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To read about the latest sport science, sign-up to our monthly review. It covers everything from strength-training to sports medicine. Learn more HERE!

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INTERVIEW: John Mullen on swimming

John Mullen Swimming

Chris Beardsley (@SandCResearch) interviews John Mullen of Swimming Science (@swimmingscience) about the research into programming strength and conditioning for swimmers. 


Chris: Thanks for taking the time out to do this interview, John. What areas of research (e.g. biomechanics, training, recovery, nutrition, etc.) have you found most useful for programming strength and conditioning for swimming?

JM: All of these areas of research are extremely helpful for programming strength and conditioning for swimmers! However, unlike most other sports, biomechanics play a very large role in determining swimming performance. Therefore, understanding the unique range of motion (ROM) and strength requirements that drive optimal swimming biomechanics is most beneficial.

For example, it is very useful to know about the adaptive changes, including alterations in ROM, that occur in the shoulder throughout the long swimming season (often 11 months). Knowing what happens in this respect can help you program and protect against swimmer’s shoulder (shoulder impingement), which is a problem that runs rampant in the sport. Currently, it is thought that around 50 – 70% of swimmers will have shoulder pain at some point in their career, which is astonishing.

Another example that is less clear is ankle ROM. Historically, it was believed that greater ankle ROM might be important for swimming success (Mookerjee et al. 1995; McCullough et al. 2009; Beason, 2013). This factor is something that many strength and conditioning coaches have long worked on obtaining (Willems 2014). However, the most recent research indicates that this factor may well be negligible (Willems et al. 2014).

Finally, many coaches believe that the ability to display a large hip internal rotation angle allows the unique ROM that is needed for success in breaststroke. Unfortunately, little research has confirmed this and looked at what can be done to increase hip internal rotation ROM safely and effectively in swimmers.


Chris: When programming strength and conditioning for swimming or even swimming training in general, what mistakes do you see other people making that a better knowledge of exercise science would help prevent?

JM: There is a lack of knowledge in respect of both motor learning and energy systems. I often see energy systems being the main course of training in dryland training sessions, although swimmers already maximize their oxidative training in the pool. If a coach is performing more oxidative training on dryland, then this is increasing the risk of overtraining and impairing performance rather than enhancing performance. In swimming, swimming practice is the most important means for swimming improvement. This means that the strength and conditioning training must complement the swimming training, prevent injuries, and provide a means for improvement that doesn’t involve burning the candle from both ends.

Similarly, a common error during dryland training for swimmers is exacerbating overuse. Some coaches attempt to mimic swimming motions on land using specific machines (that are not really close to the movements in the water anyway) and this causes an increased risk of overuse injury to the shoulders.


Chris: Being realistic, swimmers are never going to get the kind of attention that other more popular sports are going to get. Given that, what questions do you think researchers should explore that will help swimmers most?

JM: Continual research on biomechanics of elite performers (especially during meets) would greatly benefit the sport of swimming. These studies could analyze the hip ROM and lumbopelvic motion utilized during breaststroke, as mentioned earlier. Also, it would be very helpful to understand the spinal ROM and lumbopelvic motion used during butterfly. Finally, it would be really interesting to understand better the biomechanics of shoulder movements in freestyle, backstroke, and butterfly, particularly in respect of the extent to which shoulder internal rotation occurs.

Also, it would be very useful to see longitudinal research into the effects of different resistance training programs for the various swimming specialists (sprinters, distance swimmers, etc.).


Chris: In a perfect world, what would researchers explore that would really move swimming (and S&C for swimming) forwards?

JM: For both swimming and strength and conditioning, as noted above, some longitudinal, randomized controlled trials would be great, as there is still much unknown about the effects (positive and negative) of different swimming program variables and strength and conditioning program variables on swimming performance. So, ideal studies would analyze different swimming programs (high intensity, low volume swimming and high volume, low intensity swimming) and also different strength and conditioning programs. In reality, most of the swimming research is limited in these respects on many levels.

Additionally, as noted above, it would be great to see some detailed biomechanical analyses of different dryland and swim-like resistance training (swimming rack or power tower). In actual fact, there is very little research in this area, so almost anything would be beneficial!


Chris: Thanks for your time, John.

To learn more about swimming science, please follow John on Twitter, Facebook or visit his website.

Swimming Science is having a Twitter chat tomorrow (18 December) at 6pm EST all about dryland for swimmers with the hashtag #swimtalk. If you’re interested in S&C for swimming, don’t miss it!

To read about the latest sport science, sign-up to our monthly review. It covers everything from strength-training to sports medicine. Learn more HERE!

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INTERVIEW: Adam Meakins on shoulder injuries

Adam Meakins

Chris Beardsley (@SandCResearch) interviews Adam Meakins (@AdamMeakins) about his experience in physiotherapy, specialising in shoulder injuries. 


Chris: Thanks for making the time to do this interview, Adam. Please can you tell us,  in your practice, what injury do you most commonly help rehabilitate?

Adam: I work in a busy sports medicine and physiotherapy department so I deal with the usual array of neuro-musculoskeletal injuries. However, due to my personal interest and my role as an upper-limb specialist I tend to see mainly shoulder complaints, from sport and non sporting trauma to degenerative joint and rotator cuff problems.


Chris: And what area of research have you found most useful in learning how to help rehabilitate this injury?

Adam: This is a tough question to answer! There are many areas that have helped me rehabilitate shoulders over these last few years, so I am going to cheat and state three, which are research into (1) tendinopathy, (2) pain, and (3) symptom modification testing.


#1. Tendinopathy

The shoulder joint has a lot of tendons, and in my opinion most shoulder pains have an element of tendon nociceptive involvement to a lesser or greater extent. Understanding the causes of tendinopathy at a micro and macro level has helped me not only in the rehabilitation of them but also in possible prevention strategies.

The key papers for me are Lewis (2010), which provides a model for rotator cuff tendon pathology and management that expands on the Cook and Purdam (2008) seminal paper on the continuum theory for tendinopathy. More recently, key papers are Cook (2012) and Docking (2013) on the role of compression in tendinopathy, which I think is a key factor in shoulder tendinopathy.


#2. Pain

Regardless of shoulder pathology or injury, everyone I see has pain. Understanding this complex phenomenon is key to achieving successful outcomes. We now know that pain is NOT just nociception, it is often POORLY correlated to structural damage, and that pain is NOT an input from periphery, it is an output from the brain.

Learning how to manage someone with pain rather than just their pathology has been one of the most influential developments on the way I practice since I graduated. There have been astronomical amounts of work done over the last few years on understanding pain, and there are far too many papers to list here, but Melzack and Katz (2013) is a great overview.


#3. Symptom modification testing

The work done on symptom modification testing I find really exciting and useful in the management of painful shoulders. It is well-known that most clinical tests for certain shoulder pathologies or damaged structures lack specificity and/or sensitivity. This makes them very difficult to rely upon. Therefore, tests that can modify and/or reduce a painful movement may be a far more useful for physios to assess and plan rehabilitation programs. These tests remove the need for the physiotherapist to try and identify the specific structure, which we can’t do accurately anyway, and instead focuses their attention on the more important task of trying to reduce painful movements.

There needs to be more work done here but papers by the likes of Lewis (2009) have been really interesting. I have a hunch that symptom modification testing will be in the near future a major part of how physiotherapists assess and manage most pains and injuries, with less and less focus on structure and pathology.


Chris: I think the increased use of symptom modification testing would be a fairly safe bet, Adam. What area of research do you believe is most commonly ignored or misunderstood in the treatment of shoulder injury?

Adam: In my experience the area that is most misunderstood by many physiotherapists is basic exercise physiology and strength and conditioning. The amount of poorly-designed rehabilitation programs I see or hear patients being given is really disheartening and not good for the reputation of the profession.

When I studied physiotherapy I already had qualifications in Strength and Conditioning but many other students do not. I was really shocked at how little time was given in the syllabus for exercise physiology. This lack of undergraduate teaching is why I believe many physiotherapists are ill-equipped to reason and plan how much and what type of exercise to give to those with an injury.

For example, I regularly hear physiotherapists prescribing a standard 3 sets of 10 repetitions for most of their patients for a lot of conditions. Why so many physiotherapists think that different patients with varied physiology and pathology need EXACTLY THE SAME exercise parameters for different injuries is completely beyond me. In strength and conditioning, you would not give a fit, well-trained 23-year old male the same exercise prescription as a 55-year old untrained female. So I see this 3 sets of 10 repetitions as lazy and poorly-reasoned prescription and it drives me a little bit crazy every time I hear it being used, almost to the point where I now find myself not wanting to use it even when it does have a role.

Also, in my experience many physiotherapists are too terrified to work an injured or weak tissue to its limit, fearful of producing exercise-induced muscle soreness or further muscle damage. However if physiotherapists had a better understanding of exercise physiology, used their clinical reasoning more and understood healing timeframes better, then they would see that this is usually what most injured tissues need.

In my opinion, many physiotherapists are too conservative with their exercise prescription and just don’t challenge the patient or the injured tissue enough. This is why physiotherapy fails a lot of people. Now that’s not to say physiotherapists should start being reckless or unsafe, it just means they need to think more about challenging the tissue at the right level at the right time, and be able to educate and explain to the patient why and how this needs to be done.

Also, injured tissues don’t necessarily need to be exposed to heavy loads straight away. The notion you can’t improve muscular strength with light resistance and high repetitions as this only improves endurance is not correct. Strength can be increased with low loads and light resistance, so long as the sets are taken to muscular failure over multiple sets, as demonstrated by Mitchell (2012). This is extremely useful for injured tissue in the early stages. We can build strength with lighter loads and higher repetitions until the tissue is ready to start being exposed to heavier loads.

However with all that being said, there are also physiotherapists who go too far the other way with exercise prescription. It is possible to make it far too complex and complicated, with 13 different exercises, with different numbers of sets, repetitions and percentages of 1RM. This in my opinion is also not needed or sensible. To my mind, this is usually done more to satisfy the physiotherapist’s ego in showing off their knowledge than for the patient’s gain.


Chris: I think we would all agree that physiotherapy would benefit from learning more about strength and conditioning, just as more and more strength coaches have in recent years been learning from physiotherapy. What currently unanswered research question would change the way you treat this injury (or injuries in general) if it were solved?

Adam: Although I have mentioned the role of exercise in the management of pain and we have seen some emerging work by Naugle (2014) on the role of isometric contractions in this area. I still think there are plenty of unanswered questions about what are the best ways and methods to achieve an optimal analgesic effect with exercise and how it does this.  And more importantly, we need to know what are the best ways and methods to get those in pain to do them? After all, our role as physiotherapists is to try and instil a change in attitude and behaviour to do exercise when in pain. This is absolutely fundamental in our success as healthcare professionals. We could have all the latest scientific knowledge and all the best quality research in the world informing us what is best for the patient in front of us but if we can’t educate, advise and persuade them to do what is needed, then what use is it!

Chris: That’s true enough! Thanks for your time, Adam.

To learn more about evidence-based physiotherapy and the shoulder joint, please follow Adam on Twitter or visit his website The Sports Physio.


To read about the latest sport science, sign-up to our monthly review. It covers everything from strength-training to sports medicine. Learn more HERE!

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INTERVIEW: Darren Player on non-communicable diseases

Darren Player

Chris Beardsley (@SandCResearch) interviews Darren Player (@DPHealthFitness) about non-communicable diseases. Darren is a researcher, personal trainer and GP Referral Specialist and tutors fitness instructor and personal training courses.


Chris: Darren, thanks for your time. Can you give us a brief introduction to non-communicable diseases? What are they?

Darren: The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines non-communicable diseases as chronic diseases that are not infectious in any way and therefore cannot be passed from person to person. They are generally of long duration (without significant intervention and improvement in symptoms) and are slow to progress. Non-communicable diseases can be categorised into four sub-types: cardiovascular diseases (heart disease, strokes etc.), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma), and metabolic diseases (primarily diabetes).


Chris: Great summary, thanks. And now the big question for our readers: why should personal trainers and fitness professionals target working with people who have non-communicable diseases?

Darren: Non-communicable diseases kill more than 36 million people each year worldwide, with cardiovascular diseases accounting for most non-communicable disease-related deaths (17.3 million people annually). So they are a really big problem! The risk factors associated with non-communicable diseases include tobacco use, physical inactivity, alcohol consumption and an unhealthy diet. The nature of these risk factors means that they are modifiable. This means that personal trainers, fitness instructors and healthcare professionals everywhere can have significant impact in improving the health of those suffering or at risk of suffering from non-communicable diseases.

Evidence-based exercise interventions play an important role in the prevention and treatment of all non-communicable diseases. When properly educated, personal trainers, fitness instructors and other healthcare professionals can provide such evidence-based training programs in a targeted fashion and make a big difference. In this way, we can all can play a substantial role in reducing the societal and financial burden that non-communicable diseases have worldwide. The public health agenda across the world now presents an exciting opportunity for fitness professionals to engage with the wider healthcare community and to become more involved in effective strategies to target non-communicable diseases.


Chris: Inspiring stuff, Darren! Why do fitness professionals need to educate themselves regarding exercise for non-communicable diseases?

Darren: In order that fitness professionals can have the greatest impact in preventing and treating non-communicable diseases, it is imperative that they provide exercise programs in the safest and most efficacious way. This means that they need to provide exercise programs that have no harmful consequences and also that show the greatest improvement in symptoms in the shortest possible period of time.

The only way that these two goals can be achieved is through fitness professionals being educated in following evidence-based practice. By receiving this education, they will then understand how to translate effective strategies that have been published in the scientific literature.


Chris: What suggestions do you have for Fitness Professionals who want to learn more about helping people with non-communicable diseases?

Darren: Fitness professionals can learn more about exercise and non-communicable diseases by keeping up-to-date with the scientific literature. There are a number of useful sources, including the Exercise for Health website, which is an unrivalled database of reviews of the science behind exercise and non-communicable diseases. Moreover, it is useful to be aware of the types of exercise that are most beneficial for different non-communicable diseases. Two examples where this is particularly relevant are:

Type II diabetes: there is clear scientific evidence that a combined approach of traditional aerobic and resistance exercise training benefit those individuals with type II diabetes. Particularly, there are specific recommendations related to the intensity, duration and volume of exercise prescribed, to maximise the effect of insulin-dependent and insulin-independent glucose disposal. Learning about these different training variables can help optimize training programs for clients with this disease.

Hypertension: Evidence suggests both aerobic and resistance exercise can reduce blood pressure in healthy and hypertensive populations. Low-moderate intensity aerobic or endurance exercise has traditionally been prescribed for hypertension. However, there is research to suggest that high intensity short duration exercise may have superior benefits in hypertensive populations. Again, learning about these different training variables that alter the effect of exercise on the patient can help optimize training programs for clients with this disease.

Another very important thing to mention is that is vital to be aware of the key contraindications for certain types of exercise in different non-communicable diseases. Providing exercise programs for individuals for the treatment of non-communicable diseases should always be done with caution and in consultation with the clients’ physician (GP). In general, it is the co-morbidities that primarily need be considered when prescribing exercise for a primary non-communicable disease.

For example, prescribing high intensity interval exercise for obesity and the metabolic syndrome has been shown to have positive health benefits. However, when doing this, it is important to implement certain protective strategies to ensure the reduction of any risk of adverse effects. To do this effectively, it will likely involve discussing the patient’s medical history (particularly in relation to thrombosis) with them and their GP and requesting certain blood tests be performed by the patients GP.


Chris: Great to know. Thanks for your time, Darren!

Darren Player is an expert in how fitness professionals can translate the latest research into safe and effective practice for helping clients with non-communicable diseases. Please contact Darren if you would like him to provide a course or webinar and please follow him on Twitter!


To read about the latest sport science, sign-up to our monthly review. It covers everything from strength-training to sports medicine. Learn more HERE!

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