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Differences In Swimming Speed Of Breaststroke Swimmers - A Comparison At National And International Level

The aims were to examine the differences in swimming speed of breaststroke swimmers competing in short and long courses at national and international level.

Suleman Shah
Jan 19, 20247421 Shares103073 Views
What could be the differences in swimming speed of breaststroke swimmers- elite female and male swimmers - contending at national and international level?
The sport of swimming encompasses various strokes, each with its unique techniques and characteristics. Among these, the breaststroke stands out as a distinct and graceful swimming style.
One aspect that captures the attention of researchers is the variability in swimming speeds among breaststroke swimmers.

Preliminary Discussion

Indoor swimming competitions are usually held in short course (25 meters) and long course (50 meters) pools.
In the book ISBS ‘99 : XVII International Symposium on Biomechanics in Sports, academic researcher Brian A. Blanksby reported that swimming world records were faster in 25-meter pools due to the higher number of turns and push offs.
The higher number of turns and push offs leads to a:
  • redistribution of muscular load
  • reduced blood lactates
Physiological recuperation can also occur during the turn. With increasing race distance, swimmers perform more turns on long courses than on short courses.
Breast stroke is a swim style with a discontinuous technique like the butterfly.
The variation in velocity in breast stroke and butterfly were twice as large as in freestyle swimming. Butterfly presented higher velocity than breaststroke and backstroke.
The stroke frequency is also higher than in breast stroke and the stroke length is higher than in the crawl.
High intra-cyclic variation in the average impulse can be found in butterfly and breaststroke, which results from the large acceleration and deceleration phases within the stroke cycle.
Energetic cost is greater in the butterfly, followed by:
  • breaststroke,
  • backstroke, and
  • freestyle.
Breaststroke turns can account for one third of race time in 25-meter pools in all 200-meter events and longer. Thereby, the oxygen costs through the acceleration are considerable.
In breaststroke swimming, velocity increases by increasing stroke frequency and decreasing distance per stroke.
Summarizing biomechanical factors such as stroking parameters characterize swimming speed improvements best followed by:
  • physical factors (e.g., body height and arm-span)
  • physiological factors (e.g., peak oxygen consumption)
To the best of our knowledge, there were no other studies focusing on the:
  • change in swimming speed across years
  • difference in swimming speed between long course and short course only for a single discipline like breaststroke
Therefore, the aims of this study were to examine the:
  • difference in swimming speed between short and long course for breaststroke
  • change in swimming speed in breaststroke swimming across years
To achieve these aims, we compared the swimming speeds of elite breaststroke swimmers at:
  • national level from the Swiss swimming high score list between 2000 and 2011
  • international level from the finals of the FINA World Championships between 2001 and 2012
The advantage of the Swiss data was that they were recorded annually. Data from the world championships were, however, only every two years available.

Materials And Methods

Data Sampling And Data Analysis

The data set from this study was obtained for national swimmers from the Swiss Swimming Federation and for international swimmers from the European Swimming Federation.
Included were the breaststroke swimmers at:
  • national level (i.e., athletes ranked in the Swiss swimming high score list between 2000 and 2011)
  • international level (i.e., finalists from the FINA World Championships between 2001 and 2012)
We compared these two:
  • the change in breaststroke swimming speed across years
  • the difference in breaststroke swimming speed between long course and short course
The annual top 10 (i.e., 10 fastest swimming times) men and women for the three race distances (i.e., 50 meters, 100 meters, 200 meters) were determined for long course and short course and analyzed regarding the change in swimming speed and sex difference over time.
The annual top 10 athletes per sex, distance and course length were pooled (i.e., 12 years × 10 athletes = n = 120 per distance and course length) and analyzed regarding the interaction between sex and course length on swimming speed.
In order to increase the comparability of the results with similar studies, all race times were converted to swimming speed prior to analysis.
Swimming speed was calculated using the equation [swimming speed in m/s] = [race distance in m]/[race time in seconds].
The sex difference in performance was calculated using the equation ([swimming speed in women] – [swimming speed in men])/[swimming speed in men] × 100, where sex difference was calculated for every pairing of equally placed athletes (e.g., between men and women 1st place, between men and women 2nd place, etc.) before calculating mean value and standard deviation of all the pairings.
In order to facilitate reading, all sex differenceswere transformed to absolute values prior to analyses.
To compare top swimming speed between long course and short course swimmers, the overall top 10 (i.e., 10 fastest swimming speed) female and male swimmers from the Swiss swimming high score list between 2000 and 2011 and the eight finalists from the FINA World were determined for long course and for short course swimming and compared regarding swimming speed and sex difference.

Statistical Analysis

In order to increase the reliability of the data analyses, each set of data was tested for normal distribution as well as for homogeneity of variances prior to statistical analyses.
Normal distribution was tested using a D’Agostino and Pearson omnibus normality test.
Homogeneity of variances was tested using a:
  • Levene’s test (two groups)
  • Bartlett’s test (more than two groups)
Linear regression was used to find significant changes in a variable across years. A Student’s t-test with Welch’s correction in case of unequal variances was used to find significant differences between two groups.
A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) with subsequent Dunnett post-hoc analysis was performed to find significant differences between more than two groups (i.e., the fastest age group and the other age groups).
A two-way-ANOVA (sex × course length) was performed to determine the interaction between sex and course length on swimming speed.
Statistical analyses were performed using:
  • IBM SPSS Statistics (Version 19, IBM SPSS, Chicago, Illinois, USA)
  • GraphPad Prism (Version 5, GraphPad Software, La Jolla, California, USA)
Significance was accepted at p < 0.05 (two-sided for t-tests). Data in the text are given as mean ± standard deviation.

Results

Data from the Swiss swimming high score list were available from:
a. 26,556 athletes, including:
  • 13,277 women
  • 13,279 men on short course
b. 25,111 athletes, including:
  • 12,627 women
  • 12,484 men on long course
Data from 125 finalists from the FINA World Championships were available, including 56 women and 69 men on short course and from 112 athletes, including 54 women and 58 men on long course.

Comparison Of Swimming Speed In Breaststroke Between Short And Long Courses

Swimming speed was faster on short than on long course for 50 meters, 100 meters, and 200 meters for both courses.
Differences in swimming speed between 25-meter and 50-meter pools for the elite Swiss swimmers were 2.7% ± 0.9 [range: 1.8 to 3.6%].
The mean differences in swimming between 25-meter and 50-meter pools at the FINA World Championships were 3% ± 1.15 [range: 1.9 to 4.2%].

Change In Breaststroke Swimming Speed Across The Years

Breaststroke swimming speed increased for both short and long courses over the years independent of sex and race distance for both courses.
Male Swiss swimmers had improved swimming speed significantly by:
  • 1.2% (p = 0.04) on the 50-meter short course
  • 2.63% (p = 0.03) on the 100-meter short course
Female Swiss swimmers had improved swimming speed significantly by:
  • 2.78% (p = 0.004) on the 50-meter long course
  • 3.03% (p = 0.01) on the 100-meter long course
  • 4.09% (p = 0.04) on the 200-meter long course
Male Swiss swimmers showed a significant improvement of:
  • 2.44% (p = 0.0003) on the 50-meter long course
  • 3.36% (p = 0.01) on the 100-meter long course
  • 5.15% (p = 0.003) on the 200-meter long course
The mean improvement of the two distances for men on the short course was 1.9 ± 0.7% and of the three distances for the long course 3.6 ± 1.1%.
The mean improvement of the three distances for women on the long course was 3.3 ± 0.6%.
Female swimmers at international level improved swimming speed significantly by:
  • 2.4% (p = 0.0183) on the 50-meter short course
  • 3.4% (p = 0.0023) on the 100-meter short course
  • 2.8% (p = 0.0138) on the 200-meter short course
Male swimmers showed a significant improvement by:
  • 2.7% (p = 0.0168) on the 50-meter short course
  • 2.9% (p = 0.0023) on the 100-meter short course
  • 3.8% (p = 0.01) on the 200-meter short course
Women achieved a significant improvement of:
  • 2.5% (p = 0.02) on the 50-meter long course
  • 2.7% (p = 0.03) on the 100-meter long course
Other findings:
a. The mean improvement in three distances for men on the short course was 3.19 ± 0.5%.
b. The mean improvement of the three distances for women on the short course was 2.9 ± 0.5%.
c. Women showed a mean improvement of 2.6 ± 0.1% on the long course during the studied period.

Sex Difference In Breaststroke Swimming Speed

For all distances, the sex difference in breaststroke swimming speed was greater on the short than on the long course.
The sex difference in swimming speed at national level was on average 11.3 ± 1.6% [range: 9.7 to 12.9%].
Among the finalists from the World Championship the sex difference was higher on the short course than on the long course, too. The sex difference in swimming speed was on average 12.3 ± 1.1% [range: 11.2 to 13.3%] in all three distances.
Women at national level were:
  • 14% slower than men on the short course
  • 13% slower on the long course
There was a significant difference in the 200-meter long course (p = 0.03).
In finalists from the World Championship, the sex differences were higher, but not significant, on the 50-meter short than on the 50-meter long course.
Women were:
  • 11.8% slower than men on the short
  • 11.1% slower on the long course
There was no difference for the 50-meter short course (i.e., with significant difference in 100-meter 10.7 versus 10.3%, p = 0.01; 200-meter 11 versus 9.7%, no significance).

Main Discussion

The aims of this study were to examine the:
  • difference in breaststroke swimming speed between short and long course
  • change in swimming speed across the years in elite swimmers at both national and international level
The main findings of this study were:
  • breaststroke swimming speed was 1.8 to 4.2% faster on the short than on the long course
  • swimming speed improved for both the short and long course during the last decade independently of sex and race distance
  • the sex difference in swimming speed was greater on the short than long course for all distances
  • the longer the distance the more the sex difference in swimming speed decreased

Breaststroke Swimming Speed Was Faster On Short Than On Long Course

Swimming speed was faster on the short than on the long course for 50 meters, 100 meters, and 200 meters.
Due to the higher number of turns and push offs, swimming speed is faster on the short than on the long course.
Breaststroke turns can account for one third of race time in 25-meter pools.
The anaerobic metabolism predominates on short events. This means an improvement in short events can be achieved by enhancement of anaerobic training.
The connection between local fatigue due to increasing lactate values and increasing energy costs may explain the decrease in swimming skills.
Stroke length decreases dramatically at a given lactate value and stroke rate increases in anaerobic sections. Therefore, the longer the race the lower the velocity, which can be shown in our results.

Improvement In Breaststroke Swimming Speed Across The Years

The second important finding was that swimming speed increased in both women and men on both courses over the years for swimmers at both national and international level.
However, the improvements in swimming speed in athletes at international level were lower compared to swimmers at national level. Competitors at international level are closer to the maximum physiologically possible human frontiers; so, they cannot improve as much as national swimmers.
In addition to changes in anthropometric characteristics, improvements in training and psychological aspects, a new generation of swimsuits affected swimming speed.
Wearing this new full-body swimsuit reduced passive drag. This was associated with a decreased energy cost and an increased distance per stroke.
Although FINA prohibited wearing full-body wetsuits, swimming speed did not fall.
The reason could be the use of new angled starting blocks, where the kick start was significantly faster than on the older starting blocks.

Sex Difference In Breaststroke Swimming Speed In Short Versus Long Course

The third important finding was that the sex differences in swimming speed were greater in the short than in the long course.
Women achieved ~90% of the swimming speed of men in the short course, which is in line with international data.
In their study published in 1989 by the journal Medicine & Sciencein Sports & Exercise (MSSE), Rick L. Sharp and David L. Costill described that world records were faster in 25-meter pools than in 50-meter pools due to more turns and push offs and reduced blood lactate values.
Additionally, the turns lead to a redistribution of the muscular load and physiological recuperation can occur.
Swimmers seemed to have improved their technique of turns over the years as well as their anaerobic performance (i.e., sprint).
The decrease in velocity on a long course could be related to the fact that endurance performance suffered due to the improved anaerobic performance due to larger muscle mass.
This means the longer the course the higher the muscle fatigue which might impair the swimming technique because of less streamlining resulting in increasing drag. Thereby, an increase in energy cost and velocity cannot be sustained.
The fourth important finding was the longer the competition distance the lower were the differences in swimming speed between men and women.
Lower energy costs are reported for women due to anthropometric values for long distances in swimming. Women have a lower hydrodynamic resistance and are more streamlined than men.
In a study published in 2011 by The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, the authors, with Jorge Zuniga as lead author, suggested that women could improve their performances by reducing body fat, because a greater percentage of body fat may adversely affect swimming speed.
Additionally, they have to build up fat-free weight to generate power.
The aerobic capacity is the main base for endurance performance.
High endurance allows maintaining a high average velocity. Lower lactate levels were reported for women after competitions, which means a slower fatigue.
Women competing at national level may have to have a higher percentage of slow twitch fibers and thereby improve endurance performance on the long course. Or they take more advantage of turns with longer wall push-off times resulting in faster final push-off velocities.
The maximum power depends on metabolic energy, which depends on the anthropometric and technical character of the athlete.
In well-trained swimmers, the size scaled cost of swimming is not depending upon age and sex. Additionally, psychological aspects may play a role and the greater expectation to win.

Conclusion

Elite breaststroke swimmers at both national and international level were ~3% faster in 25-meter pools compared to 50-meter pools for distances between 50 meters and 200 meters.
Breaststroke swimming speed increased on short and long course over the years between 1.2% and 5.2% in elite swimmers competing at both national and international level independently of the sex and the distance.
The sex difference in breaststroke swimming speed from 50 meters to 200 meters was close to 11% but appeared slightly greater in 50-meter pools compared to 25-meter pools.
There should be similar studies about the differences in swimming speed of breaststroke swimmers but this time for other swim strokes.
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