Physiological Adaptations to Training in Competitive Swimming: A Systematic Review

Open access


The purpose of this systematic review was to summarize longitudinal studies on swimming physiology and get implications for daily practice. A computerized search of databases according to the PRISMA statement was employed. Studies were screened for eligibility on inclusion criteria: (i) present two testing points; (ii) on swimming physiology; (iii) using adult elite swimmers; (iv) no case-studies or with small sample sizes. Two independent reviewers used a checklist to assess the methodological quality of the studies. Thirty-four studies selected for analysis were gathered into five main categories: blood composition (n=7), endocrine secretion (n=11), muscle biochemistry (n=7), cardiovascular response (n=8) and the energetic profile (n=14). The mean quality index was 10.58 ± 2.19 points demonstrating an almost perfect agreement between reviewers (K = 0.93). It can be concluded that the mixed findings in the literature are due to the diversity of the experimental designs. Micro variables obtained at the cellular or molecular level are sensitive measures and demonstrate overtraining signs and health symptoms. The improvement of macro variables (i.e. main physiological systems) is limited and may depend on the athletes’ training background and experience.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Anderson M Hopkins W Roberts A Pyne DB. Monitoring seasonal ad long-term changes in test performance in elite swimmers. Eur J Sport Sci 2006; 6: 145-154

  • Aspenes ST Karlsen T. Exercise-training intervention studies in competitive swimming. Sports Med 2012; 42(6): 527-543

  • Atlaoui D Duclos M Gouarne C Lacoste L Barale F Chatard JC. 24-hr urinary catecholamine excretion training and performance in elite swimmers. Int J Sports Med 2006; 27: 314-321

  • Atlaoui D Pichot V Lacoste L Barale F Lacour JR Chatard JC. Heart rate variability training variation and performance in elite swimmers. Int J Sports Med 2007; 28: 394-400

  • Barbosa TM Bragada JA Reis VM Marinho DA Carvalho C Silva AJ. Energetics and biomechanics as determining factors of swimming performance: updating the state of the art. J Sci Med Sport 2010; 13: 262-269

  • Burke ER Falsetti HL Feld RD. Creatine kinase levels in competitive swimmers during a season of training. Scand J Sports Sci 1982; 4: 1-4

  • Costa MJ Bragada JA Marinho DA Silva AJ Barbosa TM. Longitudinal interventions in elite swimming: a systematic review based on energetics biomechanics and performance. J Strength Cond Res 2012; 26 (7): 2006-2016

  • Costa MJ Bragada JA Mejias JE Louro H Marinho DA Silva AJ Barbosa TM. Tracking the performance energetics and biomechanics of international versus national level swimmers during a competitive season. Eur J Appl Physiol 2012; 112: 811-820

  • Costa MJ Bragada JA Marinho DA Lopes VL Silva AJ Barbosa TM. Longitudinal study in male swimmers: a hierarchical modelling of energetics and biomechanical contributions for performance. J Sport Sci Med 2013a; 12 (4): 614-622

  • Costa MJ Bragada JA Mejias JE Louro H Marinho DA Silva AJ Barbosa TM. Effects of swim training on energetics and performance. Int J Sports Med 2013b; 34 (6): 507-513

  • Costill DL Fink WJ Hargreaves M King DS Thomas R Fielding R. Metabolic characteristics of skeletal muscle during detraining from competitive swimming. Med Sci Sport Exer 1985; 17(3): 339-43

  • Costill DL Thomas R Robergs RA Pascoe D Lambert C Barr S Fink WJ. Adaptations to swimming training: influence of training volume. Med Sci Sport Exer 1991; 23: 371-377

  • Downs SH Black N. The feasibility of creating a checklist for the assessment of the methodological quality both of randomised and nonrandomized studies of health care interventions. J Epidemiol Community Health 1998; 52: 377-384

  • Earle RW Baechle TR. NSCA's essentials of personal training. 1st ed. National Strength & Conditioning Association Campaign Human Kinetics; 2004

  • Faude O Meyer T Scharhag J Weins F Urhausen A Kindermann W. Volume vs intensity in the training of competitive swimmers. Int J Sports Med 2008; 29: 906-912

  • Flynn MG Pizza FX Boone JB Jr Andres FF Michaud TA Rodriguez-Zayas Jr. Indices of training stress during competitive running and swimming seasons. Int J Sports Med 1994; 15(1): 21-26

  • Gleeson M Pyne DB McDonald WA Bowe SJ Clancy RL Fricker PA. In-vivo cell mediated immunity in elite swimmers in response to training. J Sci Med Sport 2004; 7(1): 38-46

  • Hakkinen K Keskinen KL Alén M Komi PV Kauhanen H. Serum hormone concentrations during prolonged training in elite endurance-trained and strength trained athletes. Eur J Appl Physiol 1989; 59: 233-238

  • Hooper SL Mackinnon LT Gordon RD Bachmann AW. Hormonal responses of elite swimmers to overtraining. Med Sci Sport Exer 1993; 25(6): 741-747

  • Hooper SL Mackinnon LT Howard A. Physiological and psychometric variables for monitoring recovery during tapering for major competition. Med Sci Sport Exer 1999; 31(8): 1205-1210

  • Houston ME Wilson DM Green HJ Thomson JA Ranney DA. Physiological and muscle enzyme adaptations to two different intensities of swim training. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 1981; 46: 283-291

  • Johns RA Houmard JA Kobe R. Effects of taper on swim power stroke distance and performance. Med Sci Sport Exer 1992; 24: 1141-1146

  • Kirwan JP Costill DL Flynn MG Mitchell JB Fink WJ Neufer PD Houmard JA. Physiological responses to successive days of intense training in competitive swimmers. Med Sci Sport Exer 1988; 20(3): 255-259

  • Kubukeli ZN Noakes TD Dennis SC. Training techniques to improve endurance exercise performances.Sports Med 2002; 32: 489-509

  • Landis JR Koch GG. The measurement of observer agreement for categorical data. Biometrics 1977; 33: 159-174

  • Lavoie JM Montpetit RR. Applied physiology of swimming. Sports Med 1986; 3: 165-89 Mackinnon LT Hooper SL Jones S Gordon RD Bachmann AW. Hormonal immunological and hematological responses to intensified training in elite swimmers. Med Sci Sport Exer 1997; 29(12): 1637-1645

  • McGowan J Sampson M. Systematic reviews need systematic searches. J Med Libr Assoc 2005; 93: 74-80

  • Millard M Zauner C Cade R Randy R. Serum CPK levels in male and female world class swimmers during a season of training. J Swim Res 1985; 1(2): 12-16

  • Moher D Liberati A Tetzlaff J Altman DG. Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and metaanalyses: the PRISMA statement. PLoS Med 2009; 6(6): e1000097

  • Morgado JM Rama L Silva I de Jesus IM Henriques A Laranjeira P Pedreiro S Rosado F Alves F Gleeson M Pais ML Paiva A Teixeira AM. Cytokine production by monocytes neutrophils and dendritic cells is hampered by long-term intensive training in elite swimmers. Eur J Appl Physiol 2012; 112(2): 471-482

  • Mujika I Chatard JC Geyssant A. Effects of training and taper on blood leucocyte populations in competitive swimmers: relationships with cortisol and performance. Int J Sports Med 1996a; 17(3): 213-217

  • Mujika I Chatard JC Padilla S Guezennec CY Geyssant A. Hormonal responses to training and its tapering off in competitive swimmers: relationships with performance. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 1996b; 74(4): 361-366

  • Mujika I Padilla S Geyssant A Chatard JC. Hematological responses to training and taper in competitive swimmers: relationships with performance. Arch Physiol Biochem 1998; 105(4): 379-385

  • Mujika I. The influence of training characteristics and tapering on the adaptation in highly trained individuals: a review. Int J Sports Med 1998; 19: 439-446

  • Psycharakis SG. A longitudinal analysis on the validity and reliability of ratings of perceived exertion for elite swimmers. J Strength Cond Res 2011; 25(2): 420-426

  • Pyne DB Lee H Swanwick KM. Monitoring the lactate threshold in world ranked swimmers. Med Sci Sport Exer 2001; 33: 291-297

  • Rama L Teixeira AM Matos A Borges G Henriques A Gleeson M Pedreiro S Filaine E Alves F Paiva A. Changes in natural killer cell subpopulations over a winter training season in elite swimmers. Eur J Appl Physiol 2013; 113(4): 859-868

  • Rushall BS Busch JD. Hematological responses to training in elite swimmers. Can J Appl Sport Sci 1980; 5(3): 164-169

  • Ryan R Coyle E Quick R. Blood lactate profile throughout a training season in elite female swimmers. J Swim Res 1990; 6: 5-9

  • Santhiago V da Silva AS Papoti M Gobatto CA. Responses of hematological parameters and aerobic performance of elite men and women swimmers during a 14-week training program. J Strength Cond Res 2009; 23(4): 1097-1105

  • Sharp R Vitelli C Costill DL Thomas R. Comparison between blood lactate and heart rate profiles during a season of competitive swim training. J Swim Res 1984; 1: 17-20

  • Smith DJ Norris SR Hogg JM. Performance evaluation of swimmers: scientific tools. Sports Med 2002; 32(9): 539-554

  • Termin B Pendergast D. Training using the stroke-frequency velocity relationship to combine biomechanical and metabolic paradigms. J Swim Res 2000; 14: 9-17

  • Toussaint HM Beek PJ. Biomechanics of competitive front crawl swimming. Sports Med 1992; 13(1): 8-24

  • Tyndall GL Kobe RW Houmard JA. Cortisol testosterone and insulin action during intense swimming training in humans. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 1996; 73(1-2): 61-65

  • Van der Kamp L Bijleveld C. Methodological issues in longitudinal research. Longitudinal data analysis: designs models and methods. SAGE editors. London 1-44; 1998

  • Viru A Karelson K Smirnova T. Stability and variability in hormonal responses to prolonged exercise. Int J Sports Med 1992; 13(3): 230-235

  • Wakayoshi K Yoshida T Ikuta Y Mutoh Y Miyashita M. Adaptations to six months of aerobic swim training. Changes in velocity stroke rate stroke length and blood lactate. Int J Sports Med 1993; 14(7): 368-372

Journal information
Impact Factor

IMPACT FACTOR 2018: 1.414
5-year IMPACT FACTOR: 1.858

CiteScore 2018: 1.60

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.644
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.941

Cited By
All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 929 428 19
PDF Downloads 422 204 17