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Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2015 Aug;47(8):1714-8. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000586.

Optimal Body Size and Limb Length Ratios Associated with 100-m Personal-Best Swim Speeds.

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1Faculty of Education, Health, and Wellbeing, University of Wolverhampton, Walsall, UNITED KINGDOM; and 2Center for Applied Biological and Exercise Science, Coventry University, Coventry, UNITED KINGDOM.



This study aims to identify optimal body size and limb segment length ratios associated with 100-m personal-best (PB) swim speeds in children and adolescents.


Fifty national-standard youth swimmers (21 males and 29 females age 11-16 yr; mean ± SD age, 13.5 ± 1.5 yr) participated in the study. Anthropometry comprised stature; body mass; skinfolds; maturity offset; upper arm, lower arm, and hand lengths; and upper leg, lower leg, and foot lengths. Swimming performance was taken as the PB time recorded in competition for the 100-m freestyle swim. To identify the optimal body size and body composition components associated with 100-m PB swim speeds (having controlled for age and maturity offset), we adopted a multiplicative allometric log-linear regression model, which was refined using backward elimination.


Lean body mass was the singularly most important whole-body characteristic. Stature and body mass did not contribute to the model, suggesting that the advantage of longer levers was limb-specific rather than a general whole-body advantage. The allometric model also identified that having greater limb segment length ratios [i.e., arm ratio = (low arm)/(upper arm); foot-to-leg ratio = (foot)/(lower leg)] was key to PB swim speeds.


It is only by adopting multiplicative allometric models that the above mentioned ratios could have been derived. The advantage of having a greater lower arm is clear; however, having a shorter upper arm (achieved by adopting a closer elbow angle technique or by possessing a naturally endowed shorter upper arm), at the same time, is a new insight into swimming performance. A greater foot-to-lower-leg ratio suggests that a combination of larger feet and shorter lower leg length may also benefit PB swim speeds.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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