SELF-SELECTED PACING PATTERNS IN SIMULATED 400 m SWIMMING RACES APPEAR TO BE THE BEST OPTION

Skorski, S., Faude, O., Rausch, K., Wengert, N., & Meyer, T. (2013). Optimal pacing in 400 m front-crawl simulated competitions: Self-selected vs. externally paced pattern. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 45(5), Supplement abstract number 2147.

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Although it is assumed that athletes develop a stable pacing pattern during their careers, data on day-to-day variability is lacking. The first part of this study was to calculate the smallest worthwhile change in pacing pattern during a 400 m crawl simulated race in order to identify relevant training induced changes in pacing pattern. In the second part, the starting phase of a 400 m crawl swim was manipulated and compared to a self-selected pacing pattern and analyzed for effects on pacing pattern during the latter stages of the race and on overall performance.

In the first part of the study, 16 swimmers (M = 9; F = 7) performed 2 x 400 m crawl race simulations seven days apart. In the second part, Ss (M = 9; F = 4) carried out 3 x 400 m race simulations. In part two, after a race-simulation with a self-selected pacing pattern, the initial 100 m of the following two simulated races were manipulated in randomized order in the following ways: slower (+2.9 1.4s for #2 and 4.2 2.0% for #3) or faster (-1.9 0.8s for #2 and 3.0 1.4% for #3). All 50 m split-times, maximal blood lactate concentrations and heart rates were measured during each trial in both study parts. Splits and overall velocities were calculated.

The coefficient of variation was small at the beginning of the 400 m in the first part of the study but increased to ~2.7% in the last 100 m. In the second part of the study, Ss were significantly faster in the self-selected pacing-pattern trial compared to the "out fast" and "out slow" manipulations. There were no significant differences between the conditions for maximal blood lactate concentrations or maximum heart rates. The normalized pacing pattern was significantly different between conditions due to the manipulated first and second 50 m. No differences were detected in the latter sections. Two Ss showed best performance in the "out fast" condition and four in the "out slow" condition. When corrected for start time, no difference was observed between sections in the self-selected pacing pattern trials. The first 100 m was faster than all others in the "out fast" condition. In the "out slow" pacing condition, the last 50 m was faster than the first.

Implication. Pacing patterns seem stable at the beginning of a 400 m simulated swimming race, with increasing variability towards the end. A single change of the starting phase does not enhance performance in most swimmers. A minor group of Ss profited by a manipulation. The factors associated with that atypical occurrence need to be determined. In general, it would appear to be a sound coaching strategy if swimmers are allowed to self-select the pacing pattern for a race.

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