Introduction: Pacing strategy selection can exert a significant influence on performance in events where time to completion is the measure of success. However, few studies exist examining pacing in elite sport, with even less examining pacing in swimming.
Purpose: The objective of this study is to identify which type of pacing profiles are most prominently used in elite 400-m freestyle swimming.
Methods: Two hundred sixty-four swims from elite national and international competitions were analyzed in high-frequency pacing capture for mean speed (every 6% of the race). Each swim was subsequently categorized into one of six different pacing strategies through a computer algorithm and then performance analyzed in relation to completion time to the current world record, sex, and swimming suit used.
Results: Fast-start-even and parabolic pacing profiles were the most frequently used, irrespective of sex or swimming suit worn (120 and 89 swims, respectively). Although these strategies yielded closer performance times to the world record (96.08% ± 2.12% and 96.04% ± 2.2%, respectively) than other strategies, this difference was nonsignificant (F2,228 = 1.00, P > 0.05).
Conclusions: This is the first study using a large sample size in elite freestyle swimming to demonstrate that a fast-start-even and parabolic pacing strategy are most frequently used in elite competition. The performance benefits that these strategies may yield should be considered by coaches and athletes, with possible integration of pacing training before competition.