European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 111, Issue 3, pp 367–378

Energetics of swimming: a historical perspective

Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s00421-010-1433-7

Cite this article as:
Zamparo, P., Capelli, C. & Pendergast, D. Eur J Appl Physiol (2011) 111: 367. doi:10.1007/s00421-010-1433-7


The energy cost to swim a unit distance (Csw) is given by the ratio \( \dot{E}/v \) where \( \dot{E} \) is the net metabolic power and v is the swimming speed. The contribution of the aerobic and anaerobic energy sources to \( \dot{E} \) in swimming competitions is independent of swimming style, gender or skill and depends essentially upon the duration of the exercise. Csw is essentially determined by the hydrodynamic resistance (Wd): the higher Wd the higher Csw; and by the propelling efficiency (ηP): the higher ηP the lower Csw. Hence, all factors influencing Wd and/or ηP result in proportional changes in Csw. Maximal metabolic power \( (\dot{E}_{\max } ) \) and Csw are the main determinants of swimming performance; an improvement in a subject’s best performance time can more easily be obtained by a reduction of Csw rather than by an (equal) increase in \( \dot{E}_{\max } \) (in either of its components, aerobic or anaerobic). These sentences, which constitute a significant contribution to today’s knowledge about swimming energetics, are based on the studies that Professor Pietro Enrico di Prampero and his co-workers carried out since the 1970s. This paper is devoted to examine how this body of work helped to improve our understanding of this fascinating mode of locomotion.


Energy expenditureSwimming economySwimming efficiencyHydrodynamic resistance

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di Scienze Neurologiche e della Visione, Facoltà di Scienze MotorieUniversità di VeronaVeronaItaly
  2. 2.Department of PhysiologyNY University at BuffaloBuffaloUSA