Hogeschool van Amsterdam

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Biomechanics of competitive front crawl swimming

Summary: Essential performance-determining factors in front crawl swimming can be analysed within a biomechanical framework, in reference to the physiological basis of performance. These factors include: active drag forces, effective propulsive forces, propelling efficiency and power output.

The success of a swimmer is determined by the ability to generate propulsive force, while reducing the resistance to forward motion. Although for a given competitive stroke a range of optimal stroking styles may be expected across a sample of swimmers, a common element of technique related to a high performance level is the use of complex sculling motions of the hands to generate especially lift forces. By changing the orientation of the hand the propulsive force acting on the hand is aimed successfully in the direction of motion. Furthermore, the swimming velocity (v) is related to drag (A), power input (Pi, the rate of energy liberation via the aerobic/ anaerobic metabolism), the gross efficiency (eg), propelling efficiency (ep), and power output (Po).

Based on the research available at present it is concluded that: (a) drag in groups of elite swimmers homogeneous with respect to swimming technique is determined by anthropometric dimensions; (b) total mechanical power output (Po) is important since improvement in performance is related to increased Po. Furthermore, it shows dramatic changes with training and possibly reflects the size of the ‘swimming engine’; (c) propelling efficiency seems to be important since it is much higher in elite swimmers (61%) than in triathletes (44%); and (d) distance per stroke gives a fairly good indication of propelling efficiency and may be used to evaluate individual progress in technical ability.

Link pdf


Toussaint, H. M., & Beek, P. J. 'Biomechanics of competitive front crawl swimming'. In: Sports Medicine, 13(1), 8-24, 1992.

Gepubliceerd door  Kenniscentrum Bewegen, Sport en Voeding 1 januari 1992


jan 1992


Lector Huub Toussaint