Racing start
Courtesy of: Peter H. Bick
By Dr. G. John Mullen, PT, DPT, CSCS of Swimming Science, Center of Optimal Restoration , and Mullen Physical Therapy, Creator of Swimmer's Shoulder System, Swimming Science Research Review Swimming World correspondent

SANTA CLARA, California, July 11. STREAMLINING is the most desirable position in the water. Improving streamlines is the easiest method for increasing horizontal swimming velocity, as it decreases resistance in the water. If a swimmer reduces their resistance, then they will go faster. Unfortunately, our society results in many factors impairing streamline, most notably a kyphotic spine.

Whether you know the term or not, everyone around swimming knows kyphosis, a curving of the spine that causes a bowing or rounding of the back, which leads to a hunchback or slouching posture. Without scientific backing, many would argue the occurrence of kyphosis is increasing in society. Whether you are a student mandated to attend copious courses with the removal of physical education or opt to play hours of video games, you get the same result: a stiff kyphotic spine.

A kyphotic spine may not sound like an impairment for swimming performance. But unlike a mobile spine which creates arching and rounding, sometimes acting like a foil for water to engulf, a static, stiff kyphotic spine increases frontal drag as it statically plows through the water.

Comprehending ideal spinal position is difficult for any swimmer, let alone someone who feel like their spine is straight, when it is rounded. For this, a compensatory motion is likely most necessary for improvement.

As a coach, providing proper primes is necessary for stroke alterations. Each prime is necessary for differentiating and altering behavior. As stated, many swimmers with kyphosis have an altered sense of streamline making it harder to find positions of streamline and less resistance. This makes it essential for a coach to have as many forms of guidance to improve a faulty position. Remember, guidance should only be used to teach the proper position. Once a swimmer understands and is able to achieve this new position, the guidance must be removed to prevent dependence.

Physical Restriction
Applying a physical restriction often helps swimmers find the proper position. For kyphotic swimmers, wearing a yoga strap is likely a helpful aide to help a swimmer maintain a "shoulder back" position.

Manipulating the swimmer is another option for teaching motor skills. For a kyphotic swimmer, moving the swimmers shoulder blades together helps teach the swimmer the correct swimming streamline position.

Visual Guidance
Visual guidance is common on many decks. For this swimming impairment, an overexaggeration of squeezing the shoulder blades back to push the chest forward is often helpful.

Verbal Guidance
Verbal cues are the most used in the sport. Unfortunately, gaps in terminology and discrepancies in education often limit effectiveness. If using verbal guidance, simply state: "Squeeze shoulder blades and broaden chest". However, even this simple cue can miss the mark with novice and young swimmers. In this case, "chest forward" may be the place to begin.

Now, like all swimming curriculums, individualization is key for success. These forms of guidance are helpful for those swimmers with stiff thoracic spines, but are likely too easy for swimmers who have mastered this position (either from practice or by serendipity). Make sure to evaluate each swimmer continually and provide the most beneficial guidance for each swimmer for continual improvement throughout a swimmer's career for an entire team!

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. He is the founder of the Mullen Physical Therapy, 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.