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Quick Start Test Smith

Is Swimming HIIT Comparable to Sprinting?

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Quick Start Test Smith

I've been reading a lot about swimming as a tool for cardiovascular endurance development. So far, I couldn't find anything relevant on PubMed (read about 20 articles) and did a bunch of Google searches on it, but so far I'm just getting, "Yeah, swimming is great!" answers. 

 

It seems logical that swimming HIIT would be highly effective, especially if done fully immersed with a weight belt (I read a PubMed article about), but I'm curious if there are special benefits of sprinting that should be considered in a comparison of the two.

 

What do you think?

 

Edit:

 

This is an article about a study that showed no RSA (repeated sprint ability) improvement in swimmers: http://breakingmuscle.com/swimming/swimming-sprints-does-not-translate

 

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Joshua Naterman

Very different. You are depending on the upper body for much of your speed in swimming, and you do not have unrestricted access to oxygen.

You also cavitate in the water if you exert maximum power, meaning that you will actually move your arm THROUGH the platform of water you are pushing against, instead of capturing the water and pressing against it. You create a localized region of moving water that does not serve to propel you, which is why the propellers on ship motors are limited to a certain rate of acceleration. You could compare it to skidding out on a car racetrack, except that you gain no extra grip benefits afterwards.

 

Because you can't truly go 100% in the water, you cannot compare equal intervals of sprints in the water compared to a bike or a running track.

 

The concept does still hold true, but a 15m swim only takes a good swimmer something like 10-11 seconds. That's just ridiculously short for trying to improve a 100m event with submaximal efforts, because I am pretty sure you can't max out your energy systems in 10 seconds no matter how hard you swim, unless you're in god-awful shape, and even then I believe you can max your energy systems out much faster with a track or a bike, translating to a greater build-up of byproducts that stimulate adaptation (as compared to the 10s swim). The swimming simply limits oxygen consumption and CO2 removal (major factor), which is going to have a major effect on how hard you can work in the water, in addition to the limits on how hard you can push against the water without cavitating. That, at any rate, is part of my beliefs on this topic.

 

You CAN get some interesting adaptations from hypoxic swimming, which has been shown to increase the heart's ability to function anaerobically, but I am not sure this would translate into benefits for anything other than underwater swimming.

 

In my opinion, that 2012 study was not comparing apples to apples. I'm not sure what to think about the author... interesting articles at times, but he seems to miss what (to me, at any rate) are key concepts. Doesn't make him a bad research reviewer, and he definitely writes about topics that are fun to read.

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Kim Jongseong

It's always interesting to read your enlightening posts. Joshua!

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Quick Start Test Smith

Because you can't truly go 100% in the water, you cannot compare equal intervals of sprints in the water compared to a bike or a running track.

 

The concept does still hold true, but a 15m swim only takes a good swimmer something like 10-11 seconds. That's just ridiculously short for trying to improve a 100m event with submaximal efforts, because I am pretty sure you can't max out your energy systems in 10 seconds no matter how hard you swim, unless you're in god-awful shape, and even then I believe you can max your energy systems out much faster with a track or a bike, translating to a greater build-up of byproducts that stimulate adaptation (as compared to the 10s swim). The swimming simply limits oxygen consumption and CO2 removal (major factor), which is going to have a major effect on how hard you can work in the water, in addition to the limits on how hard you can push against the water without cavitating. That, at any rate, is part of my beliefs on this topic.

 

Sick post.

 

I was favoring sprints as my HIIT tool anyway because of the great lower body emphasis, hip extension, and power output. I think I will use swimming for any aerobic work I do, though, because it's more fun and less hard on my joints, something that's important because I do so many fast strikes.

 

Thanks for your input!

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Karl Kallio

Oh boy....

 

The first paper finds some evidence that training swimmers in the water (with their head peeking out) might be better for increasing aerobic capacity than training swimmers in the air- the weight belt was used to achieve the same ergometric work load.---I think that it is safe to say that if you are a swimmer water should play a role in your training program.

 

The second is an article that starts by saying

People often ask the question of which form of cardio is the best for performance in their sport or for health. The answer is pretty simple, the best one is the one you find to be the most fun, because that’s the one you’ll get up and go do even when you aren’t motivated to exercise

I like that bit, for the most part it seems reasonable that unless you are very elite and very dedicated it is better to do what you like and works for your body and situation.

 

Then the article goes on to state that testing repeated 15m sprints (in water) does little to predict performance of 100m and 2000m swims....since swimming is a technique heavy activity that is not surprising - in fact sprinting 15m from a dead start would be a water polo type activity not a speed swimming thing. 

 

You can get great aerobic and anaerobic benefits from swimming  - but first you have to be a good swimmer. The article points that out.  Perhaps a good analogy would be ice skating I couldn't work up a sweat if I tried, but hockey players probably do.

 

 

As a synchronized swimming coach I use running during the pre-season on through to a month or two before the fundamental competition - mostly aerobic but with some sprinting in the general and specific stages.  It can represent between 1/15th and 1/4 of all training time.  The athletes swim light aerobic-ish warm-ups, cool downs and recovery swims always, (1/16th of all training time) and anaerobic sprints from the general phase until the morning of the competition. If I want peace and quiet they also do some aerobic swimming workouts with fins but to be sincere that is mostly for my benefit although I can justify it by saying that fin work improves toe points.

 

My personal impression is that running can give better benefit to un-inspired athletes because there is no possibility of floating along.  Swimming can provide greater cardiovascular work in an inspired athlete because arms legs and core must work at the same time.  Both come with inherent stress on joints that must de adressed with warm-ups, conditioning,stretching and common sense.

 

The competitive speed swimming coaches I work with include running in their programming and it seems to have a positive effect when observing athletes that transfer from programs where they do very little running.

 

On the other side the football (soccer) coaches occasionally do aerobic "swim or drown trying"  sessions in the pre-season, but the logistics don't work well and they do relax/recovery sessions in the fundamental competitive period which work great, but drive me nuts.  The competitive tennis players book private classes for physio/swim sessions to help with muscle imbalances - I have no idea if it works but it is lucrative for the physiotherapist cum swim coach. In my old pool I remember lots of ball teams coming in for pre-season leg conditioning (looked like aqua-jog to me) to prevent injuries but none ever did and cardio while they were there.

 

Joshua:

you do not have unrestricted access to oxygen

Really? Either that applies equally to dry-land things like sprinting too or you are choosing to ignore head-out free style, back crawl, and the fact that if you breathe every 2 strokes in free or every stroke in fly and breaststroke you're basically panting.  (try breathing along with the guy in the yellow cap from 45s on

)

 

Oh and there are techniques to get around that cavitation thing, namely getting more water, trapping it more effectively or reducing drag, although I suppose the latter is beside the point when talking about effort

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FREDERIC DUPONT

Great posts Joshua Naterman & SynchoGENized, very interesting.

Perhaps the use of fins would alleviate the sub maxes, cavitation in the water?

Training in the water is great for coordination and finding out where the energy leaks are (both for sprints and martial arts kicks and punches)

 

As an aside, I have never been a good swimmer, but after losing a crapton ;) of BF in the last 8 months, I found myself scraping the bottom last week at the swimming pool. Flat down on the pool floor, even with mostly filled lungs! :blink:

Now, where is that cork belt? :P

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Karl Kallio

FredinChina

 

congratulations on your loss of a goodly large amount of body fat

 

Fins and hand paddles make you go faster and definitely require more strength.  I'm not totally convinced of their use in anaerobic sprinting as they reduce your stroke frequency. Or maybe that's just at my level.  I'll ask the speed swimming coaches and get back to you.

 

True sinkers -people that do not float with a lung full of air- are rare.  I've never worked with one yet - although that's not surprising since I coach a female sport.  Some of the 10-12% body fat athletes float low with full lungs but none actually sink.

 

  How did you feel treading water :)  How about kicking in streamline?

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FREDERIC DUPONT

FredinChina

 

congratulations on your loss of a goodly large amount of body fat

 

Fins and hand paddles make you go faster and definitely require more strength.  I'm not totally convinced of their use in anaerobic sprinting as they reduce your stroke frequency. Or maybe that's just at my level.  I'll ask the speed swimming coaches and get back to you.

 

True sinkers -people that do not float with a lung full of air- are rare.  I've never worked with one yet - although that's not surprising since I coach a female sport.  Some of the 10-12% body fat athletes float low with full lungs but none actually sink.

 

  How did you feel treading water :)  How about kicking in streamline?

 

Thank you :)

 

Maybe, I was just speculating about the use of fins. If you get a reply from the coaches, I'd like to hear it, out of curiosity :)

 

hehehe, now I know I am part of the rare breed of true sinkers :D... Treading water is hard without using the hands to help; easier with fins. Kicking streamlined... hummm, I don't think I've ever achieved anything near streamline while swimming.

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Karl Kallio

If you tread water properly fins would make it hell - all part of that technique thing.  It is entirely possible that someone who doesn't have the technique can get a killer aerobic workout from treading water whereas someone who has the technique down pat can tread water for hours without the slightest strain.  Its part of the reason why lots of research articles on swimming get strange results.  I recommend the ones from the FINA sports medicine webpage - but then again maybe they only apply to people who have the technique.

 

streamline - stick your arms out straight stuck to either side of your head and just kick.  

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FREDERIC DUPONT

Yes, you are correct, it is all about the technique: I can easily tread with fins for a long time (scuba diving) while I struggle without; I can imagine the reverse being true for someone not accustomed to using fins.

 

I think it is Dan John that said that the best exercises to lose fat are the ones you are the most inefficient at! :)

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Karl Kallio

That's probably a decent argument for picking up a new hobby sport every couple years.

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Joshua Naterman

Oh boy....

 

The first paper finds some evidence that training swimmers in the water (with their head peeking out) might be better for increasing aerobic capacity than training swimmers in the air- the weight belt was used to achieve the same ergometric work load.---I think that it is safe to say that if you are a swimmer water should play a role in your training program.

 

The second is an article that starts by saying

I like that bit, for the most part it seems reasonable that unless you are very elite and very dedicated it is better to do what you like and works for your body and situation.

 

Then the article goes on to state that testing repeated 15m sprints (in water) does little to predict performance of 100m and 2000m swims....since swimming is a technique heavy activity that is not surprising - in fact sprinting 15m from a dead start would be a water polo type activity not a speed swimming thing. 

 

You can get great aerobic and anaerobic benefits from swimming  - but first you have to be a good swimmer. The article points that out.  Perhaps a good analogy would be ice skating I couldn't work up a sweat if I tried, but hockey players probably do.

 

 

As a synchronized swimming coach I use running during the pre-season on through to a month or two before the fundamental competition - mostly aerobic but with some sprinting in the general and specific stages.  It can represent between 1/15th and 1/4 of all training time.  The athletes swim light aerobic-ish warm-ups, cool downs and recovery swims always, (1/16th of all training time) and anaerobic sprints from the general phase until the morning of the competition. If I want peace and quiet they also do some aerobic swimming workouts with fins but to be sincere that is mostly for my benefit although I can justify it by saying that fin work improves toe points.

 

My personal impression is that running can give better benefit to un-inspired athletes because there is no possibility of floating along.  Swimming can provide greater cardiovascular work in an inspired athlete because arms legs and core must work at the same time.  Both come with inherent stress on joints that must de adressed with warm-ups, conditioning,stretching and common sense.

 

The competitive speed swimming coaches I work with include running in their programming and it seems to have a positive effect when observing athletes that transfer from programs where they do very little running.

 

On the other side the football (soccer) coaches occasionally do aerobic "swim or drown trying"  sessions in the pre-season, but the logistics don't work well and they do relax/recovery sessions in the fundamental competitive period which work great, but drive me nuts.  The competitive tennis players book private classes for physio/swim sessions to help with muscle imbalances - I have no idea if it works but it is lucrative for the physiotherapist cum swim coach. In my old pool I remember lots of ball teams coming in for pre-season leg conditioning (looked like aqua-jog to me) to prevent injuries but none ever did and cardio while they were there.

 

Joshua:

Really? Either that applies equally to dry-land things like sprinting too or you are choosing to ignore head-out free style, back crawl, and the fact that if you breathe every 2 strokes in free or every stroke in fly and breaststroke you're basically panting.  (try breathing along with the guy in the yellow cap from 45s on

)

 

Oh and there are techniques to get around that cavitation thing, namely getting more water, trapping it more effectively or reducing drag, although I suppose the latter is beside the point when talking about effort

I agree with the stroke variations, but you dont get anywhere near as much muscle mass involvement from back crawl (or back stroke, whatever the name used may be), and head out freestyle is going to give better access to air but a less effective line of pull, which is probably a more effective cardio technique (and, I think, with the caveat of having a slightly longer sprint time), but the worst technique training for someone who needs to instinctively have near-perfect movement in competition. I suppose that as long as there's enough attention paid to technique during actual stroke training that it wouldn't have a negative impact, but I can't say that for sure because I do not coach competitive swimmers.

 

The cavitation is always going to happen before you hit maximum force, no matter how effectively you cup your hands or 'catch the water' with your arm. You have to limit the pull speed to some extent in order to do this effectively. That's why hand paddles are so big... to increase surface area, increase amount of water moved, and thus increase the force required to cavitate the limb. The downside to this is that your arms poop out long before you get an ideal cardio workout. As you say, this is probably not exactly idea for training an actual swimmer, but is better for increasing the amount of oxygen you can make your tissues use in a training session or a given length of water.

 

I am not saying that swimming is crap for cardio, or that it is not helpful to improve cardio in swimmers, or any of that. I am commenting on fluid dynamics and physiological (in this case actual VO2 seen in swimming) responses and measurements related to short swimming sprints vs. other short sprints. It is a fact that the same body will utilize more oxygen while running than it will while swimming, in terms of peak VO2.You just can't reach peak metabolite levels throughout the body as easily with swimming, because the majority of your large muscles never fatigue, though you will get a more specific local response in the hip flexors, shoulders and arms, where swimmers probably really need it the most. I remember these being the very specific areas that always fatigued on me.

 

My own experiences with swimming sprints are that a 20-40s sprint worked much better for me when I needed to build up my swimming capacity, but I was also swimming with my head in the water. I was also running, to varying degrees, six days per week, so that probably interferes with a truly accurate account of how effective the swimming itself was.

 

I believe that in maximal running events, and especially a true sprint, there is a much greater overall muscle mass usage, and thus a greater VO2 is reached. This is, to my knowledge, supported by ergometer and treadmill data collected on varying athletes, and the interesting thing about VO2Max tests is that your familiarity with the event is kind of irrelevant... what matters is cellular gas exchange. I believe this is also why you see quite a benefit in your swimmers when you include regular runs as a part of their aerobic conditioning.

 

One thing that all of this makes ME wonder is whether we should be evaluating everyone on either a combination of an arm ergometer and a treadmill OR on a cross-country skiing event. World class cross country skiiers show the highest VO2 levels of all aerobic athletes I am aware of, largely because they are using their entire body all the time. Endurance running is a close second. I do not know how world class triathletes fare, but I'd imagine they are right there as well. I would love to see a good VO2 measurement on a swimmer in their actual environment, but that's pretty difficult to do accurately.

 

I kind of like the idea of an upper body ergometer measurement combined with a treadmill test, because I think that would give a fairly good picture of what the whole body can do, without requiring an additional expensive specialty machine like a CC skiing ergometer (assuming one exists that is a research-quality device).

 

Thoughts?

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Karl Kallio

There is a snorkle V02 meter thingy...or at least the bioechanics in my local sport institute showed me a box that supposedly contained one but they couldn't use it because the expert hadn't come to train them...that's how it goes around here.  Personally I kind of like more sports specific measures for tracking progress and comparing athletes....running distance in 10 min is a favorite of mine, as is 400m freestyle, and % recovery of HR  1 min and 3 min after those two tests.  Another one I like is pick a sprint+rest time interval like 50m in 1 min (swimming) and see how many they can do before losing their time.  Mostly that's because I would pick a flawed test run frequently than a better test run once in a blue moon.

 

Head out freestyle is wonderful...for someone else to do.   It feels quite uncomfortable and you definitely work harder and go slower. You need to kick harder, keep your back arched, and it's harder to get your arms out of the water.  Since I don't need fast swimmers per se but rather fit swimmers my kids tend to do a lot of it and there seems to be transference to regular swimming.

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Joseff Lea

Whilst teaching myself to swim at the age of 19 I found it to be highly anaerobically stimulating, this was probably due to me have zero technique and nearly drowning half the time though :P

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Joshua Naterman

There is a snorkle V02 meter thingy...or at least the bioechanics in my local sport institute showed me a box that supposedly contained one but they couldn't use it because the expert hadn't come to train them...that's how it goes around here.  Personally I kind of like more sports specific measures for tracking progress and comparing athletes....running distance in 10 min is a favorite of mine, as is 400m freestyle, and % recovery of HR  1 min and 3 min after those two tests.  Another one I like is pick a sprint+rest time interval like 50m in 1 min (swimming) and see how many they can do before losing their time.  Mostly that's because I would pick a flawed test run frequently than a better test run once in a blue moon.

 

Head out freestyle is wonderful...for someone else to do.   It feels quite uncomfortable and you definitely work harder and go slower. You need to kick harder, keep your back arched, and it's harder to get your arms out of the water.  Since I don't need fast swimmers per se but rather fit swimmers my kids tend to do a lot of it and there seems to be transference to regular swimming.

The nice thing about coaching is that your goal is to make better athletes, not to pick the perfect tests :) Performance increases are a good indicator that what you are doing is a good idea, regardless of whether there is research around to support it or not. Not to discount the utility of research, but there is very little of it in most sports (regarding sport-specific improvement).

 

Do you ever have your athletes perform hypoxic swims? Like 50m  freestyle with 5 breaths, including the first... or 4, 3, 2, or just 1?

 

I would also like to point out that I thought I removed the "It is a fact that running uses more oxygen than swimming" because I believe that could quite possibly be disproved with butterfly, assuming such a stroke could be successfully tested with submersible gas exchange. I also meant to put more emphasis on existing measures of VO2, such as treadmill tests, performed on runners and swimmers as the primary evidence for running requiring more oxygen (because top tier distance runners have a consistently higher VO2Max than top tier distance swimmers on that test, and both fall short of top tier cross country skiiers if I am remembering my research correctly, but I may not be).

 

So, I will leave it since it may provoke people with more free time to actually dig up a bunch of this research, but I wanted to point out that I did not intend to leave that comment as I am not sure it is truly accurate lol :)

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Fred Mak

i used to swim competitively.  the fastest swimmers aren't really "fast."  i mean, they move through water fast, but they aren't fast, as in fast-twitch muscle fast.  good swimmers use a lot of pulling muscles to pull the water even though they aren't moving with speed in the arms, they are propelling their bodies quickly through the water.

 

sprinting is improving actual speed.  plus, it benefits your bones by providing weight bearing activity.

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Karl Kallio

 

Do you ever have your athletes perform hypoxic swims?

In synchro most stuff has an hypoxic element. 

 

Most days after dryland and the aerobic warm up there is a hypoxic section.  What they do depends on age and event.  For example the littlest ones pick coins off the pool bottom or swim as far as they can (no pressure to go farther, just praise when they do), the 12 year-olds have to swim 25m underwater 4x (and don't do anything else until they succeed), the juvenile team does not-quite-sprints combined with underwater swimming and receive fairly strong pressure to make the distance.  In the off season we have turtle races (see how long you can sit on the bottom of the pool) shark hunts (the shark tries to pull the minnows up to the surface) and other sorts of fun.  It's all about learning to tell the difference between wanting to breathe and needing to breathe and building up a tolerance to C02 (both psychological and physical).  Also there seems to be a progressive reduction in the time needed to recover from a hypoxic effort - I suspect it is positively correlated with aerobic capacity and perhaps negatively correlated with explosive strength.

 

Then the day's technical practice begins. In the technical part an element can last up to 1:30 and be mostly underwater, in the choreography 30-60% of the time is spent underwater.

 

 

The nice thing about coaching is that your goal is to make better athletes, not to pick the perfect tests

Please tell that to my bosses.   It would also be nice if someone told them that the results of those tests don't really need to be printed out in triplicate.

 

Thinking about it a bit more my bet is that hard running usually does require more O2.  The leg muscles are bigger than arm muscles, and there's that bounce and contract effect.  But as you say that may not always be true, lots of grey areas to explore. 

 

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Karl Kallio

FredinChina:

 

3 different competitive swimming coaches gave the same answer fins and paddles are for strength not for aerobic and anaerobic conditioning- all 3 coaches use complementary dry-land strength and running programs.  Trying to translate their answers I think they are saying paddles and fins are good for sport specific muscular endurance type strength.

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FREDERIC DUPONT

Thank you for coming back to me on this SynchroGENized, appreciated :)

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Joshua Naterman

FredinChina:

 

3 different competitive swimming coaches gave the same answer fins and paddles are for strength not for aerobic and anaerobic conditioning- all 3 coaches use complementary dry-land strength and running programs.  Trying to translate their answers I think they are saying paddles and fins are good for sport specific muscular endurance type strength.

I would agree with your translation :) By nature, this would of course mean it is anaerobic conditioning for the muscles in use. Strength-endurance is anaerobic.

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Benjamin Witkowski

I am not going to lie and say that I understand everything that was written above.

 

I did triathlon in college and did VO2 Max tests in running and cycling.  I can't remember, but I think my VO2 max was 56 in running and 52 in cycling.  Your VO2 max will be even lower in swimming because of two things.  One, blood has to pump horizontally, not vertically, and the water is supporting your body weight when you are swimming.  The people who have been measured with the highest VO2 maxes have been cross country skiers because they are supporting their body weight and there is more of an upper body component than running.

 

That being said, if you want to do a HIIT style workout, swim 25 yards, rest 10 seconds, and then swim back; repeat 8 times.  If you are actually good at swimming and know what you are doing, in a 50 meter pool, you can start off hard for about 20-30 strokes, go easy until you flip turn, then take another hard 25-30 strokes before you coast back to the wall for another flip turn.  After 8 time, that will be 400M, but there are not really that many people who are going to be swimming a 400m like that in 4:00.

 

Good luck.

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Bryan Wheelock

I found a hard swimming related drill is to try to tread water with the body out of the water as much as possible like you were trying to make a shot on goal in water polo. It's easy to do HIIT and there are no flip turns to distract from the muscular effort. 

 

Technique wise it's simple.

 

I noticed that the water polo guys had the better physiques than swimmers and I think that's because they spend so much time trying to get above the water levels for shots.

 

The longer swims are more about stroke efficiency. If you want to get into that I recommend the Total Immersion swimming videos.

I realized my plane in freestyle was not flat enough despite swimming competitively until I was 18 ( 400 I.M. yuck). With proper technique, freestyle almost feels like you are falling forwards. 

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Karl Kallio

I noticed that the water polo guys had the better physiques than swimmers and I think that's because they spend so much time trying to get above the water levels for shots.

 

That probably has a lot to do with throwing/catching a big ball with one arm while treading water probably has a lot to do with it.  Also the continuous underwater wrestling.  Plus the fact that bigger stronger players can just push the weaker ones aside leading to a competitive advantage motivating the smaller ones to get stronger or go somewhere else

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