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Physics of Swimming Essay

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The study of physics and fluid dynamics in swimming has been a field of increasing interest for study in the past few decades among swimming coaches and enthusiasts. Despite the long history of research, the understanding of how to move the human body effectively through the water is still in its infancy. Competitive swimmers and their coaches of all levels are constantly striving for ways to improve their stroke technique and overall performance. The research and performances of today's swimmers are continuously disproving the beliefs of the past. Like in all sports, a better understanding of physics is enabling the world class swimmers to accomplish times never before thought possible. This was displayed on the grandest of scales in the 2000 Olympics when Ian Thorpe, Inge De Bruijn, Pieter Van Den Hoogenband and a number of other swimmers broke a total of twelve world records and numerous Olympic and national records.

Several forces play significant roles in the movement of the human body through the water. The forces are drag, lift, gravity and buoyancy. Lift and drag are the main propulsive forces that are used by swimmers. Resistance, known as drag, can be broken into three main categories: frontal resistance, skin friction, and eddy resistance. The effect of buoyancy in swimming is best described by Archimedes’ principle: a body fully or partially submerged in a fluid is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid that is displaced by the body.1 This effectively negates any effects that gravity might have on a swimmer. The rare exception to this is a swimmer with very little body fat, and this is overcome by keeping the lungs inflated to a certain degree at all times.

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...s, but through her intense regiment of endurance training she was recently able to win two Olympic gold medals. A select few swimmers go beyond momentum and energy and use power to its fullest and have no competition, like Ian Thorpe or the once great Alex Popov.

Works Cited
1 David Halliday, Robert Resnick, and Jearl Walker, Fundamentals of Physics, Extended, 5th ed. (NewYork:Wiley, 1997) 361

2 Cecil M. Colwin, Swimming Into the 21st Century, (Champaign: Human Kinetics, 1992) 20-32, 58-59

3 James E. Counsilman and Brian E. Counsilman, The New Science of Swimming, (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1994) 6-7

4 James E. Counsilman and Brian E. Counsilman, The New Science of Swimming, (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1994) 10-22

5 Robert E. Schleihauf, "A biomechanical analysis of freestyle." Swimming Technique, 1974, 11(3), 89-96


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