Purpose: Competitive pool swimming events range in distance from 50 to 1500 m. Given the difference in performance times (±23-1000 s), the contribution of the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems changes considerably with race distance. In training practice the regression line between swimming distance and time (Distance = critical velocity × time + anaerobic swimming capacity) is used to determine the individual capacity of the aerobic and anaerobic pathways. Although there is confidence that critical velocity and anaerobic swimming capacity are fitness measures that separate aerobic and anaerobic components, a firm theoretical basis for the interpretation of these results does not exist. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the critical power concept and anaerobic swimming capacity as measures of the aerobic and anaerobic capacity using a modeling approach.
Methods: A systems model was developed that relates the mechanics and energetics involved in front crawl swimming performance. From actual swimming flume measurements, the time dependent aerobic and anaerobic energy release was modeled. Data derived from the literature were used to relate the energy cost of front crawl swimming to swimming velocity. A balance should exist between the energy cost to swim a distance in a certain time and the concomitant aerobic and anaerobic energy release. The ensuing model was used to predict performance times over a range of distances (50-1500 m) and to calculate the regression line between swimming distance and time.
Results and Conclusions: Using a sensitivity analysis, it was demonstrated that the critical velocity is indicative for the capacity of the aerobic energy system. Estimates of the anaerobic swimming capacity, however, were influenced by variations in both anaerobic and aerobic energy release. Therefore, it was concluded that the anaerobic swimming capacity does not provide a reliable estimate of the anaerobic capacity.