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In the last installment, we went over pacing 101 for swimmers. In this piece, the conclusion suggested an even paced swimming strategy is most effective for success.

However, even paced swimming does not imply ease of swimming, since the last portion of the race will hurt as the swimmer attempts to maintain velocity. Luckily, there are a few theoretical methods to potentially delay fatigue.

As with research, more much be performed on each of these subjects, especially in swimmers, but each one shows promise in delaying fatigue. These ideas are being researched, but are rarely seen on pool decks, questioning if athletes are ahead of researchers (short plug, stay up to date with swimming research with the Swimming Science Research Review).

Pre-Body Cooling
Pre-body cooling uses the theory of cooling the axial skeleton, to delay increased body temperature, a potential mechanism of fatigue. A few studies in running and cycling have found this mechanism beneficial, but the application for swimming remains questionable, as swimmers commonly compete in cooled water. We tackled a whole paper on this subject (pre-body cooling).

Carbohydrate Rinse
It is well accepted drinking a carbohydrate based liquid during exercise improves performance. However, the exact mechanism behind this improvement is not known. Many feel this practice improves muscle glycogen, but consuming carbohydrates has been reported to make minimal contribution to carbohydrate oxidation in the muscle.

However, increased cortical activity results simply by putting carbohydrate in the mouth. Therefore, researchers have looked at using a carbohydrate rinse before exercise as an ergogenic aid. Read past post here Carbohydrate rinse?Ischemic pre-conditioning
Ischemic pre-conditioning is a form of blood-flow resistance performed before exercise. Recent literature is growing in blood-flow resistance strength training, but this pre-conditioning is suggested to improve swimmers (check out Dr. Greg Wells research).

Unfortunately, the physiology of this training is still unknown and the safety uncertain. However, potentially provides benefits, reach ischemic preconditioning. This nontraditional form of training with increasing research for strength training.

Hyperventilation breathing
Hyperventilating before an event increases carbon dioxide in the blood, turning the blood more basic (respiratory alkalosis). If acidosis is a contributor to fatigue, then hyperventilating should offset this production and aid performance in events producing acidity (Beneke 2009).

Sodium bicarbonate
While we're on the subject of acidosis, sodium bicarbonate or baking soda is another potential mechanism for decreasing acid production. This method has had conflicting evidence in the literature, but it seems to aide in mid-distance and repeated sprints. However, the evidence is far from clear on single sprint performance. Read Does Baking Soda Help Swimming?

Caffeine ingestion
Caffeine is the most common ergogenic aid. The mechanism is potentially beneficial by increasing euphoria and decreasing feelings of fatigue. Caffeine may also influcene metabolite use. Caffeine metabolism is still unknown, however it seems beneficial for some people, remember individualization is key! Read more about coffee and swimming.

Oxygen is essential in swimming and life for that matter. If you do not have oxygen for an extended period, your body is likely to fatigue. This could be from cabon dioxide poisoning and acidity or inspiratory muscle fatigue. Whatever the case, early research suggests this is beneficial (Sperlich 2011).

Read more here for its use in recovery and read more here.

It is clear there are many potential mechanisms to delay fatigue. The literature demonstrates split results on many of these methods, suggesting individualization and self-trial are essential. Make sure you stay on top of the research, finding potential methods for improvement!


  1. Beneke, R., Hutler, M., Leithauser, R. M., & Boning, D. (2009). Respiratory alkalosis enhances sprint performance. ACSM 56th Annual Meeting, Seattle, Washington, Presentation Number 2022.
  2. Triplett-McBride, T., Bowman, S. A., Pein, R. L., & Foster, C. C. (2003). Effects of different dosages of sodium bicarbonate on swimming performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 35(5), Supplement abstract 1494.
  3. Peyrebrunek, M. C., Lindh, A., Ingham, S., & Folland, J. (2007). Sodium bicarbonate supplementation improves 200 m freestyle performance in elite male swimmers. ACSM Annual Meeting New Orleans, Presentation Number, 1462.
  4. Pruscino, C. L., Ross, M. L., Gregory, A., Savage, B., & Troy, Flanagan. (2008). Effects of sodium bicarbonate, caffeine, and their combination on repeated 200-m freestyle performance. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 18, 116-131.
  5. Lindh, A. M., Peyrebrune, M. C., Ingham, S. A., Bailey, D. M., & Folland, J. P. (2008). Sodium bicarbonate improves swimming performance. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 29, 519-523.
  6. Siegler, J. C., & Gleadall-Siddall, D. (2010). Sodium bicarbonate ingestion and repeated swim sprint performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24, 3105-3111.
  7. Gleadall-Sidall, D. O., Midgley, A. W., & Siegler, J. C. (June 03, 2010). Sodium bicarbonate ingestion and repeated swim sprint performance. Presentation 1923 at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland; June 2-5.
  8. Sperlich, B. (2011). Hyperoxic recovery: A potential tool for improving performance? Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 43(5). Supplement abstract 3035.
By G. John Mullen founder of the Center of Optimal Restoration, head strength coach at Santa Clara Swim Club, creator of the Swimmer's Shoulder System, and chief editor of the Swimming Science Research Review.


Dr. John Mullen, DPT, CSCS world-renowned physical therapist and strength coach.
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