Journal article

Inter-limb coordination and energy cost in swimming

Objectives: This study investigated the relationship between inter-arm coordination and the energy cost of locomotion in front crawl and breaststroke and explored swimmers’ flexibility in adapting their motor organization away from their preferred movement pattern. Design: Nine front-crawlers performed three 300-m in front crawl and 8 breaststrokers performed three 200-m in breaststroke at constant submaximal intensity and with 5-min rests. Each trial was performed randomly in a different coordination pattern: freely chosen, ‘maximal glide’ and ‘minimal glide’. Two underwater cameras videotaped frontal and side views to analyze speed, stroke rate, stroke length and inter-limb coordination. Methods: In front crawl, inter-arm coordination was quantified by the index of coordination (IdC) and the leg beat kicks were counted. In breaststroke, four time gaps quantified the arm to leg coordination (i.e., time between leg and arm propulsions; time between beginning, 90° flexion and end of arm and leg recoveries). The energy cost of locomotion was calculated from gas exchanges and blood lactate concentration. Results: In both front crawl and breaststroke, the freely chosen coordination corresponded to glide pattern and showed the lowest energy cost (12.8 and 17.1 J kg−1 m−1, respectively). Both front-crawlers and breaststrokers were able to reach ‘maximal glide’ condition (respectively, +35% and +28%) but not ‘minimal glide’ condition for front crawl. Conclusion: The freely chosen pattern appeared more economic because more trained. When coordination was constrained, the swimmers had higher coordination flexibility in breaststroke than in front crawl, suggesting that breaststroke coordination was easier to regulate by changing glide time.


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