Should sprinters perform aerobic training? This is a common question, especially with the emergence of USRPT and more sprint training in general. Overall, the contribution of the aerobic energy system in sprint swimming should guide swimming training in swimmers. Also, understanding energy system contribution during repeated swim swimming is important, once again, as USRPT and more sprint training become more prevalent in the sport.
Eight elite male swimmers (~20.3 years; 100m best time 53.92) swam a tethered apparatus. First, the swimmers performed an incremental swimming test, then on a separate day each swimmer performed a 30 second maximal intensity swim, based on their tethered swimming tests. After this, swimmers completed four 30s sprint time trials. During these tests, heart rate, blood samples, and expired air were recorded.
Force During Sprint Swimming
There was a significant linear relationship between increased applied resistive force and oxygen uptake during the four-stage incremental test. The mean force produced during the 30 s spring was 139 N, while the lowest was 113 N.
Fatigue During Repeated Sprint Swimming
Swimmers fatigued ~39% during the repeated swimming. Average VO2 was 33.2 mL/kg/min.
Aerobic Contribution During Single Sprint Swimming
Estimates of aerobic energy during the 50m is as low as 2% (Houston 1978). While other studies have found much higher contribution, between 15 – 32%. This study (Peyrebrune 2014) found aerobic metabolism contributes considerably to work during the 30 s swim and repeated sprints. In fact, it is estimated 33% aerobic energy contributed to a single 30 s sprint.
Aerobic Contribution During Repeated Single Sprint Swimming
After the fourth sprint, the aerobic contribution was 52%.
Aerobic Training for Sprinters
Elite sprinters likely have less than 33% aerobic contribution in sprint swimming, specifically during a 50-m, as a 50-m for elite men and women is much shorter than 30 seconds. Nonetheless, the 50-m utilizes the aerobic energy system, which justifies aerobic training. However, the traditional for of aerobic training may not be needed, as repeated sprints greatly stress the aerobic system. Some would argue repeated sprints cause more “race specific” technique, but it is unlikely a 200 easy swimming or 20×25 at 100 pace result in any stroke resembling a 50-m. All we know from this study is that there is a significant contribution of the aerobic system during a 30-second sprint, how to enhance this system is certainly debatable.
- Peyrebrune MC, Toubekis AG, Lakomy HK, Nevill ME. Estimating the energy contribution during single and repeated sprint swimming. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2014 Apr;24(2):369-76. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2012.01517.x. Epub 2012 Aug 16.
By Dr. G. John Mullen received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California and a Bachelor of Science of Health from Purdue University where he swam collegiately. He is the owner of COR, Strength Coach Consultant, Creator of the Swimmer’s Shoulder System, and chief editor of the Swimming Science Research Review.
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