Human Movement and Exercise Science (HMES) researchers are cementing the school's reputation as a world leader in swimming biomechanics.
Matt Keys and Andrew Lyttle aim to help swimmers achieve the maximum kick from their underwater kicking to gain a winning edge. Professor Brian Blanksby, Head of the HMES School, said 0.2 seconds could be the difference between a gold medal and last place. "Swimmers shave or wear high-tech bodysuits and work constantly on their technique to gain crucial seconds," he said.
HMES and Civil Engineering PhD student Matt Keys and Andrew Lyttle, sports biomechanist at the WA Institute of Sport (WAIS), aimed to recommend an optimal kick for swim starts and turns. Dr Lyttle said elite swimmers used a variety of underwater kicking patterns in competition with little scientific information backing up their selections. "We aimed to discriminate between the drag and propulsion generated in underwater dolphin kicking so we could define an optimal kick," he said. The study focused on two different patterns of kick - large, slow kicks versus small, fast kicks - using computational fluid dynamics (CFD).
It is the first time CFD has been applied to swimming but it has been used to produce significant improvements in equipment design and techniques in sailing, formula one racing and Olympic ski jumping. "To make the results specific to elite swimmers, we filmed an Australian national open butterfly medallist from WAIS underwater while he performed both styles of dolphin kicks," Dr Lyttle said.
Results showed the large kick was better for starts and turns but the small kick was more efficient for swimming speeds of greater than 2.40m/s.
Dr Lyttle said CFD could be used effectively to provide feedback on techniques to coaches. "Alterations in technique can be examined using the model rather than the trial-and-error approach typically used," he said. Dr Lyttle said the cutting-edge study would be a base for future WAIS, UWA and Swimming Australia Ltd research to optimise swimmers' performances.