Estimation of body composition in competitive swimmers by means of three different techniques

Int J Sports Med. 1997 Jul;18(5):363-8. doi: 10.1055/s-2007-972647.


Up to now controversial reports have been published in regard to the beneficial effects of swimming, a non-weight-bearing activity, on bone mass (BM). Therefore, the aim of this study was to investigate the effects of competitive swimming practice on the bone mineral density (BMD) and bone mineral content (BMC) as well as on the different factors of body composition. For this purpose, competitive swimmers (16 males and 16 females) were selected as subjects in order to investigate the influence of swimming on the three main factors of body composition (BMC, lean body mass [LBM] and body fat [BF]) of the human body. The latter were estimated using three different approaches: the skinfold, the dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) and the whole body potassium (K-40) methods. Since BM and LBM are also related, the possible correlations between shoulder strength (extensions and flexion movements) and performance with BMD, BMC, LBM and BF were also investigated. Our results showed that BMD was not affected by swimming exercise since z (%) values were similar between swimmers and their respective age-matched controls. Swimmers also showed lower BF and increased LBM in the region of upper extremities (arms and trunk) as compared to their lower extremities (legs), a finding which is typical for the sport they are trained for. Also, comparison between sexes showed that males had a more central distribution of fat when compared to females, in which BF was built up in the region of legs. Furthermore, shoulder strength and performance were significantly related (p < 0.05) to age, BMC, and LBM while performance was also significantly related (p < 0.05) to all the other BM indices. So, mineralization of the bone is important for shoulder muscular strength which is subsequently related to performance. We used the DEXA because it enabled the direct estimation of the three factors of body composition (BM, BF and LBM).

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon
  • Adipose Tissue
  • Adult
  • Body Composition*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Bone Density
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Shoulder / physiology
  • Skinfold Thickness
  • Swimming / physiology*