BACKGROUND: Undulatory underwater swimming (UUS) has become an integral component of the start and turn phases in competitive swimming allowing higher velocities than can be achieved swimming at the surface. An understanding of the most important determinants for UUS performance and how these can be optimised to different swimmers is poorly understood.
OBJECTIVE: The aim of this systematic review was to systematically assess the current peer-reviewed literature on the relationship between UUS performance determinants and underwater velocity in competitive swimmers.
METHODS: An electronic search using AusSportMed, Embase, PubMed, SPORTDiscus and Biomechanics and Medicine in Swimming was performed. The methodological quality of the studies was evaluated using a biomechanics-specific checklist developed by Hindle and colleagues (Sports Med Open. 5(1):49, 2019. 10.1186/s40798-019-0222-z ).
RESULTS: Twenty-five studies met the eligibility criteria. While UUS velocity was nearly perfectly related (r > 0.90) to foot resultant acceleration and kick frequency, several other biomechanical factors were also significant correlates. UUS velocity and frequency were typically higher in high-performance swimmers and during prone versus dorsal positions. UUS velocity, kick frequency and kick amplitude were also significantly correlated with high angular velocities of the hip, knee and ankle joints and knee range of motion.
CONCLUSION: While there appears to be evidence supporting some performance variables to be related to UUS, future research should examine how to optimise the kinematic and kinetic characteristics with respect to the imposed task constraints and organism constraints between swimmers. Additional research should also investigate the effect of biomechanically informed interventions to improve UUS performance.
REGISTRATION: Open Science Framework.