Swim Workouts Are like Brushing Your Teeth: Do They Make Sense?

In this monthly series of articles, Mike will discuss the science and practice of physical training for Water Polo. Strength, flexibility, Water Polo science, rehab and other areas of interest with respect to the physical development of the Water Polo athlete will be covered.

It's a no brainer right?

Just like brushing your teeth is critical for dental health so is swimming for Water Polo.  You need to do a lot of swimming to be competitive in games at any level. It's analogous to running for Basketball or Football.  If you can't do it well then it's going to be very hard to play let alone be competitive. 


In this article, I am going to dive into the pool (although it's a fairly small pool) of Water Polo research and discuss it's implications for training, specifically swim conditioning.

The Research & its Implications

Go to PubMed and do a search for “Water Polo”.  You will find an astounding 83 citations. When compared to some other sports, Basketball (1677 citations) and Soccer (3354 citations), you start to get the idea why there is so much inconsistent information or lack of training information for Water Polo (this is one of the reasons why I started www.WaterPoloTraning.net).

“PubMed is a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine that includes over 18 million citations from MEDLINE and other life science journals for biomedical articles back to 1948. PubMed includes links to full text articles and other related resources.”  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/

The good news is that the research available although not great in volume is of high quality and there is no reason to justify doing certain training regimes just because of the phenomenon of "that's what we always did" or “that is what (name any Eastern European Team) does”.

Swimming is not the most important
quality of high level Water Polo players!

Wait though, before you burn me at the stake, of course you need to be able to swim and you need to be in excellent swimming condition but I truly believe there is a point when you are already swimming a lot that doing more will have very little and probably more then likely a negative affect on your performance.

It is kind of like brushing your teeth. According to the American Dental Association you should “Brush your teeth twice a day ...” but doing it more can lead to heightened tooth sensitivity and tooth enamel damage (not a good thing).

Just look at the stats for the gold medal finals at this years World Championships (Rome 2009).

For the men, these are the goals/shots from various positions or situations but excludes the penalty shoot out. All the stats are the total (Serbia + Spain) numbers for the game.

Centre Forward

5m Shots


Counter Attack

6 on 5

Penalty Shots







For the women, these are the goals/shots from various positions or situations. All the stats are the total (USA + Canada) numbers for the game.

Centre Forward

5m Shots


Counter Attack

6 on 5

Penalty Shots







What do you see?  Not even one shot from a counter attack!  Even the bronze medal game for both men and women do not have a single counter attack shot.

Why is this?  Is your ability to swim up and down the pool overrated?

What I see and not just from the numbers but from actually watching these games is the importance of the 1 on 1 physical battles, defence and shooting.

Countless lap swimming up and down the pool plays what role in these situations?  But before we answer this, lets see what the scientific research shows us. 

All the below key points from the research refer to male international match play, but I believe that it still strongly relates to women's Water Polo (just look at the stats from the 2009 World Championships).

Multiple 100m Free on 90s interval

Average 100m time

Work:Rest ratio

75s (1:15)


70s (1:10)


65s (1:05)








 *these are the times that match the work:rest ratio published in research.


Now what?

Investigate your own training and coaching. 

Does your swim conditioning sessions make sense?

I am interested in your comments on any and all the information presented.  Please leave comments on my website or contact me directly.

Not sure how to apply this information? 

Don't worry because next month, I will write about how this research can be applied to your water polo program.  I will give concrete examples of how this can be accomplished with some sample swim sets, pool exercises and even discuss possible swimconditioning tests that can be easily administered.

Do you have any questions?  You can contact me at www.waterpolotraining.net

FYI: some recent blog posts I have answered the following questions:


Dudley GA and Djamil R. Incompatibility of endurance & strength training modes of exercise. J. Appl. Physiol. 59:1446–1451. 1985.

Dudley GA and Fleck SG. Strength & endurance training: are they mutually exclusive? Sports Med. 4:79–85. 1987.

Franić M, Ivković A, Rudić R.  Injuries in Water Polo. Croat Med J. 2007;48:281-8

Hickson RC.  Interference of strength development by simultaneously training for strength and endurance. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. 56:255–263. 1980.

Junge A, Langevoort G, Pipe A, Peytavin A, Wong F, Mountjoy M, Beltrami G, Terrell R, Holzgraefe M, Charles R & Dvorak. 

Injuries in Team Sport Tournaments During the 2004 Olympic Games.  Am. J. Sports Med. 2006; 34

Pavlik G, Kneffel Z, Petrekanits M, Horvath P & Sido Z.  Echocardiographic Data in Hungarian Top-Level Water Polo Players.  Med

Sci Sports Exerc. 2005 Feb;37(2):323-8.

Platanou T.  Time-motion Analysis of International Level Water Polo Players. Journal of Human Movement Studiesv46 (4) 2004; p. 319-331

Rudić R.  Coach to Coach: Basic Training for the Legs.

Smith HK. Applied Physiology of Water Polo.  Sports Med 1998 Nov; 26 (5): 317-334

[Click Mike Reid's name at top of page to learn more about his
strength training & conditioning experiences and his web sites.]