Zamparo, P., Massei, E., Gatta, G., & Benelli, P. (2009). Propelling efficiency in master swimmers. A paper presented at the 14th Annual Congress of the European College of Sport Science, Oslo, Norway, June 24-27.

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"When the swimming records in master competitions are evaluated, it becomes apparent that performance (e. g., maximal speed, Vmax) decreases steadily as a function of age. In Italian front crawl swimmers the decrease is of about 0.2 m/s every 10 years of age in short distance (50 m) races and of about 0.1 m/s every 10 years of age over long distance (800 m) races."

This study investigated if a performance decrease could be related to a decrease in the propelling efficiency of the arm stroke. Male master swimmers (N = 61) were tested. They were divided into four age-groups: M1: 20-29 yrs (N = 17); M2: (N = 22); M3: 40-49 yrs (N = 12); M4: 50-59 yrs (N = 10). No major differences in the anthropometric characteristics were found between Ss despite stature tending to decrease (1.81 to 1.77 m) and body mass to increase (72 to 78 kg) from M1 to M4.

Ss swam a 25 m pool length at constant speed, repeating the swim at six different, incremental speeds (from slow, to moderate, to maximal). During each trial, average speed and stroke frequency were measured in the middle 10 m of each lane. The distance-per-stroke was calculated from the ratio of average-speed:stroke-frequency and propelling efficiency was estimated according to a model based on values of average speed, stroke frequency, and the shoulder-to-hand distance.

The values of average velocity, stroke frequency, and distance per stroke attained at Vmax showed a steady decrease as a function of age. In M1, M2 and M3 both distance-per-stroke and propelling efficiency plateaued at slow to moderate speeds whereas in M4 both measures showed a continuous decrease with increasing speed and at Vmax were lower than in the other age groups.

Implication. Between 20 and 50 years, propelling efficiency at Vmax decreases by ~2% per decade while the decrease in Vmax is ~3% per decade. Between 50 and 60 years, propelling efficiency decreases to a larger extent (~14%) yet less than the decrease in Vmax (~21%). This suggests that in male master swimmers up to 50 years of age, performance decrease can be largely attributed to a decrease in propelling efficiency but after that age, other factors also should be taken into account to explain the decrease in swimming performance.

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