Stroke-Specific Swimming Critical Speed Testing: Balancing Feasibility and Scientific Rigour

Ben E Scott, Richard Burden, Jeanne Dekerle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study aimed to assess the reliability of a two-distance critical speed protocol in the specialist strokes of national-level swimmers and understand the practical feasibility of extending the protocol to increase its validity. Thirty-two national-level swimmers (butterfly n = 7; backstroke n = 8; breaststroke n = 7; front crawl n = 10) swum three 200-m and three 400-m performance trials over a three-week period. Critical speed and supra-critical speed distance capacity were computed from the linear modelling of the distance-time relationship. Swimmers were subsequently asked whether they felt they could or would want to complete an 800-m trial as part of a three-distance critical speed protocol to enhance validity. Both 200-m and 400-m performances (coefficient of variation of -1; coefficient of variation of < 4%) were reliable for all strokes, while supra-critical speed distance capacity (typical error from 4 to 9 m; coefficient of variation from 13 to 45%) was not reliable. Response rates to the follow-up questions were 100%. Few butterfly swimmers said they felt they could complete an 800-m performance trial (39%), with more positive responses for breaststroke (71%), backstroke (100%), and front crawl swimmers (100%). Butterfly swimmers were significantly less likely to say they could or would want to complete an 800-m trial than backstroke and front crawl swimmers (p < 0.05). Including a third distance 800-m trial to increase critical speed validity would not be acceptable to butterfly swimmers, would be challenging to breaststroke swimmers, but would be acceptable to front crawl and backstroke swimmers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-251
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Human Kinetics
Publication statusPublished - 28 Nov 2023


  • Testing
  • Swimming
  • reliability
  • Acceptability
  • Aerobic Endurance
  • High-performance


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