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Analysis of Pacing Strategy Selection in Elite 400-m Freestyle Swimming


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: November 2012 - Volume 44 - Issue 11 - p 2205–2212
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182604b84
Applied Sciences

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 (F 2,228 = 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.

1Endurance Research Group, School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Kent, Chatham, Kent, England, UNITED KINGDOM; and 2Institute for Sport and Physical Activity Research, Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Bedfordshire, Bedford, England, UNITED KINGDOM

Address for correspondence: Alexis Mauger, PhD, School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Kent, Medway Campus, Chatham, Kent ME4 4AG, England, United Kingdom; E-mail:

Submitted for publication August 2011.

Accepted for publication May 2012.

©2012The American College of Sports Medicine