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The critical velocity in swimming

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In supra-maximal exercise to exhaustion, the critical velocity (cv) is conventionally calculated from the slope of the distance (d) versus time (t) relationship: d = I + St. I is assumed to be the distance covered at the expense of the anaerobic capacity, S the speed maintained on the basis of the subject’s maximal O2 uptake \((\dot{V}\hbox{O}_{\rm 2max}).\) This approach is based on two assumptions: (1) the energy cost of locomotion per unit distance (C) is constant and (2) \(\dot{V}\hbox{O}_{2\rm{max}}\) is attained at the onset of exercise. Here we show that cv and the anaerobic distance (d anaer) can be calculated also in swimming, where C increases with the velocity, provided that \(\dot{V}\hbox{O}_{2\rm{max}},\) its on-response, and the C versus v relationship are known. d anaer and cv were calculated from published data on maximal swims for the four strokes over 45.7, 91.4 and 182.9 m, on 20 elite male swimmers (18.9 ± 0.9 years, 75.9 ± 6.4 kg), whose \({\dot{V}}\hbox{O}_{2\rm{max}}\) and C versus speed relationship were determined, and compared to I and S obtained from the conventional approach. cv was lower than S (4, 16, 7 and 11% in butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and front crawl) and I (=11.6 m on average in the four strokes) was lower than d anaer. The latter increased with the distance: average, for all strokes: 38.1, 60.6 and 81.3 m over 45.7, 91.4 and 182.9 m. It is concluded that the d versus t relationship should be utilised with some caution when evaluating performance in swimmers.

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Correspondence to Paola Zamparo.

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di Prampero, P.E., Dekerle, J., Capelli, C. et al. The critical velocity in swimming. Eur J Appl Physiol 102, 165–171 (2008).

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