Hogeschool van Amsterdam

Urban Vitality

The determination of drag in front crawl swimming

Abstract: The measurement of drag while swimming (i.e. active drag) is a controversial issue. Therefore, in a group of six elite swimmers two active drag measurement methods were compared to assess whether both measure the same retarding force during swimming.

In method 1 push-off forces are measured directly using the system to measure active drag (MAD-system). In method 2 (the velocity perturbation method, VPM) drag is estimated from the difference in swimming speed when subjects swim twice at maximal effort (assuming equal power output and assuming a quadratic drag–speed relationship): once swimming free, and once swimming with a hydrodynamic body attached that created a known additional resistance.

The average drag for the VPM tests (53.2 N) was statistically significant and different from the active drag for the MAD-test (66.9 N), paired Student's t-test: 2.484, 12 DF, p=0.029. A post hoc analysis was performed to assess whether the two methods measure a different phenomenon. Based on the drag speed curve obtained with the MAD-system, the VPM-data were re-examined. For diverging drag determinations the assumption of equal power output of the ‘free’ trial (swimming free) vs. the towing trial (swimming with hydrodynamic buoy) appeared to be violated. The regression of the relative difference in force (MAD vs. VPM) on the relative difference in power (swimming free vs. swimming with hydrodynamic body) was: %Δdrag=1.898×%Δpower −4.498, r2=0.88. This suggests that the major part of the difference in active drag values is due to a non-equal power output in the ‘free’ relative towing trial during the VPM-test.

The simulation of the violation of the equal power output assumption and the calculation of the effect of an other than quadratic drag–speed relationship corroborated the tentative conclusion that both methods measure essentially the same phenomenon and that active drag differences can be explained by a violation of test assumptions.


Toussaint, H. M., Roos, P. E., & Kolmogorov, S. 'The determination of drag in front crawl swimming'. In: Journal of Biomechanics, 37(11), 1655-1663, 2004.

Gepubliceerd door  Kenniscentrum Bewegen, Sport en Voeding 1 november 2004


nov 2004


Lector Huub Toussaint