5 km front crawl in pool and open water swimming: breath-by-breath energy expenditure and kinematic analysis



Breath-by-breath energy expenditure during open water swimming has not yet been explored in an ecological environment. This study aimed to investigate and compare energetics and kinematics of 5 km swimming, in both swimming pool and open water conditions.


Through four independent studies, oxygen uptake (\(\dot{V}\text{O}\)2) kinetics, heart rate (HR), blood lactate concentration ([La]) and glucose level (BGL), metabolic power (\(\dot{E}\)), energy cost (C) and kinematics were assessed during 5 km front crawl trials in a swimming pool and open water conditions. A total of 38 competitive open water swimmers aged 16–27 years volunteered for this four part investigation: Study A (pool, ten females, 11 males), Study B (pool, four females, six males), Study C (pool case study, one female) and Study D (open water, three females, four males).


In the swimming pool, swimmers started with an above average swimming speed (v), losing efficiency along the 5 km, despite apparent homeostasis for [La], BGL, \(\dot{V}\text{O}\)2, \(\dot{E}\) and C. In open water, swimmers started the 5 km with a below average v, increasing the stroke rate (SR) in the last 1000 m. In open water, \(\dot{V}\text{O}\)2 kinetics parameters, HR, [La], BGL, respiratory exchange ratio and C were affected by the v and SR fluctuations along the 5 km.


Small fluctuations were observed for energetic variables in both conditions, but changes in C were lower in swimming pool than in open water. Coaches should adjust the training plan accordingly to the specificity of open water swimming.

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A p :

Amplitude of the fast \(\dot{V}\text{O}\)2 component


Blood glucose level


Blood lactate concentration

C :

Energy cost


Heart rate

H :

Heaviside step function






Mean response time

\(\dot{E}\) :

Metabolic power expenditure

\(\dot{V}\text{O}\) 2 :

Oxygen uptake


Relative \(\dot{V}\text{O}\)2 at the time t


Stroke index


Stroke length


Stroke rate

v :

Swimming speed

τ p :

Time constant of the fast \(\dot{V}\text{O}\) component

TDp :

Time delay of the fast \(\dot{V}\text{O}\)2 component

E tot :

Total energy expenditure

A 0 :

\(\dot{V}\text{O}\)2 at rest


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We are grateful to the swimmers for their cooperation and involvement in this research project. We also acknowledge contributions from researchers involved with the data collection, including Beatriz Gomes, Ph.D from Faculty of Sport Science and Physical Education, University of Coimbra, Portugal, Diogo Duarte Carvalho, MSc from Centre of Research, Education, Innovation and Intervention in Sport (CIFI2D), Faculty of Sport, University of Porto, Portugal and the staff of Porto Biomechanics Laboratory (LABIOMEP-UP). Finally, we are grateful to Clube Fluvial Portuense, Portugal and Montemor-o-Velho’s Nautical Center, Portugal for the excellent facilities.

Author information




RZ, VN, TASO and RF developed the original research inquiry, VN and TASO recruited participants, RZ, VN, TASO, SS, LMPLR and RF collected data, RZ, VN, TASO and LMPLR analysed data, RZ, FASC, JPVB, DBP and RF collaborated in data interpretation, writing and reviewing the manuscript. All authors approved the final version of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Rodrigo Zacca.

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Zacca, R., Neves, V., da Silva Oliveira, T. et al. 5 km front crawl in pool and open water swimming: breath-by-breath energy expenditure and kinematic analysis. Eur J Appl Physiol (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-020-04420-7

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  • Human locomotion
  • Swimming
  • Open water
  • Energetics
  • Oxygen uptake kinetics