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

Coded for Swimming Science by Cameron Yick

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Neural Fatigue and Swimming

Several months ago, Dr. Mullen touched on a rarely discussed, but very critical topic: neural fatigue.

“The devil, or forgotten Little Nicky, for optimal race results is neural fatigue. This forgotten and unknown variable rises higher in events with high force production. Make sure the nervous system has achieved proper time to recover. If the nervous system does not recover it will not have adequate time to react and will fail...no good! It is estimated the neural system takes seven to ten times the length of the muscular system to recover. (See Perfect Swimming Warm Down)

What is neural fatigue? Quite simply neurons get tired. It’s still not entirely clear how or why this happens, but we do know that fatigue is more than the muscular and cardiovascular systems. Some theorize neural fatigue is an evolved biological mechanism to prevent us from causing serious damage to our bodies, which is one
application of Dr. Noakes' Central Governor Hypothesis.  One way to address neural fatigue is via proper warm down, as described in the earlier post. Indeed some theorize that easy, over distance training is that much like a slow warm down, as easy swims can balance the nervous system and provide ongoing neural recovery.

Many swimmers train their easy days too hard and thus detract from optimal velocity on their harder days. Trying to squeeze a few seconds faster per 100 on an easy day adds only a negligible benefit for conditioning, but may chip away at the body’s neural readiness for the next hard workout. Alternatively, even if someone can habitually “dig deep” and attain optimal velocities on harder days, short term performance comes at the price of increased neural fatigue. As Gandevia (1996) writes,

“[D]during sustained maximal voluntary contractions, voluntary activation becomes less than optimal so that force can be increased by stimulation of the motor cortex or the motor nerve. Complex changes in excitability of the motor cortex also occur with fatigue, but can be dissociated from the impairment of voluntary activation. We argue that inadequate neural drive effectively 'upstream' of the motor cortex must be one site involved in the genesis of central fatigue.”


Likewise, greater fitness may actually increase one’s susceptibility to neural fatigue, which may partially explain why many athletes suffer setbacks during critical times in the season. When you’re not in peak form, the body is limited by both coordination and fitness. Coordination limits performance when the brain forgets how to optimally use muscles. Think of returning to pool after a layoff…it’s hard to make your muscles sore when your hand repeatedly slides through the water like pure air. Likewise, an undeveloped cardiovascular system limits your ability to work at a high percentage of maximum effort for an extended period. In contrast, peak fitness brings a perfect storm for neural fatigue. Finely tuned coordination and a strong catch and pull mean high recruitment of motor units; cardiovascular fitness means you can operate for an extended duration.

Consider a 2009 study by Ahtiainen comparing strength athletes with non-athletes in a knee extensor test to fatigue. Perhaps counter-intuitively, only the strength athletes demonstrated reduced muscle activation at the end of the experiment. Authors reasoned that “experienced strength athletes were capable to activate their muscles to a greater extent than their non-strength-trained counterparts indicated by neural fatigue during the exercise. Greater motor unit activation in strength athletes than in nonathletes may be due to training-induced neural adaptation, which manifested during fatiguing exercise.”

Additionally, males may also have more fatigue susceptibility than females (Hakkinen 1996). Perhaps due to greater percentage of muscle mass than females, males have greater propensity for neural fatigue and may require recovery (Should Female Swimmers Train Differently than Males).

Summary
The challenge with neural fatigue is how to measure it directly.  Subjective measures like mood, muscle soreness, appetite, and range of motion can sometimes correlate with neural fatigue but once you notice changes you’re probably too late!  Autonomic nervous system readiness can also be measured, but it simply measures the resting state. It doesn’t tell us HOW to address neural fatigue. Here are a few simple ways to address neural fatigue:     

  1. Warm down: (I know, sometimes hard to do with school/work shortly after practice, along with getting thrown out of your lane by the next group beginning practice).
  2. Recovery days easier: Remember, the nervous system requires longer recovery than the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems (to the extent we can isolate these systems as independent).
  3. Management of work to rest ratios: Some such as Dr. Rushall advocate ultra-short training, with short sprints and short rests. The total workload may be similar in 30 x 25 at goal pace set with 15 seconds rest compared to 7 x 100, but shorter workbouts are theorized as less impactful on neural fatigue, which is ongoing and not isolated to one workout. Work and rest lengths are especially important on dry-land where “metabolic conditioning circuits” and high rep/high intensity lifts add little to someone already swimming 10, 15, or 20+ hours per week already.
Without advanced measuring tools, neural fatigue is highly conceptual for coaches and athletes. Nonetheless, know that the nervous system plays a role in fatigue and affects the body in ways not obvious on the surface.

References
  1. Gandevia SC, Allen GM, Butler JE, Taylor JL.  Supraspinal factors in human muscle fatigue: evidence for suboptimal output from the motor cortex.  J Physiol. 1996 Jan 15;490 ( Pt 2):529-36.
  2. Ahtiainen JP, Häkkinen K.  Strength athletes are capable to produce greater muscle activation and neural fatigue during high-intensity resistance exercise than nonathletes.  J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Jul;23(4):1129-34. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181aa1b72.
  3. Häkkinen K.  Neuromuscular fatigue in males and females during strenuous heavy resistance loading.  Electromyogr Clin Neurophysiol. 1994 Jun;34(4):205-14.
By Allan Phillips. Allan and his wife Katherine are heavily involved in the strength and conditioning community, for more information refer to Pike Athletics.

Changes in H reflex and V wave following short-term endurance and strength training

Vila-Chã C, Falla D, Correia MV, Farina D. Changes in H reflex and V wave following short-term endurance and strength training. J Appl Physiol. 2012 Jan;112(1):54-63. Epub 2011 Oct 13.

Background
The nervous system is adaptive to training. It is feasible to measure the adaptations of the nervous system via reflex responses, especially the H reflex and V wave.

“Although these evoked responses are affected by common neural mechanisms, during voluntary contractions, the H reflex is more sensitive to altered presynaptic inhibition and motoneuron excitability whereas the V wave is more sensitive to changes in supraspinal input to the motor neuron pool. Thus combined measures of the H reflex and V wave may provide a better understanding of the neural adaptations elicited by specific motor training programs (Vila-Cha 2012)”

The H reflex is expected to be higher in endurance trained athletes. The V wave is thought to increase with strength training.

The present study investigated if endurance and strength training induce parallel changes in H and V wave responses during voluntary contractions of the soleus muscle and if so whether there are associations between changes in motor performance and changes in reflex responses.

What was done
Twenty-six untrained healthy participants performed 9 training sessions over 3 weeks. The programs were progressed over the training period. The endurance training included cycling and the strength training consisted of upper and lower body exercises. Each exercise was performed for 3 rounds of 15-18 repetitions.

These two groups were compared.

Electromyography and reflexes were taken before and throughout training.

Results
The current work showed that following 3 wk of endurance training the excitability in the H-reflex pathway increased but the V-wave amplitude remained unchanged. In contrast, following strength training, the V-wave amplitude increased whereas subtle changes were observed in the H-reflex pathway. Moreover, although weakly, the improvement in time-to task-failure of the plantar flexors was associated with increased H-reflex excitability while the increase in MVC was associated with increased V-wave amplitude.

Discussion
These results suggest that elements of the H-reflex pathway are strongly involved in chronic adjustments in response to endurance training, contributing to enhanced fatigue resistance. Conversely, following strength training, it is more likely that increased descending neural drive during MVC and/or modulation in afferents other than Ia afferents contributed to increased motoneuron excitability and MVC of the plantar flexors.

Practical Implication

This study suggests that strength and endurance training result in different neural responses. However, future studies must assess the response in trained athletes, before a true correlation is appropriate. Moreover, the correlations with the neural adaptations are essential criteria for recommendation for the swimming community. However, this study opens the possibility that improved neural drive may be the chief avenue for improvement from resistance training for swimmers, as improved drive helps all athletic movements, recovery, and potentially prevents injuries.

Swimming Science Research Review 

This is a piece of the Swimming Science Research Review. Read Swimming Science Research Review October 2012 for a complete list of the articles reviewed.

Sign-up here to receive this month's edition and all future publications for only $10/month. Each edition covers articles ranging from biomechaincs, physiology, rehabilitation, genetic, and much more! These reviews explain the latest sports science research in straightforward language.

This will help you apply knowledge in the review to the pool deck, separating yourself from your peers!

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Motor Learning for Swimmers: Part III

Take Home Points on Motor Learning for Swimmers: Part III

  1. Motor learning sets can provide variation and variability, as long as the main principles in motor learning are followed.
Motor learning for swimmers has tackled various terminology and various methods for inducing learning. However, practical applications of certain philosophies are often the hardest part.

In Dr. Rushall’s paper, he provides few examples of practices, which many coaches feel would lead to boredom in workouts. Dr. Rushall addresses this concern with the following:

“This latter feature is the major rejoinder to arguments where training "variety" as being an important motivational feature is advocated by many coaches. When swimmers can see the relevance of training for improving race performances, and training responses improve, they prefer race-pace work and its repetitions to traditional coaching programs with variety and much irrelevant training (Rushall 2012).”

Improvements are motivating, however providing ample racing and variety is thought to increase enjoyment and motor learning. This paper provides a few practice ideas for motor learning sets, designed for race pace training:

Pick a card!

This is an ideal application for age group swimmers who are developing a variety of events and strokes. This set causes random practice, which is believed to increased retention. Prior to the set, determine the amount of repetitions and distance, then correspond a stroke with a suite in a deck of cards.


Example:
  • Spade=Fly
  • Club=Back
  • Diamond=Breast
  • Heart=Free

 
Then, one swimmer picks a card from a deck of cards. The team must do the predetermined amount of repetitions of the predetermined distance for the corresponding card. For example, if you are going to do 4 Rounds of 10x50 on :20 rest (with ample recovery in between), then you have an athlete pick a card and if they grab a spade, then they perform 10x50 fly. Then have them recover and do it again. If they grab another spade, more fly! But if they grab another suite, then they can perform this volume with the different, corresponding stroke.

 
Another option is having the suite correspond with a distance while the stroke remains constant. For example, if you wanted to do a freestyle set, then each suite is freestyle, but the distance corresponds with a different distance:

 
Spade=50 pace (ie 12.5)
Club=100 pace (ie 25)
Diamond=200 pace (ie 50)
Heart=500/1650 pace (ie 75/100 pace)

Unfair baseball

Using proper technique at the exact race pace is essential. However, using electronic timing is necessary for accuracy. Unfortunately, hand times are not as accurate as coaches wish to believe. Therefore, getting out the touch pads is important for accuracy. This example requires a little leg work, because you need touch pads and timers (sorry people in California, I know many teams don’t own touch pads, but for everyone else), allowing the coach to focus on biomechanics, not just yell out numbers.

Next, pick a predetermined distance, rest interval, and race pace and have each swimmer perform as many as possible before they record a miss, or a strike. Keep in mind, they strike can occur if they go too fast or too slow. Remember, sprinting ahead at the beginning of a race, rarely leads to success (Pacing 101 for swimmers).

This set can performed multiple times in a macrocycle, challenging each swimmer to perform as many as possible with a more accurate mechanisms. Also, the kids like yelling “you’re out of there” once their teammate receives a “strike”.

This set should encourage swimmers to want to swim more, something unfortunately uncommon in the sport. Unfortunately, this set does result in failure at some point, making a little less than ideal, but it does provide variety and a benchmark for improvement. Also, the amount of failures (1 repetitions) is smaller than the amount of successful trials. Lastly, I suggest performing repeat 50s on this set, as finishing at the same end allows short-rest intervals.

Mountain

Most swim teams have performed mountains. A mountain provides “semi-random” practice, having swimmers perform various speeds one after another. 

One example is 6 rounds of
25 free (100 pace) @:20
50 free (200 pace) @:20
75 free (500 pace) @:20

Then 6 rounds of
75 free (500 pace) @:20
50 free (200 pace) @:20
25 free (100 pace) @:20

This forces swimmers to know multiple race pace times, but provides a cycle through the different variations.

Stop and go traffic

Many coaches lack space, hopefully this set allows a coach to perform this form of training with minimal space.

Simply, have your team do a 1000, alternating 10 yards fast/20 yards easy (ideally non-main stroke on the easy) with touch turns at each end. Unfortunately, this set is difficult for the swimmers to tack time, therefore the coach may need to help the swimmers, a drawback of this set.

Limbo

The limbo set sees how low one can go...in regards to rest. Predetermine the distance and stroke, then each swimmer do 4 Rounds of 5 repeats. For example:

5x25 (100 pace) @:30 rest
5x25 (100 pace) @:25 rest
5x25 (100 pace) @:20 rest
5x25 (100 pace) @:15 rest
5x25 (100 pace) @:10 rest
5x25 (100 pace) @:05 rest

Unfortunately, this set does result in failure at some point, making a little less than ideal, but it does offer variety and a benchmark for improvement. Also, the amount of failures (1 repetitions) is smaller than the amount of successful trials. This set should encourage swimmers to want to swim more, something unfortunately uncommon in the sport.

 

Conclusion
These are not the only variations of motor learning and ultra-short learning at race pace, but hopefully provide a few more examples. Moreover, in this less than ideal world (especially in age group swimming) variations and audibles are necessary, hopefully motor learning for swimmers provides a few beneficial audibles.

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.

Autonomic Nervous System Readiness


The autonomic nervous system is critical to regulate our bodies.  In this post we’ll discuss ways to examine autonomic system readiness in our swimmers.  Think of these as systems checks on your “race car” (aka, swimmer’s body) before you crank up the engine.  There are several medically accepted ways to assess autonomic nervous system health, but many are not practical for the common athletic setting, let alone a pool deck.  Fortunately, there are a few reliable methods that can fit within a reasonable budget and can accommodate swim team logistics.

To review…the autonomic nervous system involves two branches: parasympathetic (“Rest and digest”) and sympathetic (“Fight or flight”).  Generally we prefer parasympathetic dominance at rest, preparing the body for a fight-or-flight response when needed.  If the body is too worked up (sympathetic) at rest, it’s a sign the body is working harder than normal just to support basic function.  The result is fewer resources in reserve when greater output is needed (race, hard workout, training camp).  Note these are guidelines, not rules, as even though we strive for parasympathetic dominance at rest, being TOO parasympathetic can signal other problems. 

The simplest way to see autonomic nervous system readiness is with basic observation…Appetite, mood, sleep patterns, (Fry 1994) skin tone, or how the athlete is moving on a particular day.  Paying attention to these factors is better than nothing, but still open to false positives and false negatives. 

A false positive is if the variable is outside the normal range, but there’s nothing actually wrong.  A false negative is if there is something wrong, but none of the relevant variables change. As an extreme example, suppressed appetite could be a sign of overtraining or it could mean you ate something disagreeable to your stomach.  Likewise, mood disturbance could mean some life event is causing stress that might resolve with physical exercise, or it could mean your body is overtraining. 


Because of these potential ambiguities, it is helpful to have quantitative measures for assessing autonomic system readiness.  Perhaps the most popular is resting heart rate (Jeukendrup 1998).  A crude way to assess resting heart rate is to take your pulse with your finger upon awakening.  More precise is to use a heart rate monitor upon awakening or sleep with a heart rate monitor on (good luck with compliance on the latter!). 

The main problem with resting heart rate is the risk of false positives. Hydration and mental stress can both spike resting heart rate temporarily, but such fluctuations are often natural and resolve quickly.  You might suggest these are signs to back off training, but this is not an absolute. Yet in other cases, there might be nothing wrong.  One way to decrease confusion is to keep a detailed log of resting heart rate and track against other variables.  If you get any readings outside the average range, it is cause to reevaluate the plan for the day.  This strategy does require interpretation, but with enough data history you can make informed decisions.

Another method is hand grip testing using a dynamometer.  Khurana (1996) noted, “Isometric hand-grip is therefore a specific, sensitive, reproducible, simple and non-invasive test of sympathetic function with relatively well-studie
d reflex pathways.”  This method is easier than resting heart rate and can simply be taken on-site right before a workout and does not need any electronics.  As with heart rate, establishing a baseline is crucial…a powerlifter on his worst day will likely have a much stronger grip than a 9-year-old swimmer on their best day.


Heart rate variability has been a hot topic in recent years in sports performance.  In studying elite swimmers, Hellard (2011) found, “HRV is a rapid and noninvasive tool to indicate autonomic function, which provides complementary information that may help to reduce the risk of infection in elite swimmers. Weekly HRV monitoring would indicate a drop in parasympathetic regulation, which increases the likelihood of pathology.”  They also found that HRV analysis could predict a shift in sympathetic dominance one week in advance, though more study is needed in that area to confirm time lags under different settings.

Of the methods commercially accessible to coaches, HRV is accepted as the most reliable.  Although commonly used for decades in medicine, many believe the Russians and Eastern Europeans in the 1970s-80s were the first to introduce heart rate variable testing for athlete readiness.  However, because these countries were tainted
by doping allegations, many valuable advances in their programs were swept aside by the rest of the world.  As other nations began revisiting these plans and sifted through the “clean” aspects, heart rate variability reemerged into the coaching toolbox. 

As with any other method, baseline measurements are mandatory before interpreting data (and yes, even baseline for mood is important, as a bad mood for a natural grouch is less alarming than an athlete with a normally sunny disposition).  Most criticisms of HRV center not in its measurement reliability but instead on how well humans can interpret the data.  Despite the need for interpretation, objective data does remove some guesswork. 

Conclusion
Measuring autonomic nervous system readiness involves both subjective and objective information.  Know your athletes subjectively and use objective data to refine your observations.  Remember, these tools are not meant as commandments but instead to serve as additional layers of security to catch problems before they occur. 

References
  1. Jeukendrup A, VanDiemen A. S91-9. Heart rate monitoring during training and competition in cyclists.J Sports Sci. 1998 Jan;16 Suppl:
  2. Baumert M, Brechtel L, Lock J, Hermsdorf M, Wolff R, Baier V, Voss A. Heart rate variability, blood pressure variability, and baroreflex sensitivity in overtrained athletes. Clin J Sport Med. 2006 Sep;16(5):412-7.
  3. Khurana RK, Setty A. The value of the isometric hand-grip test--studies in various autonomic disorders. Clin Auton Res. 1996 Aug;6(4):211-8.
  4. Hellard P, Guimaraes F, Avalos M, Houel N, Hausswirth C, Toussaint JF. Modeling the association between HR variability and illness in elite swimmers. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Jun;43(6):1063-70.
  5. Fry RW, Grove JR, Morton AR, Zeroni PM, Gaudieri S, Keast D. Psychological and immunological correlates of acute overtraining. Br J Sports Med. 1994 Dec;28(4):241-6.
By Allan Phillips. Allan and his wife Katherine are heavily involved in the strength and conditioning community, for more information refer to Pike Athletics.

Motor Learning and Swimming Part II

Take Home Points on Motor Learning for Swimmers: Part II

  1. Providing a closed environment with proper feedback is essential for motor learning.
If you missed it, read motor learning and swimming part I.

Strategies for effective learning for swimmers

    • Feedback given after every trial improves performance, while variable feedback improves learning and retention. Early training should use constant feedback to improve performance with decreasing and variable feedback upon mastery.
    • Early training should focus on visual feedback (cognitive phase of learning), while later training should focus on proprioceptive feedback (associative phase of learning). In swimming, visual feedback is now possible with stationary pools. Unfortunately, proprioceptive feedback is far from feasible in the sport, but could become possible if these stationary pools allow the athlete to 'lock-in' their perfect stroke, then the further your stroke gets from this stroke it will create more waves.
    • Reduce extraneous environmental stimuli early in learning (closed environment), while later learning focuses on adaption to environmental demands open environment). This is feasible by progressing from having one swimmer in a lane, to multiple swimmers in the lane, then at a meet.
    • Supportive feedback (reinforcement) can be  used to shape behavior, or motivate. Being positive is an amazing tool for success.
    • Assist learner in recognizing pairing intrinsic feedback with movement responses. If they can associate the feeling with the movement, then learning occurs (Read Optimizing Feedback in the Pool).
    • Provide augmented feedback: knowledge of results or knowledge of performance.
      • Early  in learning, focus feedback on correct aspects of performance.
      • Later in learning, focus feedback on errors as they become consistent.
      • Feedback after every trial improves performance, useful during early learning.
      • Use variable feedback (summed, fading, bandwidth) to improve retention, increase depth of cognitive processing. Avoid feedback dependence: reduce augmented feedback as soon as possible; foster active introspection, decision making by learner. Once the task is learned, let the swimmer drive the reflection.
      • Establish practice schedule: use distributed practice when superior performance is desired, when motivation is low, or when the learner has short attention, poor concentration, or fatigues early. Don't overtrain, this greatly impedes motor learning due to lack of motivation. However, for motor learning and swimming, distributed, random practices (ie Saturday evening or any unusual practice time can enhance learning, if the learner is motivated).
      • Use a variable practice of a group of functional tasks rather than constant practice to improve learning (promotes retention and generalizability). In workouts, don't perform one constant speed, vary through your 50, 100, 200 race pace.
      • Use random or serial practice order, rather than blocked practice, in order to improve motor learning and swimming (retention).
      • Use mental practice to improve learning; have athlete verbalize task components, retirements for performance; effective when task has a large cognitive component tor to decrease fear and anxiety.
      • Use parts to whole transfer when task is complex, has highly independent parts or when learner has limited memory or attention, difficulty with a particular part. Practice both parts and the integrated whole.
      • Limit information with learner who have attention deficits, mentally fatigue easily; focus n key task elements, give frequent rest periods.
      • Tasks that have highly integrated components should be practiced as a whole (swimming).
      • Transfer of learning is optimized when tasks are highly similar (similar stimuli, similar responses), one of Rushall's most popular themes, the Principle of Specificity.
      • Use guided movement early in learning, not late; most effective for slow postural or positioning tasks.
      • Optimal arousal is necessary for optimal learning; low arousal or intense arousal yield poor performance and learning (inverted U theory). This is noted in non-specific drills and irrelevant training.
      • Involve learner in goal setting; task should be desirable, functionally relevant, important to learn.

Next time, a few practices sets where motor learning and swimming is on the agenda. Stay tuned!


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.

Motor Learning for Swimmers: Part I

Take Home Points on Motor Learning for Swimmers: Part I

  1. Learn the motor learning terminology for the best swimming practice. 
Motor learning for swimmers is an expanding form of training. This is most popularized by Dr. Rushall's work and his Swimming Science Bulletin: SWIMMING ENERGY TRAINING IN THE 21ST CENTURY: THE JUSTIFICATION FOR RADICAL CHANGES.

If you have not read this document, get to work (at least the Cliff Notes version: Revolution in Swimming: Ultra-short Training at Race-pace), as this paper will challenge your thoughts and beliefs. This article serves to challenge your current belief on training. Whether you adapt this training philosophy, or simply use it to understand different training philosophies, it is essential to read.

On Swimming Science, we attempt to bridge the gap between science and coaches. Ideally, this will improve the transparency in the sport, resulting in vast improvement. This is the goal of the Swimming Science Research Review, where our team reviews a plethora of articles, to teach, challenge, and confirm swimming training philosophies.

Dr. Rushall's paper argues his case for a radical change in the sport. Unfortunately, this paper hardly discusses the basics of motor learning, this paper will hopefully clear some confusion and build on a few topics Dr. Rushall discussed.

Motor learning is a young topic in science. I first learned about this form of learning while working with patients recovering from a stroke. It was essential to re-establish specific motor programs in this pathological population. Therefore, we used the best practices in motor learning, restoring their activities of daily living.

To clear the confusion, here are some basic definitions based off Physical Therapy teachings (O'Sullivan 2012):
  • Motor program: a set of prestructured muscle commands that, when initiated, results in the production of a coordinated movement sequence (learned task); can be carried out largely uninfluenced by peripheral feedback.
  • Motor plan: an overall strategy for movement; an action sequence requiring the coordination of a number of motor programs.
  • Feedback: afferent information sent by various sensory receptors to control centers
    • feedback updates control centers about the correctness of movement while it progresses; shapes ongoing movement.
    • Feedback allows motor responses to be adapted to the demands of the environment.
  • Feedforward: readies the system in advance of movement; anticipatory responses that adjust the system for incoming sensory feedback or for future movements (preparatory postural adjustments)
  • Motor skill acquisition.
    • Behavior is organized to achieve a goal-directed task.
    • Active problem solving/processing is required for the development of a motor program/motor plan, motor learning; improves retention skills.
    • Adaptive to specific environment demands (regulatory conditions). Closed environment: fixed, nonchanging. Open environment: variable, changing.
  • Central nervous system recovery/reorganization is dependent upon experience.
  • Motor learning: a change in the capability of a person to perform a skill the result of practice or experience.
  • Measures of motor learning for swimmers includes
    • performance: determine overall quality of performance level of automaticity, level of effort, speed of decision making.
    • Retention: the ability to demonstrate the skill after a period of not practice.
    • Generalizability the acquired capability to apply what has been learned to other similar tasks (transfer tasks)
    • Resistance to contextual change: acquired capability to apply what has been learned to other environmental contexts (away meet, etc.)
  • Feedback
    • Intrinsic feedback: sensory information normally acquired during performance of a task.
    • Augmented feedback: externally presented feedback that is aided to that normally acquired during task performance (verbal cuing).
    • knowledge of results (KR): augmented feedback about the outcome of a movement.
    • Knowledge of performance (KP): augmented feedback about the nature of the movement produced
    • Feedback schedules: feedback given after every trial; feedback summed (after set number of trials), fading (decreasing), or bandwidth (if responses outside a designated range).
  • Practice
    • Blocked practice: practice of a single motor skill repeatedly; repetitive practice.
    • Variable practice: practice of varied motor skills in which the performer is required to make rapid modifications of the skill in order to match the demand of the task.
    • Random practice: practice of a group or class of motor skills in random order (no predictable order).
    • Serial practice: practice of a group or class of motor skills in serial or predictable order.
    • Massed practice: relatively continuous practice in which the amount of rest time is small (rest time is less than the practice time).
    • Distributed practice: practice in which the rest time is relatively large (practice time is less than rest time).
    • Mental practice: cognitive rehearsal of a motor skill without overt physical performance.
  • Transfer: the effects of having previous practice of a skill or skills upon the learning of a new skill or upon performance in a new context; transfer may be either positive (assisting learning) or negative (hindering learning).
    • Part-wole transfer: a learning technique in which a complex motor task is broken down into its component or subordinate parts for separate practice before practice of the integrated whole.
    • Bilateral transfer: improvement in movement skill performance with one limb results from practice of similar movements with the opposite limb.
The next part of this series discusses general implementation of motor learning for swimmers.

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.

VO2max is not Important for Competitive Swimmers

On my vacation, I had the luxury of reading and came to the conclusion, measuring VO2max is not important for competitive swimmers. I know this is a bold, hellish statement and one which is not perfectly supported. Moreover, it is never smart to say something is useless, well at least in the world of science. However, the more I learn about VO2max, the more I realize it is only applicable in high volume swimming practice, not a meet, practice. As we all know, no medals (at least important ones) are handed out in practice.


Two readings specifically to swimming have supported this thought that VO2max is not important to swimmers:



Dr. Rushall has been dismissing VO2max for sometime. Dr. Rushall has radical views in the minds of many traditional swim coaches, but let's think about it. The majority of swim races last for approximately :20 – 2:00. However, reaching VO2max takes approximately 10 minutes in most testing procedures. As a result, the metabolic demands of VO2 max testing aren't related to the metabolic demands of races. Also, the cyclic nature of swimming (alternating resting and moving body segments) and lack of gravity in the sport of swimming decrease it's demands, making VO2max occur even later. Instead, Dr. Rushall advocates the importance of race pace and motor programming, an important aspect of training.

To confirm, Dr. Maglischo, another pioneer in the sport, also questions the use of VO2max. His argues, VO2max is not the limiting factor of success as there is always oxygen in the circulating blood. However, Dr. Maglischo discusses the importance of mitochondrial density as the limiting factor in his great paper on Lactic acid and muscular fatigue. His point confirms the importance of oxygen, however, oxygen itself is not the limiting factor, instead the ATP-generating mitochondria that prevent further oxygen from reaching the muscles.

Overall, it is hard to completely dismiss the importance of oxygen for exercise, especially in anaerobic races. However, it does seem VO2max is not as vital as once thought, therefore it is time to question previous facts in the sport. Too long have myths in exercise science been passed along the swimming community, for these reasons it seems that improving VO2max should not be a goal of competitive swimmers!

By G. John Mullen founder of the Center of Optimal Restoration, head strength coach at Santa Clara Swim Club, creator of the Swimmer's Shoulder System, and chief editor of the Swimming Science Research Review.