European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 118, Issue 6, pp 1107–1118 | Cite as

Differences in kinematics and energy cost between front crawl and backstroke below the anaerobic threshold

  • Tomohiro Gonjo
  • Carla McCabe
  • Ana Sousa
  • João Ribeiro
  • Ricardo J. Fernandes
  • João Paulo Vilas-Boas
  • Ross Sanders
Original Article



The purpose of this study was to determine kinematic and energetic differences between front crawl and backstroke performed at the same aerobic speeds.


Ten male competitive swimmers performed front crawl and backstroke at a pre-determined sub-anaerobic threshold speed to assess energy cost (through oxygen uptake measurement) and kinematics (using three-dimensional videography to determine stroke frequency and length, intra-cycle velocity fluctuation, three-dimensional wrist and ankle speeds, and vertical and lateral ankle range of motion). For detailed kinematic analysis, resultant displacement, the duration, and three-dimensional speed of the wrist during the entry, pull, push, and release phases were also investigated.


There were no differences in stroke frequency/length and intra-cycle velocity fluctuation between the swimming techniques, however, swimmers had lower energy cost in front crawl than in backstroke (0.77 ± 0.08 vs 0.91 ± 0.12 kJ m−1, p < 0.01). Slower three-dimensional wrist and ankle speeds under the water (1.29 ± 0.10 vs 1.55 ± 0.10 and 0.80 ± 0.16 vs 0.97 ± 0.13 m s−1, both p < 0.01) and smaller ankle vertical range of motion (0.36 ± 0.06 vs 0.47 ± 0.07 m, p < 0.01) in front crawl than in backstroke were also observed, which indirectly suggested higher propulsive efficiency in front crawl.


Front crawl is less costly than backstroke, and limbs motion in front crawl is more effective than in backstroke.


Swimming Freestyle Backstroke Kinematics Energy Efficiency 



Three-dimensional ankle speed in relation to the speed of centre of mass


Three-dimensional wrist speed in relation to the speed of centre of mass


Anaerobic threshold


Energy cost


Centre of mass


Coefficient of variation


Intracycle velocity fluctuation


Range of motion


Stroke frequency


Stroke length


Swimming speed at anaerobic threshold intensity


Mean speed of the centre of mass during the upper limb cycle


Instructed speed


Mean swimming speed during the whole testing

\(\dot {V}{{\text{O}}_2}\)

Oxygen uptake


Internal work


Froude efficiency


Overall efficiency


Propelling efficiency


Author contributions

TG, CM, and RS conceived and designed research. TG, AS, JR, RF, and JV conducted data collection including protocol adjustment, participant recruitment, and testing. TG analysed data. TG wrote the manuscript. All authors read and approved the manuscript.


This work was supported by YAMAHA Motor Foundation for Sports (YMFS) International Sport Scholarship.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Supplementary material

421_2018_3841_MOESM1_ESM.docx (17 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 16 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Health and Sport SciencesUniversity of TsukubaTsukubaJapan
  2. 2.Institute for Sport, Physical Education & Health SciencesThe University of EdinburghEdinburghUK
  3. 3.Faculty of Life and Health SciencesUlster UniversityAntrimUK
  4. 4.Research Centre for Sports, Exercise and Human DevelopmentCIDESDVila RealPortugal
  5. 5.University Institute of Maia, ISMAIMaiaPortugal
  6. 6.Faculty of Sports, CIFI2D, and LABIOMEPUniversity of PortoPortoPortugal
  7. 7.Exercise and Sport Science, Faculty of Health SciencesThe University of SydneySydneyAustralia

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