Project SwimSIM

On-going research in support of British Swimming has been applying naval architecture techniques to understand the science of human swimming. This work has applied techniques developed for evaluating ship self-propulsion, as well as novel wireless sensor and synchronised video systems, to capture the dynamic behaviour of the underwater phase of competitive swimming.

This on-going research programme is joint funded by British Swimming, UKSport and the University of Southampton.

Leading Project SwimSIM is Stephen Turnock, Professor of Maritime Fluid Dynamics and Director of Performance Sports Engineering, Dr Dominic Hudson, Senior Lecturer and Programme Director for Ship Science courses at the University and PhD students Angus Webb, Chris Phillips and Joe Banks, from the University's Performance Sports Engineering Laboratory (PSEL).

They have been working to develop a new system for analysing swimming performance that is being used by many of the top British swimmers in conjunction with British Swimming world class technical adviser, Jonty Skinner.

When designing a ship, naval architects examine the relationship between a ship's hull, its shape and how best to propel it through water with minimum power. The Southampton team using a similar approach developed a rig suitable for towing a swimmer through the water whilst tracking propulsive force and speed.

As they move along in the water the swimmer is also recorded by two cameras, above the lane and beside it. After swimming a length they can get instant feedback on their speed, power and drag, which was their ultimate body position and where, on each stroke, they were strong or weak as well as watching the footage of their technique.

Dr Hudson explained: “As mechanical engineers, our ship science systems can tell us what we need to know about a ship’s movement in water. What we have done, therefore, is to bring to swimming the instrumentation and data analysis which is used in ship design: we’ve brought our knowledge of what optimises the performance of a ship, and the data required to give us that insight. We’re analysing elements like shape, structure, the waves generated by the body, propulsion, speed, energy efficiency in the water, and the different components of drag.”

“Our measurement systems are pure mechanical engineering: we have a speed reel system which gives us a detailed analysis of which elements of a swimmer’s stroke are contributing positively or negatively to their overall performance. We also operate a wireless sensor system – which enables us to capture what the swimmer is doing without affecting or interfering with their movement in the water.”

In addition to the Project SwimSIM fundamental research, a comprehensive testing program is underway with the World Class Performance team in British Swimming. This program involves both acquisition of data for research purposes and providing coaching information for athlete performance enhancement. In total, the PSEL has tested some 38 of the 44 swimmers officially selected for the Games to date in 45 testing sessions, comprising over 700 measurement runs.

The expertise gained from this project will be invaluable in developing future effective test methods and equipment, to provide potential gains that can be achieved by British athletes in performance sports.


The SwimSIM rig

The SwimSIM rig