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Chapter 10

Propulsive Forces in Swimming


The interaction within the swimming cycle of

The nature of propulsive forces in
these two horizontal forces (effective pulling force
and active hydrodynamic resistance), as a rule not
The aquatic locomotion of a human is a result of the equal at any one moment, may be described by
interaction of body segments with the water. On the equation of set non-stationary activity of a
land a human uses the ground surface as a solid and swimmers body in fluid flow (Toussaint et al. 1998;
immobile support. Effort is applied against the Cappaert 1998; Kolmogorov & Lyapin 1998):
ground and the grounds reaction transmitted to
FP(effective)(t) FDA(frontal)(t) = (m0 + m)dv(CM)/dt
the body makes the body move. During swim-
ming a swimmer creates the immobile support
in the mobile fluid medium, using its density and where FP(effective)(t) = momentary value of total effec-
viscosity, and overcomes opposing resistive forces. tive propulsive force developed by the swimmers
The nature of swimming is that it occurs in water, propelling segments (result of working movements
which resists the swimmers motion through it. The of arms, legs and body); FDA(frontal)(t) = momentary
hydrodynamic resistance (HDR) manifests itself as: value of frontal component of hydrodynamic resis-
(i) the force that slows down and stops the swim- tance affecting the swimmers body; m0 = body
mers motion through the water (see Chapter 9); and mass; m = added water mass of an inertial origin;
(ii) as a hydrodynamic reaction force to the movements and dv(CM)/dt = momentary acceleration of body
of the swimmers limbs through the water. This centre mass.
hydrodynamic reaction force (RF) is the source of It follows from Eqn. 10.1 that when FPropulsive =
propulsion for the swimmers locomotion. FDrag the swimmer moves with uniform velocity,
The swimming velocity depends upon the magni- when FP > FD the swimmer accelerates, and when
tude and direction of the RF (or total pulling force) FP < FD the swimmer decelerates.
created by movements of the swimmers working To generate high propulsive force during swim-
segments, and the magnitude of the active hydrody- ming is not an easy task. Not all components of the
namic resistance. The RF created by the swimmer resultant RF contribute to an effective RF (pulling
constantly changes its value and direction during force) due to deviation of the vector of the reac-
the cycle of swimming motions due to the alter- tion force from the swimming direction at certain
ation of working phases and recovery phases. moments of pulling actions (Schleihauf 1979;
Correspondingly, there are changes in the effective Rumyantsev 1982; Cappaert & Rushall 1994). At
pulling forcea component of the resulting RF equal the same time a substantial part of the mechanical
to the projection of the RF vector to the direction of energy of the pulling actions is lost in transfer of
motion. The value of active HDR also changes con- kinetic energy to the water mass which the swimmer
tinuously within the swimming cycle. uses as a support. As a result, only a portion of the

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206 locomotion

mechanical work performed by a swimmer is used Fmrm = I + Fr mgrinertia cos + QrQ cos (10.2)
effectively to overcome HDR. As we shall demon-
where Fm = resultant force of muscle draught (N); rm
strate later in this chapter, it is not enough simply to
= lever of the resultant muscle force (m); I = moment
press against the water as hard as possible. Instead,
of the inertia of the arm (kg m2); F = resultant
the aim should be to adroitly change the direction of
hydrodynamic reaction force (N); r = lever of the RF
movement throughout the course of the pull so that
(m); mg = gravity (N); rinertia = radius of the arm iner-
the vector of the resulting RF remains as close to the
tia force (m); Q = hydrostatic force (N); rQ = lever
swimming direction as possible.
of the hydrostatic force (m); = relative angular
position of the arm (degrees); and = angular accel-
Biodynamic details of pulling eration of the arm ( degrees per second per second;
movements may be positive as well as negative).
If we assume that during underwater pull the
The propulsive forces in swimming originate from
gravitational and hydrodynamic forces are equal,
muscular contractions (muscle draught). When the
opposite and colinear the equation is simplified:
biokinematic chains shoulder-forearm-hand and hip-
low leg-foot begin to move they encounter hydro- Fmrm = I + Fr (10.3)
dynamic resistance. When the muscle draught
balances the external hydrodynamic RF force and It follows from this equation that the reduction of
the latter balances the HDR, the body general centre length of the levers of external forces (inertia and
of mass (GCM) begins to accelerate in the direction hydrodynamic reaction) by bending the arm at the
of locomotion. Thus the hydrodynamic reaction elbow joint leads to increase of the dynamic and
force transforms into a propulsive (pulling) force. time-spatial characteristics of the arm pull and
Since the pulling movements are rotational move- requires smaller muscle torque. Miller (1975) repre-
ments of extremities in the joints the system of sented Eqn. 10.2 in the following form:
forces may be expressed by the following equation
Fmrm mr 2inertia + CDr3 2 (10.4)
(the displacement of the axis of rotation condition-
ally accepted as zerosee Fig. 10.1): where Fmrm = torque of muscular force; = angular
acceleration of the arm (or arm segment); m = arm
(arm segment) mass (kg); and CDr32 = torque of the
hydrodynamic reaction created by the arm (or arm
0 If it is assumed that the hand velocity is roughly
r proportional to the angular velocity in the shoulder
multiplied by the distance between hand and shoul-
Q rm
der (= r), it follows that the torque of hydrodynamic
Finert. Fm RF varies as a cube of the length of its lever while
the torque of inertia varies as the square of rinertia.
F Miller (1975) supposed that corresponding changes
in pulling technique (decrease of rinertia and r and
rQcos increase of ) would improve the efficiency of the
mg pulling action. Muscular draught is applied to the
shoulder close to the axis of rotation (Fig. 10.2) and
the lever of muscle force is small. The resultant RF
is applied to the distal portion of the arm and its
lever is several-fold longer in respect to the lever of
Fig. 10.1 Forces and their levers (relative to the axis of muscle draught. By arm flexion a swimmer changes
rotation, 0); illustration to Eqn. 10.1. the ratio of forces applied to opposite ends of the
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propulsive forces in swimming 207




Fig. 10.2 The formation of the muscle

draught torque and RF torque during
arm pull: RF
I + RF l2 = | Fmuscle l1|
where = angular acceleration.

bone lever and is able to balance greater RF torque boundary postures, imitating the distinct phases
by smaller muscle torque when the arm is bent. In of arm pull, shows that bent arm pull creates on
freestyle and butterfly the elite swimmers demon- average a 20% greater force than straight arm pull
strate maximal elbow bending (the angle between (Butovich & Chudovsky 1968; Vorontsov 1981). It
shoulder and forearm) in the middle (90120) por- is possible that by bending the elbow, the direction
tion of the pull. of torque in the shoulder joint changes. This could
As may be seen from Eqn. 10.4, pulling patterns imply that more muscles can deliver work in the
with consecutive flexion extension of the arm shoulder joint (Toussaint et al. 1998).
have an obvious biomechanical and hydrodynamic 4 In the course of the arm pull the movements of the
advantage over pulling patterns without move- arm joints are coordinated in a pattern which pro-
ments in the elbow and wrist joints. vides consecutive achievement of maximal angular
1 Movement of the elbow joint allows a selective velocities in different joints. This avoids excessive
increase in the angular velocity and acceleration of loading of the arm muscles, which work in a more
the hand and forearm without involving the most economical way. The catch phase is performed by
massive segment of the arm, i.e. the shoulder. Pull- simultaneous extension in the shoulder and flexion
ing patterns with elbow bending require much less in the elbow/wrist joint. At the beginning of the
muscle torque to create an equal RF and an effective backward pull (downsweep) the hand and forearm
pulling force than arm pulls without elbow bending. accelerate due to arm bending in the elbow joint,
2 Bending the elbow and wrist joints provides effi- while the shoulder moves with low angular velocity
cient space orientation of the propelling segments and gradually passes from a streamlined position to
(Counsilman 1968; Makarenko 1975; Schleihauf a resistive position.
1979). It increases the working surface area of the During the insweep the shoulder begins to acceler-
pulling segments (projection of these segments to ate its rotation while the angle between the hand
the direction of the pull) and makes it possible and forearm remains relatively constant. Thus the
to steer the propulsive forces in the direction of swimmer uses hand and forearm as a single blade.
swimming. In the main phase, as the shoulder rotation deceler-
3 The strength of the arm bent at the elbow joint is ates, the acceleration of the forearm at the elbow
significantly higher than that of a straight arm. joint begins. The forearm performs a fast extension
Measurements of maximal isometric strength in of the elbow joint (push), during which the hand
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208 locomotion

slows down its rotation and attains its optimal space

orientation. This is the moment when the swim-
mers arm delivers the highest magnitude of RF and
effective pulling force. After this working part of the
pull is completed the exit of the arm from the water
is performed by movement at the shoulder joint.
5 The pulling pattern with alternate elbow bending
and extension provides a gradual increase of hydro-
dynamic reaction force and its propulsive compon- (a)

ent in the initial part of the pull, stabilization in the

middle part, and a sharp increase to the maximum
force at the end of the pull. In pulling patterns with-
out movements in the elbow and wrist joints the
hydrodynamic force decreases significantly after
the arm passes the middle of the pull. RFtotal =RFeffective

Concepts of propulsion in swimming

Theory of the straight oar-like arm pull (OLP) (b)

This theory stems from striving to convert 100% Fig. 10.3 (a) Oar-like pull (side view). (b) Contribution of
the frontal drag force (RFtotal) on the hand into effective
of the hydrodynamic reaction force into effective
propulsive force. It follows from Newtons Third
Law of Motion that the most efficient types of pull
are those employing a straight movement of the arm coincides with the direction of swimming
hand (and forearm) along the direction of swim- motion. It was assumed that in OLP the effort which
ming motion under the mid-line axis of the body, the swimmer applies to the water maximally trans-
with the armforearm pitch close to 90 relative to forms into forward propulsion when the direction
the pulling direction (Fig. 10.3a,b). Thus during the of the vector of resultant RF maximally coincides
oar-like pull the propulsive force is created almost with the direction of swimming (RFeffective = RFtotal).
entirely by pressure (form) resistance. The magni- Any deviation of the swimmers arms during pull
tude of propulsive force (RF) may be derived from from a straightline direction was interpreted as a
Eqn. 9.1: RF = 1/2 V2CDS, where = water density, technical error or as a movement to compensate for
V = speed of the water flow interacting with the deficiencies in the structure of the human motor
body, CD = the hydrodynamic coefficient of the apparatus, which is not perfect for aquatic locomo-
propelling segment and S = the surface area of the tion. This view still has its adherents among scient-
propelling segment. ists and coaches (see, e.g., Rushall et al. 1998).
For several decades the role of frontal (form)
resistance was deemed paramount in describing
The lift and lift-and-drag theories: curvilinear
the origination of propulsive forces in swimming
(propeller-like) arm pull (PLP)
(Cureton 1930; Kiphut 1942; Silvia 1970). The prin-
ciples of Newtonian mechanics (action-reaction The theory of OLP presumes that the swimmer
principle, principle of conservation of momentum, should maintain the maximal surface area of the
principle of proportionality) were employed to propelling segments (CD S), and constantly in-
prove that straightline arm pull (oar-like pull crease the velocity of the pull and pressure created
OLP) is the most efficient, as the direction of the vec- by these segments during the pulling motion.
tor of hydrodynamic RF created by the swimmers Actually the hand velocity and pulling effort (RF)
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propulsive forces in swimming 209


F2 Ipull
Fminimal Tpull Tminimal


Fig. 10.4 Typical intracycle dynamic

of pressure force on swimmers hand
during front crawl.

demonstrates two or three large pulses, with stabi- backwards, but employ a complex curvilinear tra-
lization and even a transient decrease in the middle jectory. If one considers swimming movements in
part of the arm pull. Figure 10.4 shows the typical the orthogonal coordinate system (Fig. 10.5b), it
intracyclic changes of the pressure developed by a appears that during pulling actions the working
swimmers hand during the front crawl. Such intra- segments of the arms and legs accomplish move-
cyclic pressure dynamics bring into question the ments not only straight backwards along the x-axis,
importance of the frontal reaction force as the sole but also across the transverse (z-y) and vertical (x-y)
or main propulsive force in aquatic locomotion. planes. During the working phase of swimming
The introduction of objective methods of research motions the arm segments interact with three-
and biomechanical analysis in the late 1960s and dimensional (3-D) water flow at some angle of attack
early 1970s revealed significant deviations of the and change their leading edge 23 times (depending
hand trajectory in both vertical and transverse on the swimming stroke). Belokovsky (1971) showed
planes from the optimal direction of locomotion in that in synchronized swimming the effective pulling
elite swimmers (Fig. 10.5a). These deviations need force and high swimming velocity (e.g. 1617 s for
to be explained. a 25-m swim) may be achieved by using so-called
Opponents of the straight pull used as an argu- standard figure 8-like sculling patterns without
ment the principle of immobile support, which any significant backward displacement of the swim-
presumes that efficient pulling actions employ com- mers hands. The magnitude of the total and effec-
plex trajectories of working movements so that at tive propulsive force in this case depends upon the
every point of the pull the working segments of the pitch of the hands, the working trajectory, and the
arms and legs interact with standing, immobile velocity of transverse hand movements.
water. As soon as a swimmer begins to apply force Counsilman (1969, 1971), using an analysis of
against the water the latter starts to move in the underwater movies, found that world-class swim-
direction of the hand motion, leading to a decreased mers perform arm pulls as sculling movements with
velocity difference between hand and water and very complex curvilinear trajectories in 3-D space.
decreased efficiency of the pulling action. Therefore, In these pulling patterns the hand and forearm
in order to create high RF (to find efficient support- perform significant vertical and transverse move-
ive reaction), the pulling segments should interact at ments and continuously change the direction of
every point of the working movement with stand- the pull and their pitch (the angle of attack and lead-
ing, immobile water. This condition is satisfied when ing edge) relative to the water flow. Counsilman
pulling actions are performed not exactly linearly concluded that it is virtually impossible to find
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210 locomotion

z x

y y

Front view
Side view

Hand velocity (m s1)

Bottom view

0 5 10 15
(a) t (1/22.5s)

x z z

y x y

f b
b f

e d

d c
a e

(b) Side view Bottom view Front view

Fig. 10.5 (a) Example of a swimmers fingertip trajectory pattern (front crawl) and absolute hand speed date.
(b) Trajectory of the hand relative to the system of orthogonal coordinates in front crawl arm pull. (Adapted from
Schleihauf 1979.)
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propulsive forces in swimming 211

V Area of low
L RF pressure



+ +
Area of high pressure

Fig. 10.6 Bernoullis principle: origin of hydrodynamic lift on (left) a hydrofoil and (right) the hand (according to Reischle
1979). (1), area of stagnant waterhigh pressure; (2), area of low pressure above the hand; (3), area of turbulence (low
pressure) in the wake of the hand.

instances when the hand and forearm are disposed same time the absolute hand velocity relative to
to the water with an angle of attack exactly 90 to the the water flow achieved 34 m s1. By using trans-
pulling direction. He made an assumption that the verse and vertical sculling movements, swimmers
major contributor to human locomotion in water is achieve a high magnitude of lift to create high
the hydrodynamic lift force (normal component of resulting RF without significant displacement of
resulting hydrodynamic reaction), which originates water mass backwards, and prolong the duration of
when the hand and forearm move at an angle of action of the propulsive force. These theoretical
attack to the water flow (to pulling direction). In this speculations and experimental data formed the
case both segments interact with water flow as a basis of the theory of curvilinear, propeller-like pull-
hydrofoil. ing patterns (PLP).
Counsilman cited Bernoullis principle to explain Three-dimensional analysis of the absolute move-
the nature of propulsive forces in swimming ments of limb segments and the core body in relation
(Fig. 10.6). According to this principle the hydro- to orthogonal coordinates has allowed an under-
dynamic lift originates as the result of the differ- standing of the hydrodynamic nature and complex-
ence between water flow velocities on the upper and ity of propelling forces (Schleihauf 1974, 1979; Wood
lower surfaces of the hand (and forearm). Coun- 1979; Cappaert 1993, 1998). This analysis showed
silman estimated that the hydrodynamic profile of that in sport swimming no examples could be found
the human hand creates a significant lift force. The of pulling patterns in which exclusively the frontal
properties of the hand and forearm as hydrofoils (pressure) or normal (lift) component of hydrody-
were also studied by Schleihauf (1974), Bartels and namic reaction was used to create propelling force.
Adrian (1974), Reischle (1979), Onoprienko (1981) Propulsive forces are created by contributions
and Rumyantsev (1982), all of whom shared the of both normal and frontal components of hydro-
opinion that hydrodynamic lift makes a signific- dynamic reaction. The relative contributions of
ant contribution to swimming propulsion. Issurin drag and lift forces to a swimmers propulsion vary
and Kostyuk (1978) found that during swimming significantly between distinct phases and moments,
at maximal velocity backward displacement of the between individuals, and between swimming
hand (the projection of its trajectory on the x-axis) strokes. By changing the pitch of the hand it is
comprises only 25% of the length of its absolute possible to steer the resultant propulsive force in
trajectory. The average velocity of backward dis- the direction of swimming.
placement of the hand was found to be less than the Both drag and lift forces can be derived using the
average forward velocity of body motion. At the following equations of hydrodynamics:
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212 locomotion

FD = 1/2 V2CDS (see Eqn. 9.1) More recently Toussaint et al. (1998) expressed the
opinion that neither drag nor lift theories give a
L = 1/2 V2CLS (10.5)
complete explanation of the mechanism of pulling,
where L = lift force, CL = coefficient of lift of the pro- and supported this by successful experiments on
pelling segment, S = surface area of the propelling visualization of water flow around the swimmers
segment, and V = absolute velocity of the propelling arm. They assumed that since the pulling segments
segment relative to water flow. It follows from Eqn. of arms and legs move in a quasi-steady water flow,
10.5 that to create high total and effective pulling the vortex theory may explain better the mechanism
force the following conditions must be satisfied. of action of the propulsive force. This is especially
1 There should be a high velocity of interaction true for transitional periods of the pull, when the
of the propelling segments with water flow (both hand and forearm change sharply the direction
frontal and lift forces are proportional to the square (leading edge) and velocity of the pull. The mecha-
of the propelling segments velocity). nism of how the starting vortex and bound vortex
2 There should be optimal hydrodynamic orienta- (circulation) facilitate the pressure differential and
tion (pitch) of the segments relative to the water thus increase propulsive force is shown in Fig. 10.7
flow (selective maximization of CD and CL due to the (the so-called condition of Zhoukovsky).
continuously changing direction of the pull). The latest studies in aerodynamics have dis-
3 There should be optimal balance between the proved the Bernoulli principle as an explanation of
size of the segments projection on the pulling lift. This principle assumes equal transit time for
trajectory and the wing surface area creating lift. particles over and under the aerofoil. In fact, the
4 The pulling trajectory should have optimal ampli- upper-surface transit time is always less than that
tude and direction. below (Denker 1998). The generally accepted theory
Counsilman (1977), influenced by the studies of taught that the wing begins to produce lift as result
Schleihauf, also came to the conclusion that both of a starting vortex, which is formed behind the
drag and lift forces are equally important in creating trailing edge as the wing moves forward. This vor-
the effective propulsive force. Thus originated the tex causes circulation to appear around the wing.
lift and drag theory of swimming propulsion. The With this circulation superimposed on passing flow,
results of Schleihaufs studies on the relationship of the upper-surface air velocity becomes greater than
hydrodynamic drag and lift forces developed by the that below. The flaw in this explanation is that there
biokinematic pair armforearm facilitated a better are no known physical principles to explain how the
understanding of human aquatic locomotion and starting vortex can cause circulation. All that is
were used as the basis for subdividing arm pulls known is that a starting vortex really does occur, the
into four phases: downsweep, insweep, backsweep above-wing flow does have a greater velocity, and
and upsweep. the magnitude of the lift force is much greater than
would follow from Bernoullis principle even a
flat aerofoil can create effective lift under certain
The vortex theory and the complex mechanism
theory of swimming propulsion
Experiments in water tanks confirm that both lift
The vortex theory is widely used for the descrip- and drag forces occur when hand and forearm casts
tion and analysis of swimming in fish, and was are exposed to water flow or are moved relative to
introduced into sport swimming by Colwin (1984, standing water (Schleihauf 1974, 1979; Grinev 1977),
1992), who supported his theoretical speculations and both these forces contribute to propulsion in
on vortex theory by some video data obtained in aquatic locomotion. In practice, it is of little con-
sport swimming. He proposed that part of the cern exactly what is the reason of the lift, and which
kinetic energy lost by swimmers to the water mass theory is most accurate.
could be reabsorbed into pulling action from water Recently, the most widely accepted theory of
vortices. swimming propulsion is the lift-and-drag theory of
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propulsive forces in swimming 213

Accelerated motion Motion at uniform velocity

Flow V

Circulation Leading-edge vortex

(bound vortex)

Bound Starting
vortex Lift vortex
u P1
u P1 P2
+ u

(a) (b)

Fig. 10.7 The Vortex Theory: circulation (bound vortex) around the hand and the system of vortices behind the rear
surface of the hand create lift (condition of Zhoukovsky). Flow velocity above the wing: V1 = V u. Flow velocity below
the wing: V2 = V + u. Pressure differential: P = P2 P1 = 1/2 (V12 V22) = 2Vu (where u = flow velocity in bound vortex).

propeller-like pull (PLP). Hence, until a better dimensional drag coefficients of given segments;
theory of aquatic propulsion is developed, we and Vi and Vi+1 = velocities of segments interaction
would like to focus on the lift-and-drag concept in with water flow. The shoulder has the least S C
order to discuss the following topics: product and least propulsive potential. The fore-
under what conditions does the hydrodynamic arm and hand have approximately equal S C
reaction force originate on working segments? products since the smaller support area of the
what is the potential of arm and leg segments to hand is compensated by a greater drag coefficient
create propelling forces? and CDhand (Butovich & Chudovsky 1968; Bagrash et al.
what are the factors determining the efficiency of 1973).
pulling actions? etc. A decisive factor in determining the relationship
of hydrodynamic forces created by the arm seg-
ments is the velocity of their interaction with water
Hydrodynamic potential of arm
flow. The difference in angular and linear velocity of
arm segments relative to the axis of the shoulder
As mentioned above, propulsive forces created by joint determines the difference in absolute velocity
the swimmer are the result of the interaction of of the segments interaction with the water flow.
arm and leg segments with the water flow during Thus it determines the magnitude of total RF cre-
pulling movements. These propulsive forces by ated by each arm segment.
their nature are forces of hydrodynamic resistance. The angular and linear velocity increases from
The ratio of forces created by distinct segments of shoulder to hand proportionally with the increase
limbs is determined as: in the radius of rotation. Butovich and Chudovsky
(1968) and Makarenko (1975) showed that the
Fi+1/Fi = Si+1 Ci+1 Vi+12/Si Ci Vi2 (10.6)
average intra-cyclic linear velocity of the shoulder
where Fi and Fi+1 = hydrodynamic forces (N) of and RF created by the shoulder are negligible.
segments i and i + 1; Si and Si+1 = frontal surface Moreover, at some points in the pulling action the
area (m2) of segments i and i + 1; Ci and Ci+1 = non- shoulder creates a drag to the forward motion. Due
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214 locomotion

Number of lead

1 2 3 4 5 6

Fig. 10.8 Location of the tensioleads

P (g cm2 ) I 44.5 26.7 5.8 5.4 4.4 2 on a swimmers arm and maximal
II 54.3 25.0 6.1 6.0 4.1 1.9 values of the pressure. (Adapted
III 14.4 14.7 5.9 5.7 3.3 1.6 from Rumyantsev 1984.)

to active movements in the elbow and wrist joints value of leads 46) by the surface area of a segment
the forearm and hand have a significant advantage and corresponding relative drag coefficients it is
over the shoulder in terms of angular and linear possible to obtain the maximal relative hydro-
velocity. Thus only the forearm and hand of a swim- dynamic forces of arm segments. The magnitudes
mer create significant hydrodynamic reaction forces of drag coefficients at an angle of attack of 90 were,
(i.e. propulsive force). respectively: for hand 1.0, forearm 0.7, shoulder
Miller (1975), using a mathematical model of the 0.6 (data obtained during exposure of plaster cast
front crawl arm pull with bending of the elbow, of arm segments to water flow in the water tank;
found that the ratio of hydrodynamic forces of hand Butovich & Chudovsky 1968).
and forearm is about 2.5 : 1. Since she used a model Table 10.1 gives the values of hydrodynamic
which did not include hand movement at the wrist forces after correction (Rumyantsev 1982). These
joint, the hand and forearm were assumed to have measurements show that in conditions of natural
the same angle of attack relative to the water flow. In swimming (III) the hand creates about 7075% of
reality a swimmer uses minor hand movements at the total hydrodynamic force of the arm. A further
the wrist joint to give the hand the most efficient 20% or so is created by the distal half of the forearm.
position (Schleihauf 1979). Thus it may be assumed (N.B. These results were obtained for flat flow
that the ratio of hydrodynamic forces created by using arm casts exposed to water flow at a 90 angle
hand and forearm should be greater than the above of attack and the sole reaction force acting on the
value. arm segments is frontal (form) resistance.) The con-
Bagrash et al. (1973), using tensiometry, measured clusion may thus be made that the major propelling
hydrodynamic pressure on distinct arm segments
during front crawl swimming (46 male well-trained Table 10.1 Maximal intracyclic hydrodynamic force of
swimmers). The experiment included: arm segments during front crawl swimming. (From
1 tethered swimming using straight arm pull; Bagrash et al. 1973; adapted by Rumyantsev 1982.)
2 tethered swimming using pull pattern with elbow
bending; and Relative FI FII FIII
Arm segment S (cm2) Cx (N) (N) (N)
3 natural swimming.
Figure 10.8 depicts the location of pressure leads Hand 151 1.0 65.8 79.6 61.3
and corresponding magnitudes of maximal hydro- Forearm 221 0.7 24.1 23.6 15.6
dynamic pressure during tethered and free swim- Shoulder 217 0.6 5.0 5.1 4.4
ming (averaged for 20 strokes).
Cx = drag coefficient. FI = force during tethered
Multiplying the maximal pressure developed by swimming using straight-arm pull. FII = force during
a segment (for hand, readings of lead 1; for forearm, tethered swimming using elbow bending. FIII = force
mean value of leads 2 and 3; for shoulder, mean during natural swimming. S = surface area.
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propulsive forces in swimming 215

forces during swimming are generated by the hand positions (Counsilman 1968; Makarenko 1975;
and distal half of the forearm. It means that in Onoprienko 1981) show that the most effective
analysing hydrodynamic forces we can neglect any combinations for creating a high hydrodynamic
force produced by the shoulder (Schleihauf 1979; reaction are (Fig. 10.9):
Wood 1979). Schleihauf (1979) determined the effec- 1 flat palm with fingers and thumb held together;
tive propulsive force delivered by arm segments at a 2 flat palm with thumb apart; and
swimming speed of 1.66 m s1. The average pro- 3 flat palm with fingers and thumb held slightly
pulsive force delivered by the hand was 48 N, and apart.
the average effective forearm propulsive force Forms 1 and 2 are more effective for those phases
was 24 N. where the hand moves at sharp angles of attack to
the pulling direction and works as a hydrofoil.
Onoprienko (1981) stressed the important role of the
Drag and lift during different phases of
abducted thumb for fixing the hand at the wrist joint
pulling actions
and increasing the rigidity of the hand. Form 3 has
the advantage for phases where the hand moves
Effect of form and orientation of arm segments on
relatively straight backwards at an angle of attack
hydrodynamic forces
> 60 (an increase of the frontal hydrodynamic
Studies performed in water tanks using casts of the force despite a decrease of CDx when the fingers
hand with differently shaped palms and finger are slightly apart may be attributed to the greater

Fig. 10.9 The most efficient

hydrodynamic forms of the hand.
(From Makarenko 1996.)
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216 locomotion

Lift RF Lift RF

V of flow Drag
V of flow

= 30 =45


Lift RF

Drag =180 =0

=135 =45

= 45

Fig. 10.10 Sweepback angles and angles of attack of the hand.

supporting surface area). Analysis of underwater of the pitch of propelling segments on the magni-
movies and video recordings (Counsilman 1968, tude of hydrodynamic forces. He considered the
1977; Haljand 1984; Haljand et al. 1986) shows that armforearm model in terms of the characteristics
expert swimmers generally perform pulling actions of an aerofoil, namely the angle of attack () and
with some spreading of the fingers. The reason for sweepback angle (; French tangage). For a swimmer
this is still unknown. It may be that any advantage the angle of attack is the angle formed by the in-
in hydrodynamic reaction force when the fingers clination of the propelling surface (arm and leg
are held tightly together in a strong water flow is segments) to the direction of the pull, while sweep-
cancelled out by the excessive energy spent in keep- back angle defines the leading edge of the pro-
ing the fingers together. pelling segment.
The orientation ( pitch) of the armforearm relat- Figure 10.10 depicts the angles of attack and
ive to the 3-D flow is an important factor in deter- sweepback angles of the hand (arrows show the
mining the ratio of drag and lift forces, the total direction of flow). Analysis of the forces and hydro-
magnitude of the RF and the effective pulling force. dynamic (drag and lift) coefficients used a system
Schleihauf (1974, 1979) exposed plaster casts of the of coordinates where the x-axis related to the flow
hand to water flow in a tank to analyse the influence direction.
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propulsive forces in swimming 217

Schleihauf (1979) introduces the lift-to-drag index

Normal component of hydrodynamic reaction
to assess the predominant contribution of these
hydrodynamic lift (L)
two forces in the momentary value of the resultant
RF: Streamlining of the hand by water flow creates a
small (|CDy| < 0.2) normal force even at = 0
L/FD = 1/2 CDyV2S/1/2 CDxV2S
and = 90 (Reischle 1979; Schleihauf 1979). With
= CDy/CDx (10.7)
increased angle of attack () up to its critical value
where CDy = momentary value of coefficient of lift of (3035) the coefficient of normal reaction (CDy) also
the propelling segment, and CDx = momentary value increases, but beyond these critical values of it
of the drag coefficient. again decreases to 0 at a 90 angle of attack.
This formula may be used to determine the lift Changes in the form of the propelling segments,
and drag ratio in resultant RF for distinct phases of angle of attack and sweepback angle cause much
the arm pull and for the entire pull. If the value of greater variation in the normal component of the
the index > 1, then lift predominates; if < 1 then the hydrodynamic reaction than the frontal component
drag component is greater. (Table 10.3). The greatest variation of CDy due to
changes of magnitude of the sweepback angle was
found for angles of attack below 60. For angles
Frontal component of the hydrodynamic RF
of attack greater than 60 the absolute values and
(frontal drag, FD)
dynamics of CDy become very similar at different
In experiments involving streamlining the hand sweepback angles.
casts and increasing the angle of attack the co- Separation of the fingers significantly decreases
efficient of the frontal force, CDx, increases ex- the normal component (lift), while thumb abduction
ponentially and achieves its maximum at an angle increases the lift. The maximal value of CDy for the
of 90. The form of the propelling segment and hand occurred with the thumb abducted to 75%
the sweepback angle also influence the magnit- of its maximal amplitude (Schleihauf 1979). It may
ude of CDX and FD at different angles of attack be concluded that when it is necessary to create
(Table 10.2). significant lift, as in sculling movements ( < 35),
the most efficient hand position is with the fingers
held together and the thumb apart.

Table 10.2 The impact of the form of the propelling surface and sweepback angles on the magnitude of frontal reaction at
given angles of attack.

Authors Method Position of fingers Cxmaximal

Schleihauf (1979) Hand casts exposed to Thumb apart from fingers 0 7590 1.35
flow in water channel 90 90 1.40
180 80 90 1.30
270 70 80 1.40
Fingers 46 mm apart, 0 85 1.15
thumb apart
Wood (1979) Hand casts, aerochannel, Fingers together 90 90 1.10
V = 40 m s1 Fingers tightly adducted, 90 90 1.07
palm concave
Fingers apart 90 90 1.07

= sweepback angle; = angle of attack; Cx = hydrodynamic coefficient of frontal RF.

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218 locomotion

Table 10.3 Impact of the form of the propelling surface and its sweepback angle on the maximal normal component of
hydrodynamic reaction at given angles of attack.

Authors Form of propelling segment and finger positions Cymaximal

Schleihauf (1979) Hand cast

Fingers together, thumb abducted 90 0 15 0.85
90 55 0.65
180 30 0.85
270 35 1.10
Fingers together, thumb abducted 67.5 0 4045 0.80
Fingers 3.2 mm apart, thumb at 67.5 0 4550 0.70
Fingers 6.4 mm apart, thumb at 67.5 0 4555 0.50
Fingers together, thumb at 45 0 50 0.70
Wood (1979) Hand-forearm cast
Fingers together 0 55 0.60
90 50 1.07
180 35 0.46
Fingers together, hand concave 0 55 0.68
90 50 1.01
180 35 0.57
Fingers apart 0 60 0.53
90 55 0.88
180 15 0.44

= sweepback angle; = angle of attack; Cy = coefficient of the lift (normal force).

It should be stressed that most effective coefficients

The resulting hydrodynamic reaction force (RF)
of hydrodynamic reaction (CD) occur when the
The momentary magnitude of the resulting hydro- angle of attack of the armforearm 30. Swimmers
dynamic force created by the hand and forearm strive for this degree of flow streamlining during the
is determined by the form of the handforearm main phase of the pull. According to the data of
connection, angle of attack, sweepback angle and Schleihauf (1979) and Cappaert (1998) the angle of
absolute velocity of the arm and forearm in respect attack of the hand and forearm at the instant when
to 3-D water flow. they develop maximal RF and effective pulling force
In the course of the pull a swimmer varies and is within the range 6075. However, during the ini-
of the hand and forearm in order to use effectively tial (insweep) and transitional phases of the pull
both drag and lift forces to create a high resulting RF swimmers use sharp angles of attack (Schleihauf
and effective pulling force. With an angle of attack 1979).
() between 10 and 35 the resulting hydrodynamic Much smaller hydrodynamic reaction is pro-
force is created predominantly by the normal (lift) duced when the angle of attack of the propelling
component (CDy/CDx 1.33). Within the range segments is 1015. Values in this range are used
3555 the RF of the hand is formed by equal contri- by swimmers during the parts of the recovery that
butions of normal and frontal (drag) components are performed under water (arm entry and exit in
(CDy/CDx = 0.75 1.33). With angles of attack of the front and back crawl and butterfly, forward sweep
hand >55 the RF is formed predominantly by the in breaststroke).
drag (CDy/CDx 0.75). When the angle of attack is It is worth mentioning the strong relationship
greater than 75 the resulting hydrodynamic reac- between the RF and sweepback angle of the hand.
tion force is formed almost exclusively by the drag. Thus a hand orientation with = 15 and = 0
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propulsive forces in swimming 219

gives 31% greater RF than with = 15 and = 45. 2 The relationship of the velocity of a swimmers
Increasing the angle of attack by 10 ( = 25) at GCM motion to the relative velocity of the pro-
= 0 creates 8% less RF than at = 25 and = 45 pelling segments (VGCM/Vhand). The closer to 1 is
(Schleihauf 1979; Rumyantsev 1982). this ratio, the greater the advantage in velocity of
interaction with water flow, the better support reac-
tion attains the swimmer.
Comparison of the oar-like pull (OLP)
3 Speed-strength abilities and strength endurance
and curvilinear pull (CLP)
of the swimmer. These determine the changes in
It is now firmly established that efficient arm pull kinematic and dynamic characteristics of the pulling
patterns begin with active overtaking rotational actions during an entire race (angle of arm flexion in
movements of the hand and forearm at the elbow elbow joint, stroke rate, stroke distance, etc.).
and wrist joints with respect to the shoulder (Coun- 4 The range of movement and flexibility of the
silman 1968, 1977; Makarenko 1975; Haljand et al. joints, which limit the possible variations in the posi-
1986). This technique is characterized by a gradual tion of the pulling segments relative to the water
increase of the hydrodynamic RF and its effective flow and direction of locomotion.
component (Counsilman 1977; Schleihauf et al. 1979; 5 Development of the kinesthetic sense (feeling for
Haljand et al. 1986; Maglischo 1993). It helps to avoid water), allowing manipulation of the parameters
significant angular accelerations of the arm seg- of pulling actions. Schleihauf (1979) assumed that
ments and sudden changes in intracycle velocity of CLP requires more perfect feeling for the water
the swimmer. Unskilled swimmers have been found than OLP.
to have a rapid increase of hydrodynamic reaction Schleihauf (1979) showed that in elite swimmers
at the beginning of the pull followed by chaotic the propulsive part of the arm pull in every stroke
changes (Counsilman 1977; Schleihauf 1979). shows the following.
During the preliminary phase the total RF and 1 Patterns with exaggerated curvilinear trajectory
effective pulling force increase gradually with an of armforearm movement:
increase of the angle of attack and velocity of the (a) pulls with predominantly transverse move-
hand and forearm. At the moment of entry into the ments of the hand and forearm; and
water the hand with fingers together creates a minor (b) pulls with significant change of the depth of
resistive force. At the same time extension of the the pull.
arm over the head improves the streamlining of the In these pulling patterns the propulsive force is cre-
head and shoulders and reduces total HDR. This ated predominantly by the normal (lift) component
effect is facilitated by the positive vertical compon- of hydrodynamic reaction and efficient propulsive
ent of the RF created by the hand. force may be created in all phases of the pull.
During the transitional phase there is a gradual 2 Patterns with a relatively straight trajectory. Here
decrease of the angle of attack of the hand and fore- the propelling force is created predominantly by the
arm, and the magnitude of RF and effective pulling frontal pressure force, mainly in the middle part of
force also decreases. the pull while the hand moves backwards.
In the middle part of the arm pull the propulsive The CLP has some advantages over the OLP.
force is created by roughly equal contributions of Thus in order to achieve an equal absolute velocity
the normal and frontal components of RF. An opti- of interaction with water flow the CLP utilizes a
mal relationship of these two components is deter- lower relative backward velocity of the arm seg-
mined by a number of factors. The most important ments and requires much less effort to overcome
are as follows. their inertia than OLP (Table 10.4 gives mass-
1 Rules for particular swimming disciplines limit inertial characteristics of the propelling segments).
the direction and amplitude of movements, and This advantage of the CLP depends upon swim-
their timing. ming velocity. During swimming at low velocities a
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220 locomotion

OLP allows greater transformation of the hydro-

Table 10.4 Relative mass (% of total body mass) of arm
and leg segments in adult males. (From Zatsiorsky et al. dynamic reaction force into an effective propulsive
1981.) force during swimming.
Thus it may be concluded that both pulling pat-
Segment Mass of segment/body mass 100% terns have high propulsive potential. However, the
use of OLP and CLP in individuals will depend
Hand 0.61
Forearm 1.62 on a number of hydrodynamic and biomechanical
Upper arm 2.71 (anatomical) factors.
Foot 1.37
Lower leg 4.33
Upper leg 14.17 Normal and frontal components of
propulsion in different swimming
swimmer using OLP is able to achieve (by increas- The amount by which the hydrodynamic reaction
ing relative arm velocity) the same velocity of force may deviate from the direction of propulsion
armforearm interaction with water flow as in CLP. depends on the swimming stroke. In synchro-
So the advantage of CLP will be only in the smaller symmetrical swimming strokes (e.g. breaststroke
effort needed to overcome the inertia of the pulling and butterfly) transverse components of the hydro-
segments. At maximal swimming velocity, when dynamic force are mutually discharged and vertical
the relative backward velocity of the pulling seg- components are used efficiently for body support.
ments is limited by the speed-strength abilities of an In swimming strokes with alternate arm and leg
athlete, the OLP does not allow such a high velocity movements (front and back crawl) it is necessary to
of armforearm interaction with the flow as in CLP. avoid significant deviation of the hydrodynamic
As the external load increases with increased swim- reaction force from the swimming direction, since
ming velocity the angle of arm bending at the elbow this may cause undesirable sideways and vertical
joint also increases (Butovich & Chudovsky 1968; deviation of the body and thus increase the hydro-
Counsilman 1977). This movement is aimed at util- dynamic resistance. It follows that during butterfly
izing the angles of maximal force (AMF) and is and (especially) breaststroke swimming, the pulling
accompanied by a deviation of the armforearm action may be closer to a CLP and even a propeller-
trajectory from the direction of motion. like pulling pattern than occurs during front and
Apart from the advantage in velocity of interac- back crawl. Assessment of the relative contribution
tion of the propelling segments with the water flow, of the lift and drag in the resultant RF and effective
the CLP allows the pulling segments to find still pulling force may be made on the basis of the data
water and thus increase the stroke distance while given in Table 10.5. For different swimming strokes
maintaining the optimal stroke rate. Moreover, the the combination of drag and lift force and the distri-
longer duration of arm interaction with the flow bution of total and effective hydrodynamic force
(longer pulling trajectory) of CLP may create a within the swimming cycle will vary significantly.
greater impulse of RF than OLP. The lift-and-drag index, diagonality index and force
The main advantage of OLP is the utilization of distribution index show that lift predominates over
most effective coefficients of hydrodynamic reac- drag force in breaststroke. In freestyle and butterfly
tion due to high angles of attack ( = 55 75), while lift and drag forces appear to be about equally
CLP achieves lower values of CDx as it utilizes much important during the major portion of the propuls-
smaller angles of attack. Thus a smaller velocity of ive phases of the pull. In backstroke, swimmers use
arm interaction with water flow in OLP may be drag force more than lift force (i.e. sculling move-
compensated by a greater CDx. Due to effective ments are less important for backstroke than for
armforearm orientation and direction of pull the breaststroke, butterfly or freestyle).
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propulsive forces in swimming 221

Table 10.5 Characteristics of pulling motion curve-linearity in four competitive swimming strokes.

Diagonality Lift-and-drag Force distribution

Stroke index* index index

Freestyle 59 13 1.04 0.28 0.82 0.07

Butterfly 44 21 0.95 0.39 0.81 0.06
Backstroke 47 17 0.77 0.21 0.58 0.13
Breaststroke 81 9 1.25 0.21 0.65 0.13

* The diagonality index is the average angle of the negative hand line of motion and
the forward direction at the points of first, second and third maximal RF production.
The lift-and-drag index is the average ratio of lift and drag forces (CL/CD) at the
three largest occurrences of RF.
The force distribution index is the average location of the three largest occurrences
of RF expressed as a percentage of the total duration of the underwater phase of the
arm pull.

Figure 10.11a d shows a hand propulsive force ments and maintenance of high and relatively uni-
diagram (combination of lift and drag force into form intracyclic velocity.
resultant RF), intracyclic dynamics and impulse of Table 10.6 shows the phases of the arm cycle in
total and effective propulsive forces in four swim- all swimming strokes. The main feature of such a
ming strokes (Schleihauf 1979). These graphs char- subdivision of the cycle into phases is the prevail-
acterize the rhythmical structure of the pull and ing direction of the vector of hand velocity within
values of forces applied by swimmers in distinct the system of immobile orthogonal coordinates
phases of the pull. The largest effective propulsive (Schleihauf 1979).
forces in freestyle and butterfly occur near the end The objective of the initial phase is to prevent any
of the arm pull (after the hand passes two-thirds decrease of intracyclic velocity, start acceleration of
of the pull). In breaststroke the largest effective the body, and move the pulling segments to their
propulsive force occurs at the midpoint of the most effective position in readiness for the main
inward sculling motion of the hands. part. In this phase the hand and forearm work as
hydrofoils. The acceleration of the body GCM dur-
ing the initial pulling phase is created in breast-
The cycle of arm movements and
stroke and butterfly by leg kick (the transfer of the
phases of arm pull
pulling effort from legs to arms). In front and back
The swimming cycle or cycle of swimming movements crawl this initial acceleration is accomplished by the
as a multiple repeated system of movements con- main phase of pull of the opposite arm (transfer of
sists of a preliminary part (recovery) and a working the pulling effort from one hand to another) and
part (pull). The recovery is aimed at restoring the also by utilization of kinetic energy (inertia) of the
working posture of the arms or legs, while the pull entire system.
creates the propulsive force. The objective of the main phase is to achieve max-
A single cycle is characterized by a beginning and imal intracyclic velocity. During the main phase the
end, and intervening phases which differ in their hand and forearm maintain an optimal orientation
kinematic and dynamic characteristics and have relative to the water flow and direction of motion.
distinct motor objectives. The optimal duration of From an anatomical point of view the main phase
each phase within the swimming cycle is necessary can be subdivided into two parts: pull and push.
for the effective coordination of swimming move- The boundary point between these parts is the
BOSC10 28/07/2004 10:20 Page 222

Bottom view Bottom view D=74.0



L=55.0 L=62.6

V = 3.0 AP= 38 V=3.3 AP=34

Side view Side view


L= 94.4

R=190 R=136.8

V = 3.8 V=3.3
AP = 41 AP=40

D=139.4 D= 98.9

Hand force vs. time B Hand force vs. time

R 125 R
150 RE RE
RE 100 RE
Hand force (N)

Hand force (N)

100 75


0 0

Time (1/66s) Time (1/66s)

(a) (b)

Fig. 10.11 Impulse of resultant and effective reaction force in four competitive swimming strokes: (a) freestyle; (b)
butterfly; (c) backstroke; and (d) breaststroke. AP, angle of pitch (degrees); V, absolute hand velocity relative to water
flow (m s1); D, frontal drag component; L, lift component; RF, resultant reaction force. (a) bottom view, middle of stroke;
side view, finishing sweep motion; hand force vs. time, R, resultant force; RE, resultant effective force. (b) bottom view, inward
BOSC10 28/07/2004 10:20 Page 223

Side view Side view

R= 62.9

Side view L= 56.0

V = 2.6 AP = 30
V=3.2 AP=24

Bottom view L=46.0

V= 3.2 AP=49 Bottom view

L = 40.8

Side view

L= 65.5
V = 3.1
AP = 52
R = 71.0
D = 58.1

V =3.6 AP=12

AP = 46

Hand force vs. time Hand force vs. time

60 RE 80 RE
Hand force (N)

Hand force (N)

A 60

30 40 A


0 0

Time (1/66s) Time (1/50s)

(c) (d)

scull motion; side view, finishing sweep motion. (c) side view: midstroke; side view, downward sweep; bottom view, inward
sweep; side view, upward sweep. (d) side view, downward sweep; bottom view, inward scull motion. (From Schleihauf
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224 locomotion

Table 10.6 The structure of the arm cycle in competitive swimming strokes.

Phases of cycle

Pull (working part)

Swimming stroke Initial Main Transitional Preliminary part (recovery)

Front crawl 5
Back crawl 6 Downsweep Insweep- Upsweep Exit and movement Entry and extension
Butterfly 7 outsweep above water forwards
Breastroke Outsweep Insweep Arm stretch

moment when the hand crosses the transverse plane breaststroke). This allows a high velocity of inter-
(y-z) passing through the shoulder joint. The push is action with the water flow to be developed at any
the most vigorous, decisive part of the pull, and swimming velocity.
maximal intracycle swimming velocity occurs dur- 3 The muscle groups of the legs are significantly
ing the last two-thirds of the push. stronger than those of the arms (Onoprienko 1981).
In the course of the transitional phase (end of the In sport swimming these features play a minor
pull) the hand and forearm create mostly vertical role for creating effective propulsive forces. In fin-
and lateral reaction forces to lever out the negative swimming the propelling surface area of the lower
forces (gravity, inertia). Another motor objective of extremities is increased more than twofold, giving
the transitional phase in front crawl, backstroke and a three- to fourfold increase in hydrodynamic RF
butterfly is to achieve arm exit with minimal resist- and a 1.5- to 2-fold increase in swimming velocity
ance to forward motion of the body. (Onoprienko 1981).
The objective of the recovery phase is to restore Due to the orientation of the foot and lower leg
the initial position of the arm for the start of the next relative to the water flow and direction of motion
cycle with minimal effort. The inertia of the arm seg- these high hydrodynamic forces act mostly in a ver-
ment (in butterfly and breaststroke inertia of the tical direction and only a small fraction of them
upper body as well) may be utilized to minimize the acts straightforwards in the direction of motion.
fluctuation of the intracyclic velocity. Consequently, leg kick creates a smaller effective
propulsive force than arm pull. In front and back
crawl about 15% of the total propulsive force is
Biodynamics of leg movements in
created by leg kick. In butterfly stroke the contri-
bution of leg kick propulsion is greater, maybe
up to 2025%. The exception is breaststroke, in
The role of leg movements in propulsion
which approximately equal proportions of the
Leg actions are able to create greater hydrodynamic total propulsive force are created by leg and arm
forces than arm actions (Butovich & Chudovsky movements.
1968; Bagrash et al. 1973; Belokovsky & Kuznetsov Despite the limitations of legs as propelling
1976; Haljand 1984, 1986). There are several reasons agents, leg movements create useful propulsive
for this. forces in every swimming stroke at any swimming
1 Legs possess significantly greater propelling sur- velocity (Persyn et al. 1975; Onoprienko 1981).
face area. Besides contributing to propulsion, leg movements
2 The relative movement of the feet during the also perform several very important compensatory
working phase has no backward part (except in functions (Butovich & Chudovsky 1968; Makarenko
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propulsive forces in swimming 225

1975; Persyn et al. 1975; Haljand et al. 1986). They The values of the maximal intracycle pressure
serve to: forces for distinct leg segments are given in Table
neutralize the negative forces (gravity and iner- 10.7. Calculations were based on: (i) for footread-
tia) and transverse components of hydrodynamic ings of lead 1; (ii) for lower legaverage readings of
reaction force made by pulling actions; leads 2 and 3; (iii) for upper legaverage readings of
smooth the intracycle fluctuations of swimming leads 4, 5 and 6.
velocity; It was found that in natural swimming the foot
maintain a high and streamlined body position; created about 70% of the legs hydrodynamic reac-
regulate the velocity and amplitude of body rota- tion. Another 20% of RF is created by the lower leg.
tion around the longitudinal axis in front and back The foots contribution to propulsion appears more
crawl and around the transverse axis during breast- significant if one takes into consideration its advan-
stroke and butterfly; tage in space orientation in water flow (Counsilman
facilitate the propulsive phases of arm pull; and 1977). The intracyclic dynamics of the hydrody-
unify all movements in a single system, the swim- namic reaction force vary significantly from stroke
ming cycle. to stroke and from individual to individual. It may
be concluded that the main propelling segments of
the leg are the foot and distal half of the lower leg.
Hydrodynamic potential of leg segments

The contribution of leg segments to propulsion is

determined by the velocity of their interaction with Table 10.7 Maximal intracyclic hydrodynamic forces
the water flow, their surface area and their hydro- developed by the leg segments during front crawl
swimming. (From Bagrash et al. 1973; adapted by
dynamic coefficients. Bagrash et al. (1973) used Rumyantsev 1982.)
tensiometry to measure hydrodynamic pressure
experienced by distinct leg segments during front Leg Relative FI FII FIII
crawl swimming under the following conditions, segments S (cm2) CD (N) (N) (N)
denoted IIII:
Foot 185 1.0* 94.1 126.0 110.4
Iduring tethered swimming using straight leg kick Lower leg 301 0.7 33.1 46.7 38.3
without noticeable knee flexion; Upper leg 580 0.7 7.5 11.8 9.4
IIduring tethered swimming with natural leg kick;
IIIduring free swimming. CD = coefficient of hydrodynamic resistance. FI = force
Figure 10.12 shows the location of tensioleads on during tethered swimming using straight leg kick without
noticeable knee flexion. FII = force during swimming
a swimmers leg and the corresponding maximal with natural leg kick. FIII = force during free
values of hydrodynamic pressure (average for 20 swimming. S = surface area.
cycles) in conditions I, II and III. * CD of the foot was conditionally accepted as 1.0.

Number of lead

1 2 3 4 5 6

Fig. 10.12 Location of tensioleads on P (gcm2) I 51.9 27.8 4.3 3 1.8 1.1
swimmers leg. (Data from Bagrash II 69.5 39.3 6.0 5.1 2.3 1.5
et al. 1973.) III 60.9 33.1 4.0 3.7 2.0 1.4
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226 locomotion

in all leg joints. The advantage of leg kick with knee

The form and orientation of the leg (foot) in water
flexionextension over straight leg kick corresponds
flow and 3-D space
to the advantage of arm pull with flexion in elbow
The question of the influence of the form and ori- and wrist over the straight arm pull.
entation of the leg on hydrodynamic forces remains A selective increase in the angular velocity of the
open. Onoprienko (1981) studied the influence of proximal segments (upper leg) has a fundamental
the limited range of angle of attack on frontal re- impact on leg kick due to the mass-inertial char-
sistance of the foot at a flow velocity of 2.0 m s1. acteristics of the leg segments (see Table 10.4).
He found that during interaction of water flow with Transition from the distal to the proximal segment
the frontal surface of feet in the range of angles of the leg involves a much greater increase in muscle
60 90 ( = 90) there was moderate increase of mass compared with a similar transition along the
frontal drag (FX at = 90/FX at = 60 = 1.08) due to arm. The muscles of the upper leg begin acceleration
an increase in the propelling surface of the foot. of the leg during the working phase. Coordination
When water flow interacts with the internal surface of the joint movements of the leg segments is charac-
of the foot ( = 90) at a 90 angle of attack ( = 90) terized by an overtaking movement of the upper leg
there is much less hydrodynamic reaction than at relative to the lower leg and foot. During the crawl
= 0 (FX at = 0/FX at = 90 = 1.28). The reduction and butterfly the hip begins an upward movement
of frontal hydrodynamic reaction was a result of while the lower leg and foot are still accelerating
reduction of CD with change of flow direction relat- downwards. This pattern of leg movement has been
ive to the foot (CD at = 0/CD at = 90 = 1.13) due to called whip-like movement. Thus during a leg kick
a decrease in the supporting area. The change of there is consecutive transformation of the torque of
from 45 to 90 ( = 90) gives an increase of sup- internal and external forces from the hip joint to the
porting area (from 200 to 223 cm2) and decrease of knee joint and ankle joint, with a gradual increase of
hydrodynamic pressure from 0.32 to 0.28 N cm2. amplitude and angular velocity of segments from
As a result FX varied insignificantly. the hip to the foot (Haljand 1986; Table 10.8).
Though leg movements are able to create a high The maximal intracyclic value of the leg kicks
resultant hydrodynamic RF, due to space orienta- propelling force is recorded, as a rule, during the
tion of the foot and lower leg, the major component second quarter of leg extension at the knee joints
of the hydrodynamic reaction is directed along the (Haljand 1984). This is delivered by effective space
vertical axis downwards (upwards in backstroke). orientation and high angular velocity of the foot.
The transverse component is also significant while After this moment, if there is no need to create
the component of hydrodynamic reaction in the significant vertical force, the swimmer can decrease
direction of locomotion is small. the relative velocity of knee extension and finish
Since during natural swimming at high velocity the movement using leg inertia. This technique
the foot of a skilled swimmer does not move back- facilitates the efficiency of the leg kick. With
wards relative to the system of immobile coordin-
ates (Makarenko 1975; Reischle 1979), propulsive
Table 10.8 Angular amplitude () and velocity () of leg
forces are delivered predominantly by the normal
kick in hip joint and knee joint during butterfly swimming
component of hydrodynamic reaction. Consequ- in skilled swimmers. (From Haljand 1974; adapted by
ently, leg actions develop a much smaller effective Vorontsov 1981.)
propulsive force than arm actions (except in breast-
stroke and butterfly). Joint Type of movement (E SD) (E SD)

Hip Extension 24 3 140 43

Coordination of joint movements of the leg Flexion 30 7 151 64
segments during leg kick Knee Flexion 67 19 261 39
Extension 62 14 420 101
The most effective kicking patterns use movements
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propulsive forces in swimming 227

increased swimming velocity kicking movements Rolling of the body along its longitudinal axis in
with reduced amplitude and high tempo are more the front and back crawl helps the swimmer to uti-
efficient. A fast and narrow leg kick provides a high lize the massive and strong muscles of the back and
velocity of foot interaction with the water flow and breast and, thus, increase the muscle draught and
reduces the negative effect of resistance and inertia resultant RF. This rotation also assists recovery of
forces during leg recovery. the opposite arm over the water and reduces trans-
verse movements of the arms.

Contribution of the core body in

swimming propulsion Characteristics of a rational swimming
Since a swimmers body is subject to hydrodynamic
resistance it is important that it undergoes locomotor Countless attempts to quantify the average values
reconfigurationthe ability to change its form and of spatial, time-spatial and dynamic (kinetic)
rigidity in order to reduce hydrodynamic resist- characteristics of pulling and kicking patterns in
ance (HDR) and transfer the effort from segment world-class swimmers have failed due to the huge
to segment. Of course, this ability is developed variability of these parameters (Counsilman 1968,
in humans much less than in sea mammals and 1977; Makarenko 1975; Schleihauf 1979; Schleihauf
fishes. Nevertheless, it is commonly held that one et al. 1988; Maglischo 1993). This variability stems
of the fundamental differences between the elite from the significant differences demonstrated by
and ordinary swimmer is the ability to reduce HDR world-class swimmers in body type and composi-
during swimming (Counsilman 1968; Toussaint & tion, level of basic and complex physical abilities
Beek 1992; Maglischo 1993). (flexibility, maximal strength, rapidity, speed-
Colwin (1984, 1992) has introduced into swim- strength, explosive strength, etc.). Nevertheless, it is
ming theory the term kinematic streamlining. Refer- possible to establish certain principles and qualita-
ring to the swimmer, this term perhaps has a tive characteristics of a rational swimming tech-
narrower meaning than locomotor reconfiguration. nique. Individual techniques should satisfy these
It presumes the synchronization of body and limb principles in order to develop a highly effective pro-
alignment with peaks of armforearm acceleration pulsive force and achieve high swimming velocities.
during the pull in order to reduce: (i) the frontal sur-
face area exposed to water flow and turbulence in
Effective use of lift and drag to create a high
body wake; and (ii) wave resistance. Hence, propul-
supportive RF
sive forces will predominate over resistive ones (see
Eqn. 10.1) and swimming velocity will increase Effective pulling patterns employ complex curvi-
significantly. linear or diagonal motions in the course of which a
The body of a swimmer can contribute directly to swimmer constantly changes the pitch of the arm
propulsion with undulating movements, especially forearm and the direction of motion. Thus, lift and
in the butterfly and breaststroke (Persyn et al. 1992; drag forces are combined in a high resultant RE and
Coleman et al. 1998). Coleman et al. (1998) came to effective pulling force. At every point of the curvi-
the conclusion that in breaststroke the forces cal- linear pulling trajectory the propelling segments
culated on the basis of instantaneous velocity interact with the standing undisturbed water and
and acceleration of the body, differ in timing and shift a larger mass of the water over a shorter distance.
amount from the forces due to hand motion, calcu- The smaller the backward displacement of the pro-
lated accordingly to the algorithms of Schleihauf pelling segments in respect to the immobile system
using drag and lift coefficients. They used visualiza- of orthogonal coordinates, the higher the efficiency
tion of water flow in the body wake to show that of the working movements. In the front crawl, top-
added water mass may contribute to stabilization and class swimmers demonstrate a backward displace-
even increase the velocity of the body GSM. ment of the hand within the range 0.40.5 m while
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228 locomotion

less skilled swimmers have hand displacements of with every change of pulling direction. Corres-
0.60.7 m and more (Issurin & Kostyuk 1978). pondingly, intracyclic propulsive force changes in
pulses. The first largest peak of muscle effort occurs
during the pulling part of underwater movement
High elbow position during arm pull
when the angle between the forearm and the direc-
One of the distinct features of a rational swimming tion of motion is about 45, and the angle between
technique is an arm pull with a high elbow position the forearm and shoulder is approximately 160.
relative to the hand. From the point of view of The final part of the pulling phase and first half of
hydrodynamics, an overtaking rotational movement the push phase is performed by active extension of
of the armforearm relative to that of the shoulder the shoulder with utilization of the hand and fore-
(elbow bending) gives working segments their most arm as a supporting surface. Shoulder extension
efficient form and position (increase of CD hand, Shand gradually slows during the latter half of the push
and CD forearm, Sforearm) in the water flow and pro- phase, and active extension of the elbow take place.
vides high resultant RF. The movement of the elbow The second largest pulse of RF occurs during the last
joint also facilitates muscle draught to balance the third of the push.
high value of hydrodynamic reaction.
Maintaining uniform high intracyclic
Using angles of maximal force during pulling swimming velocity
actions: coordination of joint movements
Swimming is a cyclical locomotion during which
The biomechanical chains of the human motor the working phases alternate with preliminary
apparatus are able to exert maximal joint torque movements needed to recover the initial working
in isolated movements when the limbs segments posture of the limbs. During the recovery phase
occupy a particular position relative to each other propulsive forces do not act on the swimmers body
and the core body. In this position the direction of and it is the subject of hydrodynamic drag and
muscle draught and the starting length of the mus- inertia. Hence the swimming velocity decreases
cles are optimal for delivering the maximal effort. until the working phase of the next swimming cycle
The angles at which segments are disposed relative begins, when it starts to increase again.
to each other when the maximal force (muscle Fluctuations of intracyclic swimming velocity are
torque) is generated are called the angles of maximal inevitable since a significant part of pulling action is
force (AMF). During locomotion in water the swim- performed beyond the range of AMF and recovery
mer is trying to perform a significant part of the is necessary. The fluctuations necessitate additional
working movements within the range of AMF in the effort to accelerate the bodys GCM and overcome
elbow, shoulder, hip and knee joints, to create max- the inertia of the body and added mass of the water
imal torque at the appropriate instants. (Issurin 1977). Thus velocity fluctuations increase
Arm pull in the front and back crawl and butterfly the energy cost of swimming.
is a complex movement. It consists of two parts: (i) The magnitude of intracyclic velocity fluctuations
pullingconsecutive flexing of the arm at the wrist may be reduced and average swimming velocity
and elbow joints and extension at the shoulder joint; increased by shortening the duration of recovery,
and (ii) pushing, performed by continuous exten- increasing the amplitude and frequency of the
sion at the shoulder joint accompanied by extension pulling actions, and improving the timing of arm
at the elbow and wrist joints. Each part has its own and leg movements.
zone of AMF. The two largest pulses of the RF dur-
ing arm pull (Fig. 10.12) are the result of the con-
Reduction of hydrodynamic resistance and action
secutive utilization of the AMF and highly precise
of negative forces
timing of joint movement in three joints. Swimmers
increase and decrease hand and forearm velocity The position of the head relative to the water level
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propulsive forces in swimming 229

and the horizontal alignment of the body affect supply. The consequent accumulation of lactic acid
the magnitude of frontal resistance (wave-making decreases the swimmers working capability.
resistance + form resistance) experienced by the During training every swimmer selects the most
swimmer. The swimmer should maintain the most effective individual ratio of SR and SD. The com-
streamlined position and keep the angle of attack fortable stroke rate seems to be the most stable
within a given range. individual characteristic, depending probably on
When a swimmer adopts a prone, streamlined the nature of the individuals nervous system and
position in the water the gravity force is balanced by muscle fibre composition. It changes very little
the upthrust (buoyancy force). During active swim- over multiyear training periods. The objective of
ming he/she needs to periodically lift the head and technical training is to develop maximal SD for a
part of the upper body to perform recovery and given individuals comfortable stroke rate.
inhalation. During these auxiliary movements the The value of stroke distance and its dynamics
weight of the out of the water body parts may during competitive racing are the important cri-
increase from 5 to 15 kg, giving rise to the sink- teria of stroke quality. It depends upon technical
ing force. To compensate for this sinking force and physical training (muscle power) and an indi-
the swimmer must apply an additional upwardly viduals feeling for the water.
directed force. Skilled swimmers usually perform
the recovery and auxiliary movements rapidly with
Conservation of mechanical energy within the
minimal lifting of body parts out of the water. The
system of swimmers movements
timing of arm and leg movements as well as trans-
verse arm movements during the pull is partly Efficient conservation of kinetic energy within the
designed to compensate or eliminate the negative swimming cycle is achieved by the following.
action of this sinking force. 1 Relatively rigid fixation of segments in joints dur-
ing pulling actions (e.g. fixation of the shoulder at
the beginning of the downsweep) altered by fixation
Optimal ratio of stroke rate to stroke distance
of the hand and forearm in the elbow and wrist
The stroke rate is the number of strokes or complete joints at the end of insweep-beginning of outsweep).
swimming cycles performed per unit time (usually 2 Locomotor reconfiguration of the body in order
per second). Stroke distance is the distance covered to store elastic energy, dampen oscillations of pro-
by a swimmer per stroke or per complete swimming pulsive force, and reduce HDR via:
cycle. Swimming velocity usually equates to the (a) optimal level of tension of body muscles
product of stroke rate and stroke distance: creating a relatively rigid frame on which are
transmitted the forces of hydrodynamic reaction
V = SR SD (10.8)
developed by the arm and leg movements;
where SR = stroke rate (pulls s1) , and SD = stroke (b) relaxation of non-active muscles; and
distance (m). (c) kinematic streamliningideal alignment of
It follows from Eqn. 10.8 that different ratios of SR the body at the instants of peak propulsive force.
and SD may result in the same swimming velocity, 3 Use of the kinetic energy (inertia) of the recover-
although an individual swimmer achieves a maximal ing segments to increase propulsive momentum.
swimming velocity only at one particular ratio of SR 4 Transfer of the kinetic energy of the moving seg-
and SD. Too high a stroke rate disturbs the coord- ments into potential energy of elastic deformation of
ination of the swimming movements since the muscles and tendons.
muscles are not able to relax during recovery and
thus fatigue sets in very rapidly. During swimming
with a low SR and high SD the swimmer has to
make an excessive effort in every stroke, which The authors are grateful to P. Brown for help in edit-
may increase the anaerobic fraction of total energy ing the manuscript.
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230 locomotion

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