How Does Drag Affect the Underwater Phase of a Swimming Start?

in Journal of Applied Biomechanics
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  • 1 Australian Institute of Sport
  • | 2 Victoria University
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During the underwater phase of the swimming start drag forces are constantly acting to slow the swimmer down. The current study aimed to quantify total drag force as well as the specific contribution of wave drag during the underwater phase of the swimming start. Swimmers were towed at three different depths (surface, 0.5 m, 1.0 m) and four speeds (1.6, 1.9, 2.0, 2.5 m·s–1), totaling 12 conditions. Wave drag and total drag were measured for each trial. Mixed modeling and plots were then used to determine the relationships between each towing condition and the amount of drag acting on the swimmer. The results of this study show large decreases in total drag as depth increases, regardless of speed (–19.7% at 0.5 m and –23.8% at 1.0 m). This is largely due to the significant reduction in wave drag as the swimmers traveled at greater depth. It is recommended that swimmers travel at least 0.5 m below the surface to avoid excessive drag forces. Swimmers should also perform efficient breakouts when transitioning into free swimming to reduce the duration spent just below the surface where drag values are reported at their highest.

Elaine Tor and David L. Pease are with the Aquatic Testing, Training and Research Unit, Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra, Australia. Elaine Tor and Kevin A. Ball are with the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living, Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia.

Address author correspondence to Elaine Tor at
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