BACKGROUND: Pacing strategy, or how energy is distributed during exercise, can substantially impact athletic performance and is considered crucial for optimal performance in many sports. This is particularly true in swimming given the highly resistive properties of water and low mechanical efficiency of the swimming action.
OBJECTIVES: The aim of this systematic review was to determine the pacing strategies utilised by competitive swimmers in competition and their reproducibility, and to examine the impact of different pacing strategies on kinematic, metabolic and performance variables. This will provide valuable and practical information to coaches and sports science practitioners.
DATA SOURCES: The databases Web of Science, Scopus, SPORTDiscus and PubMed were searched for published articles up to 1 August 2017.
STUDY SELECTION: A total of 23 studies examining pool-based swimming competitions or experimental trials in English-language and peer-reviewed journals were included in this review.
RESULTS: In short- and middle-distance swimming events maintenance of swimming velocity is critical, whereas in long-distance events a low lap-to-lap variability and the ability to produce an end spurt in the final lap(s) are key. The most effective strategy in the individual medley (IM) is to conserve energy during the butterfly leg to optimise performance in subsequent legs. The pacing profiles of senior swimmers remain relatively stable irrespective of opponents, competition stage or type, and performance time.
CONCLUSION: Implementing event-specific pacing strategies should benefit the performance of competitive swimmers. Given differences between swimmers, there is a need for greater individualisation when considering pacing strategy selection across distances and strokes.