Synchronized swimmers perform strenuous underwater exercise during prolonged breath holds. To investigate the role of the control of ventilation and lung volumes in these athletes, we studied the 10 members of the National Synchronized Swim Team including an olympic gold medalist and 10 age-matched controls. We evaluated static pulmonary function, hypoxic and hypercapnic ventilatory drives, and normoxic and hyperoxic breath holding. Synchronized swimmers had an increased total lung capacity and vital capacity compared with controls (P < 0.005). The hypoxic ventilatory response (expressed as the hyperbolic shape parameter A) was lower in the synchronized swimmers than controls with a mean value of 29.2 ± 2.6 (SE) and 65.6 ± 7.1, respectively (P < 0.001). The hypercapnic ventilatory response [expressed as S, minute ventilation (l/min)/alveolar CO2 partial pressure (Torr)] was no different between synchronized swimmers and controls. Breath-hold duration during normoxia was greater in the synchronized swimmers, with a mean value of 108.6 ± 4.8 (SE) vs. 68.03 ± 8.1 s in the controls (P < 0.001). No difference was seen in hyperoxic breath-hold times between groups. During breath holding synchronized swimmers demonstrated marked apneic bradycardia expressed as either absolute or heart rate change from basal heart rate as opposed to the controls, in whom heart rate increased during breath holds. Therefore the results show that elite synchronized swimmers have increased lung volumes, blunted hypoxic ventilatory responses, and a marked apneic bradycardia that may provide physiological characteristics that offer a competitive advantage for championship performance. Whether these characteristics are innate or acquired cannot be determined from this study.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Physiology (medical)