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A1 band - warm-up, recovery, cool-down sets
Moderate (0.85)
A2 band - aerobic capacity sets
Intense (1.00)
A3 band - aerobic power, VO2max sets

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

Coded for Swimming Science by Cameron Yick

Freestyle data

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Is "Swim Specific" Dryland Really "Swim Specific"?

Take Home Points
  1. Many dryland methods touted as swim specific really are not swim specific
  2. Mimicking the swim stroke on land may contribute to overtraining, motor confusion
  3. Dryland can be used to teach basic movement patterns (especially at the individual level), but consider the doses in which it is delivered
Swim specificity is a common justification for many dryland activities. And it makes sense that we might use gym time to impart techniques that may be difficult to teach in the middle of a crowded pool with no ability to verbally coach instructions. This is not unique to swimming, as many coaches try to replicate sporting demands in the gym away from the sometimes chaotic environment of the competitive arena. But is this really a “best practice,” especially at advanced levels?

Swim specificity takes many forms from bands, swim bench, balls, and even improvised contraptions such as the one shown below.

Let’s explore this closely as an example. Now, there may be some elements of this exercise which are “swim specific”: long axis alignment, early vertical forearm, body rotation. However, these elements are mitigated by non-swim specific elements such as fixed dorsiflexed ankles, no head rotation for breathing, and the fact that you are on land.

There may be benefits from using dryland to teach parts of the stroke such as early vertical forearm, pointed ankles, hip internal rotation, as self-awareness can be a major hurdle in the early stages of skill acquisition. But once a swimmer is proficient, does performing mimicry exercises actually aid the stroke in the water?

Bearing a resemblance to the stroke is insufficient justification for mimicry. For example, many coaches attempt to mimic early vertical forearm on land, as it is a difficult skill to communicate in the water for many swimmers. Early vertical forearm is not just early vertical forearm…how each individual’s forearm moves is often predicated upon imperceptible microadjustments. Forcing the shoulders into high repetitions of exercise stressing the shoulders can cause problems, especially with injury risks so high in the sport.

"A lot of emphasis is put on “sport-specific” movements (swim bench, cable crossovers, straight arm pulldowns, etc.). Unfortunately, the transference of these movements is uncertain and likely minimal to the sports of swimming. Every land exercise you create is far from the demands in the pool. Despite visual similarities, every swimmer uses unique yet imperceptible microadjustments in their strokes to optimize balance, force, and deceleration. It is impossible to replicate these movements on land and attempting to be too “sport specific” may lead to confused motor programming." (Mullen 2012)

“The intent is not to produce mimicry of sport during training. Of utmost importance during training is that key dysfunctions are improved. The goal of training is not to teach perfect patterns, but to correct the key fault that is causing trouble.” As to the key fault in swimmers, this may be shoulder range of motion, scapular stability, asymmetries, or pain, among other general physical traits that can be addressed on land. (Lewitt 1999, Liebenson 2014)

Further, is “swim specific” dryland the best use of time? Many choices exist on how to spend dryland time, from general strengthening, recovery, mental practice, plyometrics for starts/turns. With sometimes more than 20 hours in the water, is a few minutes of land based swim mimicry going to create meaningful improvements (if so, I’d suggest you analyze room for improvement in the 20 hours spent in the water.)

A related point is with unstable surface training, which is often presented as “swim specific.” But as noted by Behm (2012)

"Some of the characteristics of IRT exercises that are not conducive to optimal strength or power training for athletes, may be favorable for rehabilitation. The instability‐induced deficits in force compared to traditional stable RT exercises, which dampen the strength training stimuli in trained individuals, can be of sufficient intensity for a recuperating muscle." (Behm 2012)


This is ultimately one area where reasoning and common sense must prevail as classifying “swim specific” versus general would be difficulty for research as a qualitative classification. Also, because there are a finite number of possible movement patterns, there will always be cross over between “swim specific” and general exercises. It is one thing to troubleshoot a particular stroke deficit that you believe is better addressed on land, but it is quite another to fill your dryland workout exercise plate with exercises that merely look similar to swim mechanics.


  1. Mullen, J. Five Considerations When Training Swimmers.
  3. Lewitt, K. Manipulative Therapy in Rehabilitation of the Locomotor System. 3ed. Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann, 1999.
  4. Liebenson, C. Functional Training Handbook. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer, 2014. 

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.

Core Muscle Activation During Swimming

Take Home Points:

  1. Core muscle activation increases correlations with faster swimming velocities. 
  2. Maximally activating the core during swimming impairs respiration.
Intra-abdominal pressure changes as a result of synchronous contraction of the abdominal muscles, diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles. Previous work suggests a positive correlation between muscle strength and intra-abdominal pressure. Other work suggests intra-abdominal pressure correlates with walking and running speed. Ogawa showed intra-abdominal pressure increases with swimming velocity during freeestyle from 0.8 - 1.4 m/s (18).

Moriyama (2014) had 7 competitive male swimmers (~19.9 years; Japanese national university championship level) undergo a intra-abdominal pressure test which involved a 1.6-mm-diameter rectal pressure transducer. Swimmers then swam in a flume at 1.0, 1.2, and 1.4 m/s with IAP being recorded.

There were significant changes in intra-abdominal pressure at varying velocity, with a positive correlation. However, the intra-abdominal pressure was significantly different in water than on land (16.6 vs. 18.9). Intra-abdominal pressure did not have a significant correlation with stroke rate or stroke length.

Despite the lack of correlation between intra-abdominal pressure and stroke length or rate, there is a positive correlation between velocity, the most important variable for swimming.

Keep these items in mind:
  1. These swimmers performed at a moderate speed, far from maximum, potentially nullifying the results.
  2. The swimmers were not tested during fatigue.
  3. There was a small sample size.
  4. This is an observational study, not proving anything.
The authors conclude: "These findings do not appear to support the effectivenss of trunk training performed by competitive swimmers aimed at increasing intra-abdominal pressure".

Swimming is unique as pulmonary function limits performance. There are many possibilities for this, some being the resistrcited oxygen, mechanical pressure against the chest, prone position, and many more. Whatever the case, total lung capacity and forced expiratory volume is greater in swimmers than other athletes.

Thirteen participants(M=8, F=5; ~22-60 years) perform two conditions, relaxed breathing while sitting and breathing with the abdominal and erector spinae muscles tensed in the seated position. During these tests ventialry function was assessed.

There was a significant difference between vital capacity, maximum voluntary ventilation, forced vital capacity over 1 second, and resting oxygen consumption between both conditions.

Overall, contracting muscles to streamline abdominal posture had negative effects on pulmonary function and caused a negative effect on pulmonary function. Therefore, abdominal musculature should not be contracted during swimming as it likely will impair swimming performance.

Personally, I feel the opposite, if you have an increase in intra-abdominal pressure as you increase in speed, then the positive correlation suggests the higher intra-abdominal pressure helps swim faster velocities. Sure, intra-abdominal pressure is going to be lower in the water than on land, but this is expected due to the instability of water! However, we still need more evidence on the effects of core training on swimming performance. This author knows of one study suggesting core training improves swimming sprint velocity, but this is far from conclusive.

Until more research occurs, core training appears helpful for swimmers, especially those going faster speeds.


  1. Moriyama S, Ogita F, Huang Z, Kurobe K, Nagira A, Tanaka T, Takahashi H, Hirano Y. Intra-abdominal pressure during swimming. Int J Sports Med. 2014 Feb;35(2):159-63. doi: 10.1055/s-0033-1349136. Epub 2013 Jul 18.
  2. Timothy W. Henrich, T. W., Robert Pankey, and Gregory Soukup. The Unintended Consequences of Tension in the Abdominal & Lumbar Musculature on Swimmers' Ventilatory Metabolic Indices. Volume 22 Spring 2014.

Dryland for Swimmers

The Dryland for Swimmers ebook and video database is the most comprehensive dryland program and guide for swimmers. It includes a detailed dryland research analysis, club programming, and individual programming.

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.

Victor G. Sarramian Discuses Post-activation Potentiation for Swimmers

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

I completed my Sport Science degree at University of Leon (Spain), followed by a Post Graduate Certificate in Education. Soon after finishing my studies I took a job as a swimming coach in a small team.

In 2005, I moved to London and started working as a PE teacher and swimming instructor. My increasing interest in endurance sports, led me to train a number of athletes in and out of the pool. I realized that I wanted to learn more, in which to improve their performance and my knowledge, a MSc in Strength & Conditioning seemed to be a perfect match for my degree in Sport Science. So that's exactly what I did, I attained my Msc and was delighted when my dissertation was awarded with a distinction and proposed for publication. It has been finally published in one of the most prestigious journals in the field of sports science. (http://goo.gl/CJvoxY)

I also gained sound knowledge on different subjects such as applied strength training, research methods, and corrective exercise...but mostly, I learned how important it was to manipulate every training variable with evidence-based facts.

Alongside my studies, I worked at Barnet Copthalls Swimming Club under the supervision, of one of the best coaches in England; I assisted the club with the strength & conditioning programmes. Working with Rhys Gromnley was an invaluable experience, he gave me the opportunity to get involved with the making of national champions. During my time in the squad, I learned that bridging the gap between sport science and day-to-day coaching is a key factor to enhance performance.

Currently, I deliver S&C sessions for endurance athletes with a strong scientific input. Personal training customers also benefit from my knowledge and experience.

2. You recently published an article on post-activation potential (PAP) and sprint swimming performance. First, what is PAP?

Postactivation Potentiation (PAP) is a relatively new phenomenon in sport and exercise science that provides coaches with a new tool to potentially impact sports and exercise performance. PAP can be defined as a condition whereby acute muscle force is increased due to a previous high resistance exercise.

Popular training methods implemented to seek an acute augmentation in maximal power output have been already benefiting from PAP by utilizing the method of complex training where by a heavy-load exercise is followed by a low-load high velocity or plyometric exercise e.g. barbell back squats followed by box jumps or bench press followed by bench throws.

The inclusion of a PAP protocol in the warm up has been object of study in a number of researches, having shown enhanced performance in a variety of sports such us rugby (Kilduff et al, 2007), weightlifting (Chiu et al, 2003), football (Mc Bride and Erickson, 2005) and track and field (Linder et al., 2010 ).

The underlying mechanisms behind PAP are not fully understood yet, but the phosphorylation of the regulatory light myosin chains and the increased recruitment of high threshold motor units have been proposed as the two most coherent underlying PAP mechanism theories .

3. Has there been previous research on PAP and swimmers? If so, what do we know?

There is paucity of published research on the effects of PAP in competitive swimmers. To the best of my knowledge, the first study to address this topic was conducted by Kilduff et al. (2011). The research reveals that sprint times over 15m were similar after PAP using 3RM backsquats or a traditional warm-up.

Recently, a group of Spanish researches from the University of Granada published a really interesting paper, they demonstrate that start performance can be enhanced after a warm up with two different PAP stimuli , 3x85% RM of the lunge exercise and 4x YOYO squat.

Basically, we know that start performance can be enhanced using a PAP protocol and, based on our study, we also know that PAP is as effective as a traditional warm -up in the water, with the potential to increase performance over 50m in some individuals.

4. There is a lot of research on PAP in other sports, how did you decide on the exercises, loads, and rest you picked for your study?

The most important factor when choosing the exercises was practicality, we wanted to propose exercises that could be done in a real situation. I cannot imagine any swimming coach taking a squat rack, barbells and plates to a swimming meeting in order to warm-up the sprinters.

The exercise for the lower body was chosen based on previous research that showed increased power output of the leg extensors after jumping into a box wearing a weighted vest . (Fig 1) The external load of the weighted vest worn to perform the test equalled 10% of their body weight. (Thompsen et al 2007 and Burkett et al 2005). Three squat jumps performed 4, 8 and 12 minutes after the PAP stimulus were performed in order to establish optimal rest periods for power output enhancement for the lower body. For example, if a swimmer achieved the highest jump 12 minutes after the weighted jump to the box , we obviously established 12 minutes as his optimal rest period for the lower body. Simple.

Fig 1

Choosing an exercise for the upper body was a bit more complex because all the previous PAP studies focused investigated pushing actions such as bench presses. We thought that a pull-up was a simple exercise that replicated to some extend the underwater pulling motion of front crawl. The 3RM was determined by adding the athlete's body weight to a vest's additional weight that was worn during the 3RM PU test.

The swimmers completed a medicine-ball-throw test in order to determine optimal time to upper body muscle enhancement following the loaded pull-ups. (Fig 2)

Fig 2

5. What your study specifically looked at?

The primary aim was to compare the effectiveness of the PAP protocols with a traditional warm-up in the water. Secondly, the research examined the effect of the loaded pull-up and the weighted jump to a box as conditioning activities to produce potentiation on sprint swimming.

6. What were the practical implications for coaches and swimmers from your study?

There are several implications:

(1) Postactivation potentiation has the potential to be a useful tool for coaches to warm-up swimmers participating in sprinting events, especially when space and time limitations can impede performance of a warm-up in the water.

(2) It is imperative to identify the conditioning activities and following rest intervals that trigger potentiation in each swimmer. The combined protocol showed to be a valuable method to boost performance to some extent in some individuals.

In my opinion, knowing how to interpret the data is key to understand the outcome of a research. Most data is published as average and standard deviation and we look for statistically significant differences, but in the pool we work with individuals. If you look at the data from a pure statistical point of view, you might think 'ok, the results of the PAP protocols are not so impressive', but some swimmers achieved reasonably good improvements that could mean a lot in a championship. Those performances will not be reflected in the results section of a paper because a few remarkable individual performances using PAP may be diluted in the overall results or hindered by those swimmers who performed poorly under a PAP protocol. Knowing that some swimmers may respond positively to PAP, makes it worth trying.

Another promising fact about this study is that 12 out of the 18 swimmers performed better following one of the three PAP protocols.

For that reason, the coaches should be encouraged to experiment with different exercises to determine what works best for each swimmer. I know this is hard work but in elite swimming, very small improvement in times are crucial amongst competitors in sprint events.

(3) Conditioning activities such as the weighted jump to the box described in the present study represent an effective and simple method to warm-up the lower body, the vest's load can be easily adjusted to meet individual needs and can be taken into any swimming pool, as opposed to more voluminous and heavier weight-lifting material.

7. Why do you think PAP for the upper body impaired performance?

When swimming, the hands do not apply force against a solid base of support and follow curvilinear patterns of movement under the water. Consequently, the kinematic characteristics of the freestyle stroke are extremely hard to replicate out of the water, which may impede the transfer into performance enhancement. The PU, regardless of its pulling nature may differ extensively from the actual motion of the arms under the water. Furthermore, Figueiredo et al. (2013) revealed high activation of the triceps brachii muscle during the upsweep phase of the freestyle stroke. The upsweep is the most propulsive sweep in freestyle swimming and the PU may not be an appropriate exercise to produce high activation of the triceps brachii.

8. Did any of the swimmers have greater performance in the upper body PAP condition?

Only one out of 18 swimmers, what makes me think that there is a lot of room for improvement for the combined PAP protocol. Imagine for a moment, that the combined PAP protocol was composed by an improved upper body exercise and the 4 x YoYo Squat for the lower body, which has already shown positive outcomes to enhance performance of the lower body (Cuenca- Fernandez et al, 2014). Maybe we could have a superb protocol that is exceptionally valuable for some sprinters.

9. Since the regular swimming warm-up and combined warm-up had similar results, how can coaches decide who to prescribed the combined protocol?

Trial and error, I am afraid. As I mentioned before, it is the coach's task to experiment and get to know his/her swimmers' responses to different stimuli.

10. Do you think PAP is something that can be done before major meets or just high-intensity practices?

I would experiment with different PAP protocols in practices and low key events. If it works under those circumstances, I think there is no excuse for not trying.

Additionally, it can be performed when space and time limitations can impede the performance of a warm-up in the water. It is not unusual to hold a swimming event in facilities without a warm up pool and some swimmers may compete long after they warm-up in the water.

11. What makes your research different from others?

(1) Despite the significance of upper body pulling performance on a variety of sports (e.g., swimming, judo), no studies have investigated the outcome of specific conditioning activities to trigger PAP for pulling motions. I believe we have been the first researchers investigating PAP for pulling motions.

(2) This is also the first study investigating the effects of a combined PAP protocol to enhance upper and lower body performance simultaneously. Previously, all PAP studies focused on upper or lower body separately.

(3) Finally, we look at performance on a swimming event, the 50m freestyle. Former research studied performance only on swim starts.

12. Which teachers have most influenced your research?

The research was my dissertation project for a MSc in Strength and Conditioning (Middlesex University, London) and I was most influenced by the whole environment during the course. From the very beginning I understood that all the knowledge that I was acquiring was based on the latest research, so I knew that I had to back up all my ideas with science and reflect that in my research project. When I presented my first literature review for this project, my tutor (Anthony Turner) suggested that I needed to improve and elaborate my ideas quite a lot. That moment was a real eye-opener, now I look back in time and realize that my original ideas, such us combining an upper and lower body PAP protocol were very innovative but at the same time I realized that I needed to raise the bar to write a decent paper. To be honest, I thought I wasn't going to pass the course and I got a bit obsessed with this research. Probably that obsession helped me to work extremely hard to produce a reasonably good research (at least for a student). I encourage every MSc student to publish their research project if they believe their work is good enough. They may contribute somehow to the development of sport science. Despite being a difficult and time-consuming task, preparing and submitting a research can be emotionally satisfying, and give a student a great sense of accomplishment and a confidence boost.

13. What are some unanswered questions regarding PAP and swimming performance?

We still need much more research on the topic. We need to test different PAP stimuli, try protocols over different distances, test PAP stimuli that are specific to different strokes or simply play around with the sets and repetitions of the exercises. A recent meta-analysis on PAP studies showed that performance enhancement was greater following multiple sets of a PAP stimuli than a single set.
In my opinion we know very little, we only know that PAP has a great potential to became a good tool for coaches to enhance performance.

14. What research or projects are you currently working on or should we look from you in the future?

At the moment I am 100% focused on running my company, I deliver S&C programmes for endurance athletes and personal training. I am not involved in any research but in the future I would love to keep working with endurance athletes. There are some topics I am very interested in, such as gluteus maximus strengthening in endurance runners, not only to prevent injury but to increase performance.

Thanks for the opportunity to discuss about my study and do not hesitate to contact me with your questions, research proposals or comments.

Victor G Sarramian
+44 (0) 7809719251

Friday Interview: Shinichiro Moriyama, PhD, Discusses Intra-Abdominal Pressure

1. Please introduce yourself to the readers (how you started in the profession, education,
credentials, experience, etc.).
My name is Shinichiro Moriyama. I am an associate professor and competitive swimming coach at Japan Women’s College of Physical Education in Japan. I was awarded my PhD from National Institute of Fitness and Sports in 2014. My mentors are Department director of Sports Science Yuichi Hirano at Japan Institute of Sports Sciences and Professor Futoshi Ogita at National Institute of Fitness and Sports. Professor Hirano granted the advice about the importance of trunk training in human performance, and Professor Ogita guided me in the swimming science. It was the splendid experience for me to have studied under them.

I started coaching of the swimming club from 2002 at Japan Women’s College of Physical Education. I want to take a role to relate competition swimming to science.

2. You recently published an article on intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) and swimming. What is IAP and how is it tested?
IAP changes as a result of synchronous contraction of the abdominal muscles, diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles and, through synergistic action with muscle activity of the trunk, contributes to lumbar spine stability.

We measured intra-rectal pressure as IAP using 1.6-mm-diameter catheter-type pressure transducer. Intra-rectal pressure that is more than 10cm from anus gives almost the same value as IAP measured using a laparoscope.

3. What did your study look at?
We hypothesized that IAP during front crawl swimming is affected by stroke rate, one of the factors affecting swimming velocity, and increases with swimming velocity.

We investigated to ascertain IAP during front crawl swimming at different velocities in competitive swimmers using swimming flume and to clarify the relationships between stroke indices and changes in IAP.

4. What were the practical implications for coaches and swimmers from your study?
It is difficult to suggest the practical implications from our study. Because it was no relationships between IAP and stroke indices. Additionally IAP during swimming was less than 15% of maximum voluntary IAP.

On the other hand, within-subject, IAP tends to increase with increased swimming velocity. Therefore the training to increase IAP during swimming may be effective means to swim faster.

5. Do you think the results would be different if you had older, elite or untrained swimmers?
We compared IAP of elite swimmers with untrained swimmers. As results, under their maximal efforts, we could not see significant difference between elite and untrained.

From this result, significant difference may not be accepted between the elite swimmer with older swimmer.

6. What if you had the swimmers perform around 2.0 m/s?
I instruct the swimmer who advanced to the A finals by the 50m free-style at Japan championship. Her IAP is not remarkably different from other swimmers.

7. Would other strokes change the results?
We are very interested in about IAP during other strokes. We are making an experiment plan now. Crawl stroke and back stroke have rolling motion, and butterfly stroke and breast stroke have up-down motion. Therefore we expect that the former’s (crawl stroke and back stroke) IAP waveforms are remarkably different from the latter’s (butterfly stroke and breast stroke). Additionally IAP development during butterfly strokes that are the highest load to trunk are highest in all strokes.

8. How should the results of your study be used for dryland and core training?
This question is very difficult for us. Recently, including me, many coaches and swimmers work on core training. We wanted to solve the meaning of core training by measuring IAP during swimming. But as results, IAP during swimming was much lower than we expected. Therefore, at least, our findings do not appear to support the effectiveness of core training performed by competitive swimmers aimed at increasing maximal IAP.

9. What research or projects are you currently working on or should we look from you in the future?
Even now, we are continuing experiment of IAP during swimming. We want to solve the meaning of core training and roles of trunk during swimming someday.

Timing Weight Training for Elite Youth Athletes

Take Home Points on Timing Weight Training for Elite Youth Athletes
  1. Dryland timing varies on the age and skill of the athlete.
  2.  Overall, improving form and developing general strength is the main goal for swimmers of all ages.

Q. Should I have my national level kids lift before or after swimming?

Anyone who trains youth athletes knows that development is all over the place. One 12 year-old may more closely resemble a high-school football starter than he does his classmates, while another 14 year-old from the same group may look more like he’s arrived an hour late for his learn-to-swim program. Because of this dilemma, training young swimmers can vary drastically. For sake of simplicity, I’m going to assume ‘youth’ refers to all age group swimmers from 11-18, but I am also going to compartmentalize this post based on development, not biological age.


These athletes have the most growth potential, and should be trained as broadly as possible. I suggest a land-based warm up before any kind of swimming work, which will: improve body awareness, reinforce movement patters, activate appropriate tissues, and increase bone mineral density.

A land-based warm-up does not need to be long here, 5-10 minutes of big movements such as crawling variations, lunges, bodyweight squats, and dynamic stretches should be sufficient. Not only will this style of warm up help the athlete reap the aforementioned benefits, but it will also help keep the attention span of this hyperactive age group.

After swimming is a great time to reinforce the patterns established in the warm ups. Here, you can increase the volume of the exercises to bring about a training effect. You can also use similar exercises in the cool-down to encourage blood-lactate recycling to expedite the recovery process.

Prepubescent athletes are frequently young enough to be free of mobility restrictions associated with poor tissue quality (extended periods of sitting being the prime culprit). This makes this age the most crucial time to reinforce tissue quality, which will help the athlete later on, as more skill and strength will be able to develop. As an aside here, even national level swimmers at the youngest age group should have a definitive off-season from the sport. Early specialization will only hinder their performance later in their careers when performance matters more.


At no other point in someone’s life are there such dramatic changes in muscle mass, hormone levels, skill, and mechanics. Because of these changes in biomechanics, creating awareness of this new muscle mass and changing leverages are huge.

To ensure you are creating lasting neural changes in this population, dryland training in a fatigued state (immediately after swimming) may be the best option. This works by forcing the athlete to maintain proper form during fatigue (which forces the athlete to think about the movement and develop the mind-muscle connection).

This is also a great time to introduce more complicated lifts, as well as external load (i.e. weights or band resistance). Just remember the weight itself is not nearly as important as good form. Remember, in this age we are trying to introduce neural adaptations. Adaptations can occur with poor form and heavy load, but this would reinforce poor technique, which is not at all what we are seeking.


By now elite athletes have developed some body awareness and are moving quickly towards sport-
specificity. The goal of dryland training now is: injury prevention, improved proprioception, and general strength.

The best way to achieve these basic goals is in a non-fatigued state. Ideally, you want the athlete to have time to recover after the dryland workout because of the heightened demands on the Central Nervous System and Muscular System. This is best done with an individual practice consisting entirely of the strength work, and another devoted to swimming. This is where two-a-days can come in handy, if your governing body allows it (varies by state athletic associations).

If having a separate training session is not an option, alternating between swimming first, and dryland work first may be your best bet. Just make sure to reduce the volume and intensity on the days where the dryland work will come last. This will actually improve recovery time and allow better efforts for both pool and dryland work.

As these athletes develop, creating the general strength as I mentioned, is huge. An easy way to add this general work is land-based warm ups and cool downs. I know from personal experience that younger swimmers tend to slack off on the cool down, so by switching to land, it will provide a relief from more pool volume, as well as a mental break.


The most important thing to realize for all populations is that any kind of dryland training will be extremely beneficial to the athlete. The above situations are ideal, but if you have restrictions with your athletes (i.e. NCAA time allotments), getting training in wherever you can is still critical. To break up monotony with youth swimmers, I suggest using some dryland work as a warm up, which will also enforce appropriate motor patterns, as a training session in itself to maximize strength, and as a cool down, to strengthen the athlete’s proprioception via enhanced CNS input.

Dryland for Swimmers Book Update

Many of you have purchased the Dryland for Swimmers book and we've gotten some great feedback! We will constantly update this book with new information and updated programs. We are set to send out updates in a few months, so don't worry this book will be a continual resource!

If you haven't purchased this product, buy now and receive the most comprehensive product on dryland for swimmers!

Thanks again for all your support!

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 MuscleEmporium@gmail.com with inquiries.

Post-Activation Potentiation and Swimming

Take Home Points on Post-Activation Potentiation and Swimming:
  1. Highly specific post-activation potentiation improves starting distance and may improve 0 - 15 m velocity.
  2. Sprint swimming races do not benefit from post-activation potentiation compared to traditional swimming warm-up.
Starts play a vital component of every race, with increasing importance in the shorter the race. PAP improves muscle contractility, strength and speed in sporting performances by applying maximal or submaximal loads on the muscle
Warming-up the body is suggested to improve sporting performance, with post-activation potentiation (PAP) one mechanism for improvement.

prior to the performance. PAP improvements are the result of a physiologic alteration that renders actin-myosin myofibril more sensitive to Ca2+, released from the sarcoplasmic reticulum, and an increase in muscle fibre recruitment, due to an intensification of the motor-neuron’s excitation.

PAP commonly uses similar exercises to the actual event. The lunge exercise, for example, primarily
activates the hip and knee extensor muscles of the front leg and, in track starts, causes the biggest impulse. The flywheel inertial device, YoYo squat (YoYo™ Technology AB, Stockholm, Sweden), on the other hand, draws on inertial systems to induce potentiation and, as has been reported in many EMG studies, leads to very high muscular activation potential benefit of flywheel inertial devices is that the resistance is independent of gravity.

PAP and Swimming Start

Fourteen trained swimmers (M=10, F=4; 17 - 23 years old) performed an initial swimming start as a control, then two different PAP protocols before a swimming start. Eight minutes of rest were provided after the two different protocols. The initial control start followed a standard warm-up, which was varied swimming and a dynamic lower limb stretching routine. During the two PAP protocols, the participant performed a standard warm-up then 1 x 3 at 85% 1-RM for the lunge and 1 x 4 at maximal voluntary contraction for the YoYo squat flywheel.

Dive distance was significantly greater after the PAP compared to the control. The distance to entry in the water was longer for the YoYo squat flywheel (304.28 cm) and lunge (300.29 cm) compared to the control (294.2 cm). Flight time was also significantly greater after the YoYo squat flywheel compared to the control and the lunge. Swimmers were faster after the YoYo squat flywheel compared to the other protocols. Time to 5-meters was also significantly shorter after the PAP exercises. Time to 15-m was shorter after the YoYo squat flywheel, but it wasn't significant.

PAP and Swimming Performance

In another recent study, Sarramin (2014) tested 18 National level swimmers (M=10, F=9; ranked within the top 15 for their country in their age-group) on 7 occasions. The first test day aimed to provided a 3 repetition maximum (3RM) on the pull-up exercise. The second session, the participant performed a medicine ball throw 4, 8 and 12 minutes following the upper body PAP activity (1 set of 3RM of the pull-up), determining the optimal rest period for the individual. The third session involved performing a counter movement jump on a jump mat, 4, 8 and 12 minutes after the PAP stimulus (1 set of 5 jumps to the box wearing a weighted vest of 10% of their bodyweight). During sessions 4 - 7, participants swam a 50 m under race conditions preceded by one of the following:
  1. Regular swimming warm-up: 30 minutes of different speeds, drills, sprints, and cool down. 
  2. Upper body PAP
  3. Lower body PAP
  4. Combined upper and lower body PAP
All the PAP protocols first performed a 15-minute pool warm-up. The rest period after the regular warm-up was 15 minutes for each swimmer. The rest periods for the PAP were determined by the first 2 sessions. 

There were only significantly differences in time between groups for the male group. Swimming
times were significantly faster for the regular swimming warm-up and combined warm-up compared to the upper body PAP protocol for men. 

The reasons for the differences between men and women are not clear, but possibly due to muscle mass and composition.

Sarramian (2014) suggests PAP may be beneficial for swimmers when they don't adequate space or time for warm-up, which is common in swimming. However, the precise exercises for PAP are not well established for swimming due to the complex nature of the sport. 

PAP and Swimming

Overall, it seems PAP using the YoYo Flywheel provides the greatest benefit for improving the swimming start. However, it seems a traditional warm-up is just as effective as PAP for sprinters, therefore regular swimming warm-ups are likely the most beneficial mode for most swimming. Just remember, individualization is key, as some collegiate sprinters have been found to perform best after no warm-up or no warm-up (Balilionis 2012).

Another scenario for using PAP, as Sarramian (2014) suggests is its use during meets with minimal space. 


  1. Sarramian VG, Turner A, Greenhalgh AK. EFFECT OF POSTACTIVATION POTENTIATION ON FIFTY METERS FREESTYLE INNATIONAL SWIMMERS. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Sep 25. [Epub ahead of print]
  2. Cuenca-Fernández F, López-Contreras G, Arellano R. Effect on swimming start performance of two types of activation protocols: Lunge and YoYoSquat. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Sep 15. [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.

Training Paralympic Swimmers, Part II

Take Home Points on Training Paralympic Swimmers, Part II
  1. Asymmetry is related to disability classification in Paralympic swimmers
  2. Level of disability appears related to impairment of start velocity
  3. Dryland may improve Paralympic swim performance, but the same questions remain about dryland as with regular swimming
Paralympic swimming has grown enormously in stature during recent Olympic cycles. Once an afterthought compared to “regular” Olympic events, the Paralymipcs have attracted more high level athletes each year, with interest continuing to grow. While basic swimming principles remain uniform compared to able bodied swimmers, certain adjustments are required. 

We have previously reviewed literature on Paralympic swimming (Part I), but recently the team of Dingley et al (2014) published a series of studies on starts and dryland specific to Paralympic swimmers.

In the article on starts the team found:
  • Swimmers with no physical disability were significantly faster in most swim-start phases compared with those with physical disabilities 
  • Swimmers with low-severity disabilities were also significantly faster in starts compared with the mid- and high-severity groups. (Note: this study includes only Paralympic swimmers but not all classifications are considered physical disabilities) 
  • Block velocity was highly negatively correlated with 15-mswimming time for all groups except high-severity disabilities. 
  • Free-swim velocity is a priority area for improving swim-starts for swimmers regardless of disability. 
  • Swimmers with lower body or high-severity disabilities spent a smaller percentage of time overall in the underwater phase. 
Overall, the trends are relatively similar than what we’d expect to find in able bodied swimmers, with block velocity relating to 15m swim time. Key take home from this research is confirming that physical ability is an individual quality and training should be individualized to each swimmer’s capability.

Asymmetry has been a recent topic on thissite. While asymmetry is a key element for able bodied swimmers, asymmetry has greater importance for Paralympic swimmers who may be missing limbs. In a study on force production among Paralympic swimmers, the same research team noted:

Large relationships between mean force and swimming velocity were seen for both the high and low-range groups. 

Asymmetry was related to level of disability, with the smallest difference of in the no-musculoskeletal disability group. This difference increased to in the high- and low-range groups.
Between the first and last 15 s of the swim-bench test, reductions in mean force were small for the physical disabilities groups. 

Changes in asymmetry were small for both the no-physical and low-range groups. Paralympic swimmers with a more severe physical impairment typically generate substantially lower force and velocity.

These results make intuitive sense, but it should be noted that data was collected on a swim bench, so transfer to the water is unclear. However, the same neural drive components may affect force production making the data somewhat instructive for organizing a training approach.

Finally, in a study on dryland by the same team, authors analyzed the effect of dryland on Paralympic swimmers. This definitely is not a perfect study (low sample size, no control group) but it does add information to a niche in where limited information exists. In this study, subjects performed a full body dryland routine. Results from seven elite Paralympic swimmers showed:
  1. 50-m time trials improved by 1.2% 
  2. Increases in both mean power (6.1%, ±5.9%) and acceleration (3.7%, ±3.7%) generated during the dive start enabled swimmers to substantially improve start times to the 5-m (5.5%, ±3.2) and 15-m (1.8%, ±1.1%) marks. 
Despite these results, similar questions remain about the relationship of dryland to swim performance (much too long a discussion to reengage in this post!).


Overall, nothing groundbreaking with this work, but remember that research is a long term process. As Paralympic swimming gains prominence, hopefully more research will emerge specific to disability categories, as each classification has its own unique demands. 


  1. Dingley A1, Pyne DB, Burkett B. Phases of the Swim-start in Paralympic Swimmers are Influenced by Severity and Type of Disability. J Appl Biomech. 2014 Oct;30(5):643-648. Epub 2014 Jul 9.
  2. Dingley AA1, Pyne D2, Burkett B3. Dry-land Bilateral Hand-force Production and Swimming Performance in Paralympic Swimmers. Int J Sports Med. 2014 Oct;35(11):949-53. doi: 10.1055/s-0033-1364023. Epub 2014 Jun 3.
  3. Dingley AA1, Pyne DB, Youngson J, Burkett B. Effectiveness of a dry-land resistance training program on strength, power andswimming performance in Paralympic swimmers. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Sep 15. [Epub ahead of print]
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.

Does Low Back Pain Resolve Itself?

Take Home Points for Does Low Back Pain Resolve Itself?
  1. Yes, low back pain typically resolves itself, yet underlying issues persist likely increasing the risk of re-injury.
Low back pain (LBP) is extremely common in the general and athletic population and swimmers
even have a higher risk of low back degeneration. Despite this frequency, no resolutions exist for eradicating pain. Luckily, most cases of LBP are acute and remiss over a month. This brevity in symptoms leads many not to seek treatment. However, resolution of pain, without treatment, may but a person at risk for a recurrent injury, as the recurrent rate of low back pain is extremely high.

This situation puts everyone in a bind, as everyone thinks they can wait out pain and get better. However, is waiting out the pain and having it resolve on it's own the best option? Sure, low back pain gets better in most people without any treatment, but is this passive treatment worth the risk of having a higher risk of recurrence?

Does Low Back Pain Resolve Itself?

Butler (2012) recruited fifty-four subjects without LBP and 33 people with a previous low back injury (LBI). In this study, electromyography of the core musculature and motion analysis was taken during the following task: 

“Subjects stood at a table (adjusted to standing elbow height) and performed three trials of lifting and replacing a 2.9 kg load using both hands in two reach conditions while minimizing trunk and pelvis motion. Subjects were required to move the load 4–5 cm off the table in a controlled manner and lower within a standardized 3-s count. An event marker identified lift, transition and lowering phases. Only the lift phase was examined given similar patterns were found for the two other phases. If trunk or pelvis motion was visible during the trial or upon review if the any of the three angular displacement traces exceeded 3, the trial was repeated (Butler 2012).”

The results showed a slight difference between the control and LBI, as the LBI group was slightly older and had a higher body mass index (BMI). Moreover, different movement patterns during the above tasks were noted between both groups. The LBI group also had higher muscle activation for the all the muscles except the external oblique, which showed decreased activation. 

Why is it Different?

All joints have passive structures (ie bones) and active structures (ie muscles). The higher muscular activation in the LBI group may be from a decrease in passive stability, requiring an increase in activity stability. Though high activation is assumed a good thing for stability, it may lead to increased fatigue and increased injury risk. This increases stiffness (stability) could also be a compensatory pattern for an underlying injury. A decrease in the external oblique activation may inhibit force distribution and overall core stability, as one muscle not working properly is theoretically disrupts stability according renowned spinal biomechanist Stuart McGill. 

These “scores indicates that the LBI group included individuals with inhibited as well as enhanced activation in local muscles, suggesting that there are potential subgroups. This may have implications for therapeutic interventions in that those with enhanced local activity may not benefit from therapies that focus on selectively activating deep muscles. Thus our results provide evidence of local muscle alterations although it is the first time that these impairments are reported during a functional but highly controlled task in those recovered from an episode of LBI (Butler 2012)”.

In summary, Butler concluded: “specifically, an overall increase in activity of abdominals and back extensors, increased agonist–antagonist co-activation strategy, reduced posterior oblique fiber activation and impaired local muscle responses to increased demand was found in the LBI

Practical Implications

Swimmers often have low back pain which symptoms quickly resolve. However, this study suggests underlying motor programming and impaired muscle activation exist after the resolution of symptoms. This makes it essential to seek rehabilitation or at least work on improving these imbalances, preventing a relapse. 

For some examples of core training, check out the COR Low Back Solution.

For more examples, consider purchasing Dryland for Swimmers.

  1. Butler HL, Hubley-Kozey CL, Kozey JW. Changes in electromyographic activity of trunk muscles within the sub-acute phase for individuals deemed recovered from a low back injury. J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 2012 Nov 28. doi:pii: S1050-6411(12)00195-2. 10.1016/j.jelekin.2012.10.012. [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.

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 MuscleEmporium@gmail.com 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.