Variability of Upper Body Kinematics in a Highly Constrained Task – Sprint Swimming

Ross Sanders, Chris Button, Carla McCabe

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Before examining the effect of changing constraints on skill adaptation, it is useful to know the tolerable variability of a movement pattern for optimal performance. Tolerable variability may vary throughout the period of task performance as some parts of the movement pattern may be more important than others. The purpose of this study was to quantify the inter-trial variability of performance variables, and hand path as the task-relevant parameter, of skilled front crawl swimmers during 25m sprints. It was hypothesised that the wrist paths would have smaller inter-trial variability during the below water phase than during the above water phase. Twelve skilled swimmers each performed four 25m front crawl sprints which were recorded by six phased locked video cameras for three-dimensional analysis. Standard deviations and time series repeatability (R2) of the right and left wrist displacement were determined. On average, swimmers varied their sprint speed between trials by less than 1.5%. The spatio-temporal patterns of wrist paths varied by less than 3cm in all directions (horizontal, vertical & lateral). There was no significant difference in inter-trial variability between above and below water phases. Swimmers increased wrist path consistency at the critical events of water entry in the horizontal and lateral directions and at exit for the horizontal direction. This study established levels of variability in spatio-temporal movement patterns of the paths of the wrist in sprint swimming and provided evidence that swimmers minimise variability for key events, in this case, the position of the wrists at water entry and exit.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Sport Science
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 16 Aug 2019


  • Motor Control
  • Tolerable Variability
  • Coordination
  • Uncontrolled Manifold
  • Freestyle
  • Dynamical systems
  • Task-Relevant Variable


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