding of what is really happening during a push-up, and what contraindications to look for in their respective populations.

Some of the most common flaws in an athlete’s push-up pattern are: poor arm position (either too close or too far from the body), extended or flexed head position (looking up, or down too far), and the most common—sunken hips with an arched back.

When judging arm position the rule of thumb is to put 45 degrees of space between the torso and the upper arm. This 45 degree position prevents the athlete from flaring the arms out too far and therefore placing too much stress on the shoulder girdle, it also prevents the arms from being in too close, causing too much flexion at the elbow, and therefore acute elbow pain or tendinitis.

A flexed head position is caused simply by the athlete either looking to make sure the arms are in the correct spot or just general poor body awareness (very common in swimmers). The best neck position is going to be neutral, where the head is looking straight down; not down at the feet, but simply down at the ground directly below their face.

An extended neck position is the result of some poor mechanics lower in the body. When the head is hyperextended, it is generally following the rest of the spine. When the spine is hyperextended, it is generally a result of passive restraints dominating throughout the core and hips. To mitigate this, the athlete must be cued to squeeze the glutes, as well as the abs. This whole complex of muscles firing is one reason why I trust athletes who tell me they can do 5 push-ups more than those who tell me they can do 50—at this number, it is very likely that the athlete is relying on passive restraints (ligaments, tendons, and bones) rather than actively engaging the appropriate muscles, and likely shortening range of motion, as well. 

If push-ups are done correctly, it is very possible for the abs and glutes to give out before the triceps or chest. This weakness usually subsides as the athlete becomes more experienced.

Does the Coach Understand What Variations May Be Best for Different Populations?

This question is crucial. Athletes have many different backgrounds, levels of experience, shoulder pathologies, leverages, and strength—all of which can drastically change exercise prescription. Most swimmers should stick with the simplest variations of push-ups, focusing on a tight core, as well as going through as large of a range of motion as possible (without pain). Even with a basic push-up many swimmers are not strong enough to demonstrate an entire set with decent form, and in many cases can’t even perform one single repetition. Many coaches here would have the athlete do push-ups from the knees, this variation however, tends to really hamper core activation, among other things, which drastically changes the movement. I prefer to have the athlete be assisted with bands. You can do this by setting up a large band around low pegs in a squat rack, then having the athlete lay over the band so that they are assisted as they get closer to the ground, and less as they get closer to the lockout, this is known as accommodated resistance. The further up the legs/torso that the band is placed, the athlete receives more assistance, the further down, less assistance is given. If a band is not available, a secondary option is to have the athlete perform a push-up to a bench or wall. Again, the more upright the athlete is, the most assistance they are receiving, so try to work the athlete to get close to the ground, and in the banded set up, have the athlete work at lowering the band placement each session. 

Some of my favorite progressions for the exercise are: hand-release, clapping, foot-elevated, single foot, gymnastic ring push-ups. These are all rather advanced and should only be attempted after a mastery of the standard push-up is present. On the other hand, some of the best regressions are the aforementioned band-supported, and incline push-ups (to a wall or bench).

It is very possible that having the hand on the ground during the push-up can irritate the athlete’s wrist. In this case, I suggest using dumbbells, placing them slightly outside of shoulder-width, and having them turned so that the hands can be slightly supinated—this will further reduce pain/ joint problems. Dumbbells with hexagonal bells are ideal here because they won’t roll away from the athlete during the movement. 

Is the Athlete Doing Sufficient Upper and Mid-Back Work to Balance the Effects of the Push-Ups?

Push-ups are partially so awesome because they can be done anywhere that there is the space to perform them, but what is not so awesome is that push-ups can make up far too much of a swimmers dryland program because there may be very restricted access to further equipment. Too many pressing exercises can pull the shoulder girdle forward over time causing pain, as well as poor performance. To counter problems associated with this, we must make sure that enough work is in place for the mid and upper back to keep the shoulder girdle in a neutral resting position. Many strength coaches go as far as saying that the ratio of pulling to pushing exercises should be 3:1, I however, think 1.5:1 is more reasonable, as long as the athlete already has a decent resting posture. 

This back work should hit the lats, traps (upper, mid, and lower), rhomboids, and rear delts. Great exercises for this are dumbbell rows, pull-ups, chest-supported rows, rear delt raises, among others. There are thousands of variations to the exercises already listed, focusing on these, and variations thereof, will give you enough dryland programs to last for years. 

Many argue that the demands on the back are high enough in swimming that there should be a reduction in back work during dryland to compensate. The work done by the back in swimming is usually too low in intensity/load to make significant hypertrophic differences, plus the fact that outside of the pool time, many athletes are in a state of flexion, be it at a desk at work or school, at home watching tv, or driving, which all needs to be accounted for (the 22 hours outside of practice are frequently overlooked during program design). 

The push-up is a fantastic exercise for swimmers and should be a mainstay of a swimmers’ training programs. Proper coaching of the exercise is more likely to determine its safety and effectiveness more so than any other factor. Keeping exercises balance is another huge key to long-term athletic development and safety, so be sure to implement a full dryland regimen to improve body awareness, speed, and conditioning.

Written by John Matulevich a powerlifting world record holder in multiple lifts and weight classes, as well as a Head D-2 Strength Coach, and previously a nationally ranked college athlete. His concentrations are in sports performance, powerlifting, and weight training for swimming. To learn more about how John trains his athletes, check his Twitter page: @John_Matulevich. He can also be reached at with inquiries.

Should Coaches Change Asymmetries in Swimmers: Part III

Take Home Points on Should Coaches Change Asymmetries in Swimmers: Part III
  1. An appearance of asymmetry does not automatically imply asymmetry of function
  2. Asymmetrical strokes may be related to physical characteristics and physiological capacity
  3. Working with an asymmetrical stroke is a mix of science and art
In previous posts we have reviewed literature on swimming and asymmetries (Part I, Part II). This installment will integrate information recently published by Dr. Formosa, summarized in his interview. What seems like a simple issue can get very complex when we look at all the factors involved. Many kids have had their strokes changed simply because a coach did not like how the stroke looked. Now, I’m not suggesting that kids should be allowed to swim without correction, but rather that correction must rely on more than “it looks bad.” 

Before getting to the interview, recall from a prior post in this series that, "Despite attempts to impose ideal symmetry, a perfectly symmetrical stroke and body are both unrealistic. We all have favored brain hemispheres, eye, ear and limb preferences along with structural differences in how our organs sit within our bodies. Asymmetry may also follow us into the water. But there is still good reason to make swimmers “less asymmetrical” even perfect symmetry is a fiction."

Nearly every swimmer brings asymmetries to the water. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; just something to be accounted for when dealing with technique. A key point from the literature is that we can’t fully determine functional symmetry without measuring force. Yet surely there are ways to estimate whether someone is symmetrical or not, which leads us to Dr. Formosa’s work. 

As Dr. Formosa summarized, 

"The front crawl and backstroke research papers highlight that although an athlete may present with a similar timing from hand entry to hand exit the force profile that they are producing through the water is variable. Therefore, it should not be assumed that if a swimmer presents with a symmetrical timing pattern their force profile is also symmetrical. 

Further, elite athletes that apply force in water based sports such as rowing and kayaking have the ability to subtly manipulate their stroke to optimise force production. The complexity of symmetry is evident with the findings that although athletes demonstrated symmetrical timing their net drag force values were asymmetrical." (Formosa 2011, 2012, 2013)

Practical Application

While better swimmers often deliver force symmetrically, HOW they accomplish via individual can vary greatly and requires a more critical thought process than simply how the swimmer looks. The practical implication here is that coaches must consider all the information. 

We have written previously about movement screening to learn more about swimmers’ individual qualities. Not everyone has access to high tech underwater force measurement devices, but knowing your swimmer’s physical baseline is valuable. Some swimmers move their arms asymmetrically in 2D video but ultimately produce power with symmetry. 

Breathing patterns are also key factors, as preferred breathing style may lead swimmers to gravitate toward an asymmetrical looking stroke. Prior injury may also lead swimmers to develop protective patterns around injury. Yet thanks to the amazing plasticity of the brain, talented athletes can learn to develop force symmetrically despite lasting mechanical limitations. The extent to which this actually happens has yet to be studied but is a possible line of inquiry for future research as the foundation of the current literature on asymmetries expands. 


  1. Formosa, D. P., Mason, B., & Burkett, B. (2011). The force-time profile of elite front crawl swimmers. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29 (8), 811-819.
  2. Formosa, D. P., Sayers, M., & Burkett, B (2012). Front-crawl stroke-coordination and symmetry: A comparison between timing and net drag force protocols. Journal of Sports Sciences, 31 (7), 759 – 66.
  3. Formosa, D. P., Sayers, M., & Burkett, B. Symmetry of elite backstroke swimmers utilising an instantaneous force profile. Journal of Sports Sciences, Accepted 5th July 2013.
Written by Allan Phillips is a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) and owner of Pike Athletics. He is also an ASCA Level II coach and USA Triathlon coach. Allan is a co-author of the Troubleshooting System and was selected by Dr. Mullen as an assistant editor of the Swimming Science Research Review. He is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Physical Therapy at US Army-Baylor University.

Soft Tissue Therapy Improves Immune Function

Take Home Points on Soft Therapy Work Improves Immune Function

  1. Soft tissue therapy to the neck improves CD count, which may reduce illnesses.
High stress,  whether physical, mental, or social, drains the body and increases risk of illness. Every swimmer has become sick during a training trip (high physical stress) or even during taper (high emotional and mental stress). As a collegiate swimmer, a became very ill my Junior year, not being able to compete at the collegiate conference meet, practically wasting an entire year of training!

Now, you'll see many articles on foods, supplements, nutrients and other things which can prevent illness and these items do play a role, but I'm sure you haven't heard much about soft tissue work! Sure, having a massage feels good, but can it reduce illness? How about self massages also known as self myofascial releases (SMR)? 

Despite the common use of myofascial techniques, not much is clinically known about these methods. Despite the lack of knowledge, some in this field of research feel myofascial “therapy can have the following effects: enhanced circulation of antibodies in the fundamental substance; improved blood supply to areas of restriction through the release of histamine; correct orientation of fibroblasts; increased blood supply to the nervous tissue; and greater flow of metabolites from and to the tissue, thereby accelerating the wound-healing process (Fernández-Pérez 2012)”.

For investigating the potential health benefits, Fernández-Pérez (2012) took blood from thirty-nine healthy men without any pathological condition before and after a fifteen minute session of myofascial techniques to the suboccipital and deep anterior cervical fascia. A control group consisted of simply not receiving any treatment. Before the study, immunological markers did not differ between groups. After the soft tissue work, the experimental group had a significant different cluster of differentiation (CD) count after the treatment, specifically with an increase in CD19 (a B-lymphocyte antigen).

Clearly, this is a preliminary study and simply assuming this increased CD count will reduce illness is not appropriate. Also, assuming the actual soft tissue manipulation was the reason for the higher CD count isn't known, as the researchers suggest simply “human touch” may trigger this immunological response. However, this coincides with other findings which suggest myofascial techniques play larger role than muscle manipulation. Specifically, older studies have found alterations in the sympathetic nervous system (changes in blood pressure and heart rate after myofascial techniques). Also, CD19 plays a role in B lymphocyte function and may initiate improvement in connective tissue, minimally important for immune function, but maybe helpful for injuries and microinjuries.

Conclusion on Soft Tissue Therapy and Immune Function

This suggests myofascial techniques to the cervical muscles may modulate sympathetic and immunological function. However, future studies must assess this result in more diverse populations, specifically those with preexisting injuries. Also, further research into self myofascial releases are mandatory, as we are still not sure if SMR has similar results as manual therapy performed by another person. As a Physical Therapist at COR, I think SMR is beneficial, but doesn't provide as good of results (there are a lot of theories for this!).

Want to learn more about mobility, self myofascial releases, and dynamic mobility for swimmers? Check out Mobility for Swimmers!


  1. Fernández-Pérez AM, Peralta-Ramírez MI, Pilat A, Moreno-Lorenzo C, Villaverde-Gutiérrez C, Arroyo-Morales M. Can Myofascial Techniques Modify Immunological Parameters? J Altern Complement Med. 2012 Nov 23. [Epub ahead of print]

By Dr. G. John Mullen received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California and a Bachelor of Science of Health from Purdue University where he swam collegiately. He is the owner of COR, Strength Coach Consultant, Creator of the Swimmer's Shoulder System, and chief editor of the Swimming Science Research Review.

Programming the Plank for Swimming

Take Home Points Programming the Plank for Swimming
  1. Consider planking options such as the hardstyle plank and suspension trainer planks for shorter durations rather than endurance planks
  2. Planks are easy to teach, but hard to do well
  3. Hardstyle planking may transfer more effectively to lifting exercises than endurance planks
The plank is a common exercise used on the pool deck for dryland programs, for good reason. It requires minimal equipment and is fairly easy to instruct. In general, it is also relatively safe, though as we’ll discuss below, improper form and loading can cause problems. It’s not likely to make arms and legs sore for swimming, yet can give swimmers a good burn to give them buy-in for the program. Further, being an exercise based on straight body alignment, it can be seen as relatively swim specific (though this point is highly debatable and probably the weakest justification for including planks in a program).

Yet the traditional plank has several weaknesses. Though relatively easy to teach (Compared to something like Olympic lifts), it is easy for quality control to suffer, as backs can sag and necks can protrude. To this last point, it all depends on how you program the move. Traditional planking involves rounding up swimmers into a circle on the deck, giving a ready-set-go command and having everyone plank for a length of time while. As groaning increases, backs begin to sag, breathing technique suffers, overall exercise quality becomes scattershot. And with many different levels a group, the strongest go unchallenged while the weakest often lose form. 

Enter the Hardstyle Plank (often referred to as the RKC plank). Dr. John did a video on this for Swimming World, and this was also a key exercise in the lumbar spine section of the Swimming TroubleshootingSystem. As he explained previously,
  • Lie on your stomach, then prop yourself on your forearms and toes. 
  • Keep your spine long, by tucking your pelvis and tightening your core musculature. Also, keep your chin tucked to further enhance the streamlined position. 
  • Once this is accomplished, the athlete can begin tightening their glutes, then their thighs, then attempting to squeeze their thighs together, and lastly attempt pulling their arms down. 
  • These adaptations should be added slowly without compromising the streamlined position. 
  • Perform for approximately 20 seconds. 

Though not studied in peer reviewed literature, Bret Contreras (friend of the blog, see Bret Contreras interview) has conducted EMG studies showing the hardstyle plank for increasing muscle activation significantly for several muscles compared to traditional plank, with the hardstyle plank increased lower abdominal activation by approximately 4x. Again, this isn’t formal research, but Bret is an experienced EMG operator and these results do give insight into compare different strategies.

Also consider that not all increases in muscle activity are good, yet for the plank muscle activity is good as a way to teach full body tension without the distraction of hoisting a weight. Once this basic skill of tension is taught, then the focus can move to specific lifting technique (though it need not be a sequential process as you are always refining both). Further, control of the sagittal plane in the plank can help ease the transition into frontal and transverse plane movements in different plank variations. Progression is key and the hardstyle plank forms an effective foundation. 


In most dryland regimes, the traditional plank is a useful choice of exercise but quality control is essential. The hardstyle plank done intensely for 10-20 seconds is one means of quality control for a dryland regime that simultaneously trains more useful qualities than the ability to suffer in a plank position for extended periods.

Looking for new dryland programs for the Fall year, which includes plank and core progressions? Consider purchasing Dryland for Swimmers!

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

Dryland and Stroke Biomechanics

Take Home Points:

  1. Strength training may have a positive effect on swimming biomechanics.
  2. Individualized dryland programs are necessary, considering the effects of dryland on future biomechanics.
  3. More research on the effects of land strength and dryland are required.

This is an example chapter of Dryland for Swimmers. Order your copy to day for $59.99!
Biomechanics are the largest contributor for swimming success. A possible explanation for this might lie in the nature of swimming; forces being applied against a fluctuate element with the posture of the human body being the most important vector against propulsion. Swimming performance is thus determined by the athletes’ ability to produce forward motion while reducing water friction, or drag (Toussaint 1990; Pate 1984). The possible biomechanical effects (propulsive abilities and drag) from drylandmust also be considered. Unfortunately, many resistance training studies do not compare biomechanics, making the results of each study impossible to extrapolate the biomechanical results of training. 

Four studies observed improvements in stroke mechanics, specifically increased stroke length, (Toussaint 1990; Strass 1986), increased stroke rate (Girold 2006) and decreased stroke depth (Girold 2007) after strength training. None of the included studies investigated whether there was a possible training effect on active or passive drag.

Girold et al. (2006) found that improved swimming performance was positively associated with an increased stroke rate of the last 50m of a 100m freestyle time trial after 3 weeks of in-water resistance training (tethered to an elastic tube). Swimming velocity is the product of stroke rate and stroke length, (Craig 1985) and both factors should be optimized for maximal performance. Although stroke rate has been associated with maximal swimming velocity, (Wakayoshi 1995) stroke length is likely more important (Wakayoshi 1993).

For instance Craig and colleagues (1985) observed that stroke length was the factor that differentiated finalists from non-finalists during the US Olympic trials in 1984, and another study suggested that increased maximal velocity was an effect of increased stroke length (Wakayoshi 1993).

Girold et al. (2006) found decreased stroke depth after both combined resisted- and assisted-sprint swim training (tethered to an elastic tube pulling against or towards swimming direction), and dryland strength training. The researchers found increased stroke rate both in the combined resisted- and assisted-sprint group and in the control group, but not in the strength training group. Although the findings were not fully consistent, the authors concluded that the decreased stroke depth was a consequence of maintained stroke length when stroke rate was increased. However, if body rotation remains stable, decreased stroke depth may reduce the biomechanical momentum of the propulsive muscles, and thus decrease the potential for propulsion.

In the study from Toussaint and Vervoorn, (1990) they observed increased stroke lengths at equal maximal swimming velocities after resistance training on the MAD system. The observed change was suggested to come from increased maximal swimming power, although maximal swimming velocity was unchanged. Similar observations were also made after dryland maximal strength training in the study from Strass, (1986) but not in the studies from Aspenes et al., (2009) Trappe and Pearson, (1994) Tanaka et al. (1999) or Roberts et al. (1991). Faude et al. (2008) compared the effects of low volume training with high-intensity versus high- volume training with low intensity, and observed no differential effects on mean stroke rates in either 100m or 400m maximal freestyle. High volume, low-intensity training is sometimes recommended for improving swimming economy, but none of the studies included in this review support that notion. However, the hypothesis needs more studies before any conclusion can be drawn.

Strength training may have positive effects on stroke characteristics, but so far the evidence is inconclusive. Future RCT studies can probably be designed to study the effect of, or preservation of, stroke characteristics with strength training.

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  1. Girold S, Maurin D, Dugué B, Chatard JC, Millet G. Effects of dry-land vs. resisted- and assisted-sprint exercises on swimming sprint performances. J Strength Cond Res. 2007 May;21(2):599-605
  2. Girold S, Jalab C, Bernard O, Carette P, Kemoun G, Dugué B. Dry-land strength training vs. electrical stimulation in sprint swimming performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Feb;26(2):497-505.
  3. Aspenes S, Kjendlie PL, Hoff J, et al. Combined strength and endurance training in competitive swimmers. J Sports Sci Med 2009 Sept; 8 (3): 357-65.
  4. Aspenes ST, Karlsen T. Exercise-training intervention studies in competitive swimming. Sports Med. 2012 Jun 1;42(6):527-43
  5. Toussaint HM, Vervoorn K. Effects of specific high resistance training in the water on competitive swimmers. Int J Sports Med 1990 Jun; 11 (3): 228-33
  6. Craig Jr AB, Skehan PL, Pawelczyk JA, et al. Velocity, stroke rate, and distance per stroke during elite swimming competition. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1985 Dec; 17 (6): 625-34
  7. Wakayoshi K, Yoshida T, Ikuta Y, et al. Adaptations to six months of aerobic swim training: changes in velocity, stroke rate, stroke length and blood actate. Int J Sports Med 1993 Oct; 14 (7): 368-72
  8. Trappe S, Pearson D. Effects of weight assisted dry-land strength training on swimming performance. J Strength Cond Res 1994 Nov; 8 (4): 209-13.
  9. Tanaka H, Costill DL, Thomas R, et al. Dry-land resistance training for competitive swimming. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1993 Aug; 25 (8): 952-9
  10. Strass D. Effects of maximal strength training on sprint performance of competitive swimmers. In: Ungerechts BE, Wilke K, Reischle K, editors. Vth International Symposium of Biomechanics and Medicine in Swimming; 1986 Jul 27-31. Bielefeld: Human Kinetics Books, 1986: 149-56
  11. Faude O, Meyer T, Scharhag J, et al. Volume vs. intensity in the training of competitive swimmers. Int J Sports Med 2008 Nov; 29 (11): 906-12
By Dr. G. John Mullen received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California and a Bachelor of Science of Health from Purdue University where he swam collegiately. He is the owner of COR, Strength Coach Consultant, Creator of the Swimmer's Shoulder System, and chief editor of the Swimming Science Research Review.

Dryland for Swimmers

Dr. G. John Mullen, DPT of Swimming World Magazine, USA Swimming and COR
breaks down the research and applies it to dryland for swimmers!

 Stop Wasting Your Time with Poorly Designed Dryland Programs!

 Dryland for Swimmers breaks down dryland and gives you the tools to provide effective, evidence-based dryland programs!

Order your copy today for only $59.99!

Ever wonder what to do for dryland and where to start? If so, this product is for you! As a Physical Therapist and Swimming Strength Coach, I work with many swimmers looking for a safe, effective and progressive dryland program. 

This product breaks down the current literature on strength training, injury
prevention, recovery, breathing, and much more! 

I've used these techniques with Masters swimmers to Olympic athletes, helping each one move easier and more effectively out and in the water. 

As you can imagine, I've seen it all, and after working with such a wide variety of people, I've come away with one big lesson:

No Two People Move the Same... Including You

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Thanks for the great work and all that you do for the world of swimming!"

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Dryland for Swimmers Maximizes Your Training Results Without Wasting Your Time

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Dryland for Swimmers includes:

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TOTAL value of Dryland for Swimmers? $199.99.

Just to compare - if you were to fly here to Santa Clara and somehow snag a coveted spot in my personal coaching schedule, you would expect to pay a personally designed program for about $1000.

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I'm not an "Internet Fitness Writer" I Walk the Walk!

If you've read up until this point, you know my name is Dr. John Mullen. What you really need to know about me is that coaching and training is my life. I'd like to take a second and tell you exactly who I am.

I obtained an undergraduate degree in Health Science, followed by my Doctorate Degree in Physical Therapy, from the top rated Physical Therapy program at the University of Southern California.

I've written over many published articles and have been featured on Swimming World Magazine, Swimmer Magazine, STACK, USA Swimming, and USA Triathlon.

Most importantly, I'm also a competitive swimmer. I was lucky enough to receive a swimming scholarship from Purdue University, compete at US Nationals, and am currently a Masters World Record Holder.

I lift, I train, and I write, and have been doing so for over a decade. Dryland for Swimmers is the summation of all that experience for improving soreness, pain, and restricted muscles - the sum of both my practical and my educational background.

NOTE: Dryland for Swimmers Guide is a downloadable product. No physical products will be shipped. After you order, you will get INSTANT ACCESS to download the e-book onto your computer. The e-book format is Adobe Acrobat PDF, which can be viewed on Mac or PC. If you have any questions regarding this product please contact me at

Dryland for Swimmers Guide Frequently Asked Questions

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One time. You buy Dryland for Swimmers, and you get lifetime access. You'll especially find yourself coming back to our video database over and over.
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Some simple tools from around the house and at most a ~$20 foam roll.
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Speed of Breathing Predicts 100-m Performance

Take Home Points on Speed of Breathing Predicts 100-m Performance

    1. The faster a national caliber swimmer can exhale air in 1 second is correlated with 100-m performance.

    Everyone is trying to predict athletic performance in youth athletes. Not unlike other
    sports, swimming research has looked at many attributes of youth swimmers, including height, strength, and lean body mass. Dr. Barbosa has lead most of this research and discussed it on this website previously

    Breathing is a unique process in swimming due to it’s hypoxic nature. Swimming practice improves pulmonary function and swimmers show higher lung volumes and pulmonary diffusion capacity compared with both nonathletic and athletic peers from other sports. This has led many to consider inspiratory muscle training. However, the forced inspiratory volume is another important factor as the faster a swimmer can breathe in air, the more air they can hold per breath and limit their breathing which often increases drag and prevents biomechanics. However, few studies have looked the relationship of respiratory capacity and sprint swimming performance.

    Seventeen national competitive swimmers (M=8, F=9; ~16.9 years) with personal records in the 100 m at 56.1 seconds for male and 65.2 seconds for female. All swimmers have been swimming 6 days per week for the past 3 years. 

    After a standard warm-up, each swimmer performed a 100-m all-out trial. Swimmers also had their physiological parameters of lung function measured using a spirometer. The subjects performed maximal inspiration followed by enforced exhalation three times. 

    Anthropometric data was also measured for each swimmer. On top of this, squat jump and countermovement jump were assessed.

    Study Results

    The male swimmers were older, taller, and heavier, with less adipose tissue than the females. Also, the males were faster in the 100-m time trial, had a higher height in squat jump and countermovement jump and nearly all pulmonary functions, except forced expiratory volume in the first second (FIV1)/forced vital capacity (FVC) and forced inspiratory volume (FIV). 

    FIV1 was negatively correlated with 100 m time trial in men and FIV1 and FVC were negatively correlated with time trial in female swimmers.

    Anthropometrics and conditional variables did not show a significant correlation in the swimmers. 


    This is the first study to demonstrate the influence of FIV1 in 100 m performance. FIV1 likely aids performance by allowing the swimmer to inhale air quicker and increase the amount of air they can inhale in a limited time. Swimmers with high FIV1 may need less respiratory frequency, produce less inspiratory muscle fatigue, increasing active limbs blood flow and reducing fatigue in these limbs, and consequently may improve performance.

    It seems inspiratory muscle training would improve swimming velocity, which has been suggested in the recent literature. 

    Practical Implication

    Respiratory capacity should be assessed by swim teams, if looking for predicting performance. Also, coaches must consider using inspriatory muscle training.  


    1. Noriega-Sánchez SA, Legaz-Arrese A, Suarez-Arrones L, Santalla A, Floría P, Munguía-Izquierdo D. FORCED INSPIRATORY VOLUME IN THE FIRST SECOND AS PREDICTOR OF FRONT CRAWLPERFORMANCE IN YOUNG SPRINT SWIMMERS. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Jul 21. [Epub ahead of print]

    By Dr. G. John Mullen received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California and a Bachelor of Science of Health from Purdue University where he swam collegiately. He is the owner of COR, Strength Coach Consultant, Creator of the Swimmer's Shoulder System, and chief editor of the Swimming Science Research Review.

    Dryland for Swimmers: What Should I do for Dryland?

    I frequently receive e-mails like the following:

    "How do I know what to do for dryland?", "What should I do for dryland?" or "Can you send me a dryland template?" 

    As simple as this sounds, this is an impossible task! The principle of individuality is key for each swimmer and something that occurs in every aspect of training in and out of the water. Luckily, our readers know this and this is why I received some comments on my last Swimming World Magazine post about the 2-month break rule, arguing such a firm rule is questionable. Yes, this rule is flimsy, as each swimmer, team, and scenario varies greatly! Once again, individuality is one reason for the continued improvement in the sport of swimming. 

    Dryland is no different, yet many people want a cookie-cutter formula for the most success...nonsense! 

    Nonetheless, progressive, generalized dryland programs can help streamline a program for an entire club. This systematic approach must consider taper, age, and maturation phases. It also helps a coaching staff create a team environment while making continual gains. Once again, individualization is best for improvement, but a systematic approach which helps coaches and swimmers understand the benefits of dryland, as well as creating a step-by-step approach from age-group to National level swimmers can greatly benefit a swim team. Too often dryland is not in sync with swim training and varies greatly from one group to the next. Dryland for Swimmers provides a cost-effective solution for swim teams looking for an educational system and systematic approach for dryland. 

    The Dryland for Swimmers product is broken into four sections: 
    1) Research on dryland
    2) Personal experience and views on dryland
    3) Dryland goals and specific programming for an entire swim team
    4) Dryland assessments for age-group and elite swimmers

    This detailed project is difficult, as there are many different routes for success in swimming as well as dryland. Nonetheless, this undoubtedly is going to be the most comprehensive dryland product helping teams have daily dryland workouts for all their groups for an entire season! It will also help high-level and serious age-group swimmers individualize their programs, maximizing their improvements by correcting their weaknesses. Dryalnd for Swimmers also helps dryland coaches breakdown all the biomechanical constraints which may hinder elite swimming performance on-land. This assessment bridges the gap between dryland and water training.

    Once again, individualization is paramount for elite swimming success. However, generalized programs also help teams improve. Dryland for Swimmers provides both options, an individualized program for elite swimmers to group workouts for swimmers of every age-group, streamlining the transition between groups and while considering the subtitles of swimming training (like taper!). 

    If you want a dryland product which will give you all the tools for a complete year team dryland program, pre-order your copy of Dryland for Swimmers for only $59.99! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Need More Recovery During Taper, Consider Deep Breathing!

    Take Home Points on Need More Recovery During Taper, Consider Deep Breathing!
    1. Swimmers have a stronger response to deep breathing.
    2. Deep breathing may enhance recovery in swimmers.
    Swimming Science has suggested breathing exercise for swimming and recovery enhancement for years. All of my swimmers at COR receive breathing regimens for the potential swimming enhancement (via enhanced inspiratory muscle strengthening), but also the recovery.

    Heart rate variability (HRV) is a non-invasive technique that can look at the function of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Sympathetic impulses increase heart rate by exciting the sinoatrial (SA) node while parasympathetic impulses reduce heart rate by inhibiting it.

    Deep breathing (DB) is a reliable and sensitive measure of cardiovagal and parasympathetic function. Elite endurance athletes typically have more pronounced respiratory sinus arrhythmias.

    Unlike other sports, swimming requires frequent breath holding during the stroke cycle and during extended periods underwater.

    Palak (2013) had ten professional swimmers (M=5, F=5; ~21 years) and ten controls, not previously or currently in a sports discipline. The control group averaged two 60-minute exercise sessions per week.

    After a 20-minute rest while lying down, a 10-minute electrocardiogram (ECG) was recorded. Each participant was asked to breathe deeply for 5 minutes, with a frequency of 6 breaths/minute (5 second inspiration, 5 second expiration). ECG was continuously recorded during this period.

    Swimmers had higher rMSSD (square root of the mean squared difference of successive R-R interval), pNN50 (proportion of successive R-R intervals that differ by more than 50 ms), LF (low frequency component 0.04-0.15 Hz), and HF (high-frequency component (0.15-0.4 Hz) than persons without physical training at rest. A longer R-R interval of the sinus rhythm and lower heart rate were noted in the experimental group compared to the control.

    The swimmers also showed a stronger response to DB than individuals who neither currently or previously practiced a sport.

    What does Deep Breathing do for Swimmers?

    The differences in resting HRV indices of swimmers suggests different arterial baroreceptor reflex sensitivity compared to controls. Also, swimmers showed a greater response to DB, this likely aids recovery.  

    During periods of heavy training, deep breathing may elicit the parasympathetic nervous system and aid recovery in professional swimmers. If a swimmer is having difficulties recovering for practice or if you need more recovery during taper, consider deep breathing!

    Future studies must compare swimming results with and without a deep breathing recovery.

    1. Palak K, Furgala A, Ciesielczyk K, Szygula Z, Thor PJ. The changes of heart rate variability in response to deep breathing in professional swimmers. Folia Med Cracov. 2013;53(2):43-52.

    By Dr. G. John Mullen received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California and a Bachelor of Science of Health from Purdue University where he swam collegiately. He is the owner of COR, Strength Coach Consultant, Creator of the Swimmer's Shoulder System, and chief editor of the Swimming Science Research Review.