Total Immersion: An Assessment for Swimmers Part I

In my work with swimmers, I’ve come to realize that we, as 21st century creatures, are now coming to the pool with a bunch of adaptations due to our lifestyles that are constraining the ability to swim properly and advance as quickly as they could.
Over the years, I’ve immersed myself in the physical rehabilitation world, mainly through certifying in the Functional Movement Screen and becoming a Crossfit Movement and Mobility Trainer. Additionally, I’ve supplemented my knowledge through Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization and the Original Strength systems. Through these systems, I’ve developed a physical assessment for swimmers, which I like to do when I meet them for the first time.
Why assess?
When I see the results of the assessment, I can almost predict now where a swimmer will have issues in the water and where their performance limitations will be. These limitations are magnified in beginner/intermediate swimmers, whereas in experienced athletes we often see them compensate their way around these physical limitations. Still, they are limiters to their full potential, and in either case, are areas for potential injury.
My assessment series is this – these are in the instructions I give. There is no further prompting. I want to see the person’s first, natural inclination to perform the action or movement without me coloring it further:
1. Stand up straight – I take shots of the person from the front and side. i have lately done the back too.
2. Take a deep breath in, then let it out.
3. With palms facing in, raise your arms slowly above your head, then let them down. I video front and side, usually asking for it twice.
4. Make fists with your hands, holding the thumbs in your fists. In one smooth motion, raise one fist over your head and bring the other fist behind your back from underneath and attempt to touch your fists behind your back. I repeat for each side and video from the back.
5. Bend over and touch your toes. I usually video from the side.
6. Squat down as you low as you can go. I usually video from front and side.
This assessment set is a modification from the Functional Movement Screen and adding in some MobilityWOD tests. My problem with just using the FMS is that there are tests that require a tool (ie. the bar/pole) and require the person to get on the floor. I didn’t want someone to get on the floor of the deck of a pool, or have to lug around extra tools.
However, I add in some MobilityWOD style tests to get at more detailed mobility problems. I think that depending on the person, you’ll find everyone has their favorite tests, which are all derived from standard physical therapy physical evaluation tests. As MobilityWOD likes to say, every movement can also be used as a test. My criteria for forming this set of tests was: 1) focus on swimmers’ issues, 2) don’t require extra tools, and 3) don’t ask a person to get on the ground.
What exactly do these tests assess?
Let me stop here for now and let those of my readers who want to take the tests themselves do so now without more information as that can alter their performance on the tests if they already know “the answers.” Grab your video camera or smartphone, set it up on a tripod or have a friend video you as you go through the tests one by one. In a few weeks, I’ll post a more fuller discussion on what I look for in these tests and what they mean for swimmers.
On a related note, I hope to produce posts on common physical problems of 21st century athletes, their effect on swimming, and suggestions on how to fix them. This assessments can tease out what the limiters are, if they are not obvious in a swimmer’s posture.