The contributions of the limbs to velocity and metabolic parameters in front-crawl swimming at different intensities have not been identified considering both stroke and kick rate. Consequently, velocity, oxygen uptake (V̇O2), and metabolic cost of swimming with the whole body (swim), the upper limbs only (pull), and lower limbs only (kick) were compared with stroke and kick rate controlled.
Twenty elite swimmers completed six 200-m trials: 2 swim, 2 pull, and 2 kick. Swim trials were guided by underwater lights at paces equivalent to 65% ± 3% and 78% ± 3% of participants’ 200-m-freestyle personal-best pace; paces were described as low and moderate, respectively. In the pull and kick trials, swimmers aimed to match the stroke and kick rates, respectively, recorded during the swim trials. V̇O2 was measured continuously, with velocity and metabolic cost calculated for each 200-m effort.
The velocity contribution of the upper limbs (mean ± SD; low 63.9% ± 6.2%, moderate 59.6% ± 4.2%) was greater than that of the lower limbs to a large extent at both intensities (low ES = 4.40, moderate ES = 4.60). The V̇O2 used by the upper limbs differed between the intensities (low 55.5% ± 6.9%, moderate 51.4% ± 4.0%; ES = 0.74). The lower limbs were responsible for a greater percentage of the metabolic cost than the upper limbs at both intensities (low 56.1% ± 9.5%, ES = 1.30; moderate 55.1% ± 6.6%, ES = 1.55).
Implementation of this testing protocol before and after a pull- or kick-training block will enable sport scientists to determine how the velocity contributions and/or metabolic cost of the upper- and lower-limb actions have responded to the training program.