Impact Case Study

Swimming for gold

Champion Paralympic swimmers, Ellie Simmonds and Ollie Hynd, owe part of their success to Dr Carl Payton’s sport science team at Manchester Metropolitan University.

How it started 

Para-swimming has been Britain’s leading Paralympic sport for a decade - hitting a peak at the Beijing Games where our swimmers won 43% of Britain’s medals. Dr Payton, a former competitive swimmer himself, is a strong force behind these achievements. He’s a Reader in Biomechanics and a member of the GB squad’s High Performance Sports Science and Sports Medicine Team. His appliance of science has delivered gold.

What we did

The science Dr Payton applies is Biomechanics – a combination of physics and mechanics applied to the human body and its performance. As Lead Biomechanist for the British Para-swimming squad, Dr Payton has used these techniques to break down each part of a swimming performance into specific phases, such as the start and the turn.  He analyses how the swimmers perform these phases and identifies the key areas for improvement.  Much of the analysis is done using underwater video recordings of the swimmer but other more complex techniques are also used to assess the swimmers. These include measurement of drag (resistance),  power output and three-dimensional movement patterns. These techniques were developed partly with the help of over £350,000 funding from British Para-Swimming.

A considerable amount of research has been done to help understand what it takes to become an elite able-bodied swimmer.  In contrast, very limited scientific information previously existed on Paralympic swimmers. This is the kind of challenge Manchester Met researchers relish.  

"Working with Carl Payton helps British Para-Swimming to tap into extensive expertise. British Para-Swimming has benefited from his applied projects which would be considered cutting edge within the Paralympic swimming environment."

Sports Science & Sports Medicine Manager – Para-swimming, British Swimming

Why it matters

Manchester Metropolitan University studies have helped those with physical disabilities find the best way to swim. This has helped win European, World and Paralympic medals.  Since 2008 our research has helped swimming coaches, teachers and scientists to understand the factors that hold back the performances of swimmers with a physical impairment and the best ways to overcome them.

Our research has shown how swimmers with a single arm amputation can maximise their propulsion; how physical impairment can affect fatigue; how physical impairment affects the amount of resistance produced by a swimmer and how a single limb loss affects a swimmer’s coordination and movement patterns in the water.

Britain’s leading coaches and elite swimmers have used the biomechanics results to help boost British swimmers’ performances at major International competitions including the Beijing 2008 Paralympics, the London 2012 Paralympics and, most recently, the 2015 IPC World Championships.

As part of a global project started in 2009, Carl Payton’s team is leading on the assessment of drag (resistance) in Para-swimmers and to date have tested over 200 elite swimmers. This research, endorsed by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), will contribute to the development of a new classification system for Para-swimming.  The new knowledge gained from the drag research has been communicated to swimmers and coaches in over 41 countries and has reached an even wider audience via the IPC website.