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Undersea Hyperb Med. 2005 Jan-Feb;32(1):45-57.

The influence of drag on human locomotion in water.

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  • 1Department of Physiology, Center for Research and Education in Special Environments, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY, USA.


Propulsion in water requires a propulsive force to overcome drag. Male subjects were measured for cycle frequency, energy cost and drag (D) as a function of velocity (V), up to maximal V, for fin and front crawl swimming, kayaking and rowing. The locomotion with the largest propulsive arms and longest hulls traveled the greatest distance per cycle (d/c) and reached higher maximal V. D while locomotoring increased as a function of V, with lower levels for kayaking and rowing at lower Vs. For Vs below 1 m/s, pressure D dominated, while friction D dominated up to 3 m/s, after which wave D dominated total D. Sport training reduced the D, increased d/c, and thus lowered C and increased maximal V. Maximal powers and responses to training were similar in all types of locomotion. To minimize C or maximize V, D has to be minimized by tailoring D type (friction, pressure or wave) to the form of locomotion and velocity.

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