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Maximal fully-tethered swim performance in Para swimmers with physical impairment

Hogarth, Luke and Burkett, Brendan and van de Vliet, Peter and Payton, Carl (2019) Maximal fully-tethered swim performance in Para swimmers with physical impairment. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. ISSN 1555-0273 (In Press)

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Abstract

The assessment of swimming propulsion should be a cornerstone of Paralympic swimming classification. However, current methods do not objectively account for this component. This study evaluated the swimming propulsion of swimmers with and without physical impairment using a 30 s maximal fully-tethered freestyle swim test. Methods: Tethered forces were recorded during maximal fully-tethered swimming in eighty competitive swimmers with (n = 70) and without (n = 10) physical impairment. The relationships between absolute and normalised tether forces and maximal freestyle swim speed were established using general additive models. Results: Para swimmers with physical impairment had lower absolute and normalised tether forces than able-bodied swimmers, and there were moderate positive correlations found between tether forces and sport class (τ = .52 to .55, p < .001). There was a nonlinear relationship between tether force measures and maximal freestyle swim speed in the participant cohort (adj. R2 = .78 to .80, p < .001). Para swimmers with limb deficiency showed stronger relationships between tether force measures and maximal freestyle swim speed (adj. R2 = .78 to .82, p < .001) than for Para swimmers with hypertonia (adj. R2 = .54 to .73, p < .001) and impaired muscle power (adj. R2 = .61 to .70, p < .001). Conclusions: Physical impairments impact on Para swimmers’ tether forces during maximal fully-tethered freestyle swimming, explaining a significant proportion of their activity limitation. It is recommended that maximal fully-tethered swimming be included in Paralympic swimming classification as an objective assessment of swimming propulsion.

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