Leave it to the Swiss to develop a tool that promises to vastly improve swimmers’ times. Scientists from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne’s Laboratory of Movement Analysis and Measurement have designed a new waterproof, secret weapon called Physilog III. The inertial sensor system is equipped with accelerometers and gyroscopes that can be sewn into a swimming suit to record a variety of measurements like time, speed, acceleration, and instant velocity as the athlete swims or pushes off the side of the pool. Still in the prototype stage, the goal of Physilog III is to improve overall performance by organizing technique and reducing wasted energy by improving coordination.
To carry out his Swiss National Science Foundation-sponsored research, Farzin Dadashi, the PhD student in charge of the project, ran some of Switzerland’s best swimmers through a complete battery of tests, analyzing two strokes: the front crawl and breaststroke. “We developed a special swimsuit that had pockets in strategic locations into which the sensors could be inserted (four on the arms, one on the back and two on the legs),” says Dadashi, which allowed them to calculate a variety of parameters, such as instantaneous swimming speed and coordination.
The study gets even wonkier: “To measure the index of coordination, we found the time gap between propulsion of each arm by automatic detection of stroke temporal phases,” Dadashi explains. “The researchers focused on the physiological analysis of the data, using a gas analysis system – the swimmer’s gas exchange – thanks to a sort of snorkel. Using the results of their study, we are now able to associate the energy expenditure with our coordination index and speed measurement.”
The big test: Whether the Swiss swimmers bring home the hardwear at the Summer Olympics. If they do, these scientists may really be on to something.