Steady hydrodynamic interaction between human swimmers

Zhi-Ming Yuan, Mingxin Li, Chun-Yan Ji, Liang Li, Laibing Jia, Atilla Incecik

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17 Citations (Scopus)
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This study focuses on the hydrodynamic interaction between two or three human swimmers in competitive swimming. Although the swimming performance of a single swimmer has been widely examined, studies on the interaction between multiple competitive swimmers are very rare. Experiments showed evidence that the drag of a swimmer could be modified by the existence of the other adjacent competitors (Chatard & Wilson. 2003 Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 35, 1176 - 1181. (doi:10.1249/01.MSS.0000074564.06106.1F)). The following questions arise: (1) what mechanism determines the interaction; (2) which position experiences drag reduction or drag increase; (3) how much can drag be reduced or increased in a formation? According to the authors' knowledge, such questions have not been addressed by any published literature. Therefore, the main purpose of this study is to find the mechanism of the hydrodynamic interaction between human swimmers and to quantify this interactive effect by using a steady potential flow solver. The free-surface effect was fully taken into account in our calculations. We firstly calculated the wave drag of a swimmer swimming solely in an open swimming pool. Then we calculated the wave drag of the same swimmer when he/she swam in the wake region of one or two leading swimmers. The results showed that the hydrodynamic interaction made a significant contribution to the drafter's wave drag. By following a leading swimmer, a drafter at wave-riding positions could save up to 63% of their wave drag at speed of 2.0 m s 21 and lateral separation of 2.0 m. Particularly, when a drafter is following two side-by-side leaders, the drag reduction could even be doubled. To the authors' knowledge, this study is the first to demonstrate that the hydrodynamic interaction between human swimmers can best be described and explained in terms of wave interference effect on the free water surface. When the wave cancellation effect is observed, the wave drag of a drafter could be minimized, and this wave cancellation effect can be achieved only when the drafter is in a wave-riding position.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20180768
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number150
Early online date23 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2019


  • hydrodynamic interaction
  • competitive swimming
  • wave drag


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