Normative data and percentile curves for long-term athlete development in swimming

orn, D.-P., Lomax, I., Rüeger, E. & Romann, M. Normative data and percentile curves for long-term athlete development in swimming. J Sci Med Sport 25, 266–271 (2022).



To provide normative data and establish percentile curves for long-course (50 m pool length) swimming events and to compare progression of race times longitudinally for the various swimming strokes and race distances.


Descriptive approach with longitudinal tracking of performance data.


A total of 2,884,783 race results were collected from which 169,194 annual best times from early junior to elite age were extracted. To account for drop-outs during adolescence, only swimmers still competing at age of peak performance (21–26 years) were included and analyzed retrospectively. Percentiles were established with z-scores around the median and the Lambda-Mu-Sigma (LMS) method applied to account for potential skewness. A two-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) with repeated measure and between-subject factor was applied to compare race times across the various events and age groups.


Percentile curves were established based on longitudinal tracking of race times specific to sex, swimming stroke, and race distance. Comparing performance progression, race times of freestyle sprint events showed an early plateau with no further significant improvement (p > 0.05) after late junior age (15–17 years). However, the longer the race distance, the later the race times plateaued (p < 0.05). Female swimmers generally showed an earlier performance plateau than males. Backstroke and freestyle showed an earlier performance plateau compared to the other swimming strokes (p < 0.05).


Performance progression varied between sex, swimming strokes, and race distances. Percentile curves based on longitudinal tracking may allow an objective assessment of swimming performance, help discover individual potentials, and facilitate realistic goal setting for talent development