The Effect of Waves on the Performance of Five Different Swimming Strokes

The Open Sports Sciences Journal 31 July 2018 REVIEW ARTICLE DOI: 10.2174/1875399X01811010041



Little is known about the transfer of swimming skills from flat, calm conditions to outdoor, unsteady conditions. The aim of the present study was to investigate the velocity decrement of several life-saving, self-rescue and rescue related strokes when introducing waves of different heights.


Thirty-three subjects swam twelve 25m sprints each, in a randomized order, in a 3x4 (wave height x stroke) design. The wave heights were flat, medium (ca 20 cm) or large (ca 40 cm), in a specially designed wave-simulating pool. The strokes studied were front crawl, head-up crawl, back crawl and breaststroke. A subgroup swam front crawl, head-up crawl and head-up crawl with fins. A repeated measures ANOVA showed a significant effect of stroke, F(3,23)=108 (p<0.001), showing that these four strokes have different levels of performance; and wave height F(2,24)=87 (p<0.001), showing that introducing waves reduced velocity, but there was no interaction effect. The fastest stroke in flat water was not surprisingly, front crawl, followed by head-up crawl, back crawl and breaststroke. When introducing medium or large waves, the order of strokes from fastest to slowest was identical to flat-water conditions. The average velocity decrement when introducing medium and large waves was 3% and 7% respectively. For the subgroup swimming with fins, this was the fastest stroke, followed by front crawl, and head-up crawl. This order did not change when introducing waves, and the velocity decrement was 4 and 2% for medium and large waves respectively (not significantly different from other strokes).


The conclusion is that the rank order of strokes does not change when introducing waves and that no stroke seems to perform relatively better in unsteady water compared to flat water. Other aspects than performance and velocity should be considered when choosing strokes for swimming in waves, these are discussed in the paper.

Keywords: Swimming skills, Breaststroke, Front crawl, Back crawl, Simulated open water, Unsteady conditions.
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