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I am at the low end of my healthy weight (Female, 22years old, 116pounds, 5'5). As a competitive swimmer, I am wondering whether putting on weight will improve my swimming performance? Thanks! :)

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Just putting on weight? Likely no. Have you considered asking your coach? –  Dave Newton Jun 13 '12 at 11:54
    
I have asked my coach and he (and my parents/doctors/other swimmers) do believe putting on weight will improve my swimming, since I am recovering from an eating disorder. I'm hoping by putting on weight, my strength and power will improve –  Bee Jun 13 '12 at 12:19
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IMO that information would be helpful to have in the question--otherwise we have no baseline, etc. Do you not believe the input from... essentially everybody? It's not weight per se that will improve your performance, it's the addition of muscle and power. Eating disorders wreak havoc on essentially the entire chain used to perform useful work. Proper, reasonable nutrition is vitally important to overall function and well-being. –  Dave Newton Jun 13 '12 at 12:21
    
@Bee, what do you think about merging this question with your other one? They're basically asking the same thing, and I think you'd get better answers. –  user3085 Jun 13 '12 at 18:32
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There's a book called "Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance" about nutrition for competitive endurance athletes. It mentions bodyfat guidelines for competitive swimmers. They're definitely higher that the original poster - having just a little bit of body fat helps the swimmer remain more buoyant. I'll try to find my copy. Also, FWIW, they probably also have a little more muscle mass. –  DavidR Sep 12 '12 at 14:47

2 Answers 2

Speculating on performance in sports based on physical attributes is always difficult, there are always exceptions to whatever rule you find. My answer to your questions is split into two parts: 1) check that your weight in the the normal range for a non-athlete, this is important given your history. 2) compare your height/weight with other successful female swimmers to get an idea about their height & weight.

Based on part 2) it seems like your competitive advantage in swimming would increase if you gained weight.

Weight

Your BMI, body mass index, seems to be in the normal range for women. Yours is around 19 (52.6 kg / 1.65m^2 = 19.3) which is ok. I know that there is a debate on BMI, especially for athletes but it should be there as a check.

So it seems like you are on the right path from recovery from an eating disorder, which is great. I have close relatives that went through that hell when they were at your age. Great that you have support from your family and coach from that perspective.

Weight and swimming

One idea is to check the height, weight and BMI for the best female swimmers and - for example - compare your data with theirs. E.g. winners in the recent Olympics in 400 m, 200m individual medley http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Olympic_medalists_in_swimming_(women) , (Medley since I don't know your swim style). A subset of the sample of 20 swimmers between 1996 and 2012, are {name, height in meters, weight in kg}:

  • Stephanie Rice 2008 Medley 400m Gold 1.76 67
  • Kirsty Coventry 2008 Medley 400m Silver 1.79 60
  • Katie Hoff 2008 Medley 400m Bronze 1.75 64
  • Yana Klochkova 2004 Medley 400m Gold 1.82 70
  • Kaitlin Sandeno 2004 Medley 400m Silver 1.7 61
  • Georgina Bardach 2004 Medley 400m Bronze 1.72 63
  • Yasuko Tajima 2000 Medley 400m Silver 1.64 63
  • Beatrice Căslaru, 2000 Medley 400m Bronze 1.7 64
  • Michelle Smith 1996 Medley 400m Gold 1.6 71
  • Allison Wagner 1996 Medley 400m Silver 1.68 53
  • Krisztina Egerszeg 1996 Medley 400m Bronze 1.74 57

...

It seems like there is a negative correlation between height and BMI, i.e. the shorter you are the higher BMI, note that this is a limited amount of data, so the uncertainty is high. However, if you give me the data of a larger sample {name, height, weight}, , use this link data entry and I will recalculate it for you :-).

Following the model below, your BMI should be 23, which means a weight of 60kg.

Female Medley Swimmers -  BMI as a function of Height (BMI = 51.4-17.4 Height)

*Female Medley Swimmers - BMI as a function of Height (BMI = 51.4-17.4*Height (in meters))*

All of them (and most of the others I checked) do seem to be taller than you so that can be an argument against just comparing the BMI. However, the datapoint of, for example, Yasuko shows that it is possible to compete & win without being above average height. For you, BMI 23 means 60-61 kg.

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Interesting. I wonder if there is a correlation between muscle mass, the presented cross sectional area of the swimmer and speed. As a a swimmer is effectively weightless in water, the resistance only comes from drag in the water. –  rthsyjh Jul 4 '12 at 15:53
    
@Jaydee, yes it is interesting (if a larger set of data supports it). From a streamlining perspective, height shouldn't matter. However, longer arms seem to matter when it comes to propulsion, e.g. see Sun Yang youtube.com/watch?v=Z-ZMbiem-V8 –  FredrikD Jul 4 '12 at 16:14
    
Longer arms matter for a couple of reasons - You have a longer pull phase, and you present more surface area of skin to the water. Historically, longer armed swimmers do quite well, as evidenced by Phelps, Thorpe, Popov, et. al. However, having longer arms does not automatically mean you will be a great swimmer, nor does having shorter arms mean you can't be a great swimmer. –  JohnP Jul 4 '12 at 20:56
    
docs.google.com/spreadsheet/… is a shared spreadsheet where anyone can add data. –  FredrikD Jul 8 '12 at 14:14

If you are coming back from an eating disorder, then most likely you are not at your peak muscle strength, and that is probably what they are referring to when they say that gaining weight will help your swimming.

I would not focus on your weight so much as I would on eating healthy, working out hard, and doing all the exercises and dryland stuff that your coach assigns. Your weight will stabilize naturally on its own.

As a side note, congratulations on recognizing and taking steps to combat an eating disorder. I know some people that have done that, and it can be a tough road. Best wishes for you.

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