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Science of Performance: Diurnal Variation in Swimmers Part II -- May 15, 2012

By Swimming World correspondent G. John Mullen of Swimming Science and COR, Creator of Swimmer's Shoulder System, creator of Swimming Research Review
SANTA CLARA, California. May 15. DIURNAL variation and slow prelim swims hinder performance at high level meets. These variations lead to psychological woes, leaving doubt in the feeble swimmer's minds. Luckily, there are common tips to improve these lapses in physiology deteriorating performance.

Diurnal variation is a subject known by many coaches, whether they know it or not. Continued yelling at kids to warm-up longer or harder is exhausting and relying on the maturity of younger minds hardly results in the desired result. Therefore, coaches typically provide two solutions to the problem: swim a complete warm-up or swim morning practice.


Complete Warm-up
Warming up more yardage is commonly prescribed by coaches with many swimmers commonly declining. These non-morning swimmers are typically unwilling to do anything other than lay on the deck with a Gatorade and teddy bear. Even if you get them in the water, these swimmers often flop around in the pool or play with a toy submarine in the deep end. This lack of intensity is another component preventing a quality warm-up.

Another flaw with simply swimming more yards is too often swimmers are able to swim at easy levels and barely elevate their heart rate or nervous system. This is due to their familiarity with the water. This is like asking Ray Lewis to just walk around the football field for warm-up when we all well know he is doing springs, practicing hits, and yelling like a lunatic on an Under Armour commercial to get his sweat beads pumping like a Gatorade commercial.

For the apathetic swimmer, with poor warm-up etiquette, there are two options for success:
1. Warm-up with more intensity in the water
2. Warm-up with more intensity out of the water

Getting in the water is essential to deter any diurnal variation, but for the stubborn swimmer, performing high intensity exercise out of the water may trick them into performing more warm-up.

In the water, every swimmer must perform a minimal amount of yards to regain their physiological feel for the water and perform a few high intensity swims to activate the correct energy systems and prevent injuries. However, many swimmers neglect this thought of getting in the water for longer and more intense durations. Therefore, an alternative is available: out of the water warm-up.

When I say out of the water warm-up, I don't mean acting like a lizard sun bathing on a rock to elevate body temperature, but high-intensity sweating bullets warm-up is a must for the same reasons listed above.

A successful routine to ease the swimmer into an out of the water warm-up includes: passive mobility, active mobility, dynamic movements, targeted muscle activation, and high-intensity movements. This progression eases a swimmer in with a pseudo-massage, before making them sweat!

An example warm-up included: passive tennis ball and foam roll mobility to the shoulders Tennis Ball Infraspinatus, hips Tennis Ball Tensor Fascia Latae, and mid-back

The tennis ball mobility ideally improves any tension in the muscle and tightness in the fascia. The fascia is the outer covering of every muscle which attached to other muscles. The areas of tennis balls are individual and stroke specific, but essential.

Following the passive mobility, the athlete must move through the newly-acquired range of motion. For example, if the swimmer worked on improving shoulder range of motion, simple dynamic mobility of the shoulders is essential. This includes simple internal and external rotation focusing on not elevating the shoulder, but purely moving from the shoulder. Other active mobility includes leg swings and ankle rolls, all focusing on areas essential for swimming success.

If the swimmers has tight hips (very common), then a dynamic hip mobility routine is indicated.

Dynamic movements and muscle activation are the next part of the out of water dryland. Activating the proper muscles is essential for swimming success and injury prevention. Unfortunately, most swimmers don't know the difference between the shoulder-blade stabilizers and gluteals!

The most bang for your buck exercises are the core, shoulder-blade stabilizers and hips Standing Windmill. These areas are highly used in the water and essential for preventing injuries.

The next part of the warm-up is high-intensity movements. This includes jogging, side-steps, ankle jumps, short sprints, arm swings, etc. All these should get the heart rate up and warm the body safely.

After this out of water warm-up, it is still essential for swimmers to get in the water and warm-up with a high intensity, but the volume of swimming required may be shortened due to the out of water warm-up. Once again, in water warm-up is still mandatory!

Morning Workouts
The other suggestion from coaches is to start swimming morning workouts. This uses the theory, the more often they wake-up early, the more likely they'll be ready to swim fast for early morning sessions. This theory is more anecdotal as no research studies have shown swimming morning practices improves this diurnal variation, but many elite coaches swear by this practice, passing this adage among the pool deck (Martin 2007).

Even though no research supports this notion, in regards to improving diurnal variation, it does not give a free pass on 5 a.m. workouts. More frequent swim training is believed to improve feel in the water and neural recognition. The ability to manipulate water is essential for any great swimmer, hence the importance of swimmers being exposed (not swimming doubles and 20,000 yards a week) at a young age. However, performing 5 a.m. practice to swim well in the morning may not help as many coaches believe.

Conclusion
The tools to improve diurnal variation are limited, but useful. Make sure your swimmers get enough warm-up in the morning session, especially the one's who don't want to warm-up! These typical night-owls need an extra kick in the butt to perform better in the morning session and prevent embarrassment!

G. John Mullen is the owner of of the Center of Optimal Restoration and creator of Swimming Science. He received his doctorate in Physical Therapy at the University of Southern California. G. John has been featured in Swimming World Magazine, Swimmer Magazine, and the International Society of Swim Coaches Journal.

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