The mechanical efficiency of front crawl swimming

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1990 Jun;22(3):402-8.


In this study the gross efficiency of swimming was determined in a group of male (N = 6) and female (N = 4) competitive swimmers. The gross efficiency is defined as the ratio of the power output (W) to the power input (W). In a range of swimming velocities (0.95-1.6 m.s-1), the power input (rate of energy expenditure, 445-1137 W) was calculated from the oxygen uptake values (1.33-3.25 1 O2.min-1). The total power output (26-108 W) was directly measured during front crawl swimming using a system of underwater push-off pads instrumented with a force transducer (MAD-system). Using the MAD-system, the effect on total body drag due to the addition of the respiratory apparatus was evaluated to be negligible. The gross efficiency ranged from 5 to 9.5%. At equal swimming speed, the male competitive swimmers demonstrated a higher gross efficiency. However, this was due to the higher power output required by the male swimmers at a given speed. Gross efficiency was dependent on the absolute power output such that as power output increased so did the calculated gross efficiency. At the same power output, the values for the gross efficiency do not differ between the male and female competitive swimmers.

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Efficiency / physiology*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Swimming*