After having an Endless Pool for two years
I retired from triathlons in 1994 to pursue other sporting ventures. After coming back to the fold I find many technology changes, and best of all are the new inventive toys.
The biggest of these is the Endless Pool. First, I must tell you I've never been a fan of treadmills or stationary trainers. I would skip a workout rather than run or ride in place. So, when I first thought about swimming in place I had very low expectations. Having relocated to the middle of nowhere, however, my only chance for staying in swim shape was the Endless Pool.
At first there was a bit of a learning curve to swimming in this thing. The water's re-circulating pattern tends to work to pull your feet down a bit. Plus, you must learn to swim straight. If you get offline, the force of the water will turn your body sideways. I experimented with using a pull buoy, and it made both these problems go away.
By habit I would swim regularly in the evenings, just before sunset, and what I found surprised the hell out of me. These pools have a mirror on their bottoms, so that you can watch yourself swim. I have been swimming for over 40 years now, and have had some of the best coaches in the world coach me. But many of the things that had been told to me hadn't resonated until I watched myself swim in that mirror over a period of time. (The most amazing discovery was how good looking I really am! Or is it the water distortion?).
In all seriousness, I've been able to make subtle changes to my stroke and get instant feedback. Because of the constant, even flow of water against me, when I make a change in stroke, I immediately know if it is working. I worked on hand entry, the big sweep at the beginning of the stroke, and stroke count. I was able to make adjustments in all those areas.
Then there is the actual workout. I began by swimming 30 minutes straight. What I found was that it was not boring, but quite fun. You know how it is when you go on a nice run in a tree covered forest, and time just seems to fly by with the miles? That was the feeling that I got in the Endless Pool. While doing straight swims in a standard pool, my mind was always filled with stroke count, here comes the turn again, what the clock is going to say, and so on. In the Endless Pool there is none of that. All you have to do is keep pace with the stream coming at you.
I increased my swims to an hour, and still no boredom. In an hour of straight swimming I cover around 5000 yards. I almost never swim that far in my masters workouts.
Then I began to mix it up a bit. I would throw in alternate breathing, breathing every five strokes, every seven strokes, and so on. Then I would jump into intervals. It was quite easy to turn up the juice and swim like crazy for a couple of minutes, then turn it down to warm down in between hard efforts. Your typical interval workout with less mind clutter.
I was an IMer in college so I like to mix up my stroke during a swim. I discarded the pull buoy to do some breast stroke. Because the water pushes against you, your legs must accept more of the work load of keeping you in place. Then I began to swim freestyle without the buoy. When I focused on my kick my legs did not tend to sink. When I drove down the mountain to my masters workout I immediately noticed a difference. My kick was especially strong, and my breast stroke was at a new level. On the flip side, my pull was not as strong. Only after I threw in some weights and swim bench sessions did a steady diet of Endless Pool workouts keep me as strong as standard pool swimming. This was a welcome trade-off, as I've always been a crappy kicker, and now I develop more speed and better body position through swimming in an Endless Pool.
It is not swimming that can be a hassle, but getting there. You have certain hours the pool is open, and fewer hours of a master-coached workout. So many times I would just blow off swimming because it didn't fit into my schedule that day, or I was just too lazy to get in the car and go. At one point this year I swam 27 days straight in that Endless Pool, always at least 30 minutes, usually an hour. It was just so easy. I would blow off swimming all day because I was doing other stuff, but at the end of the day it was very easy to convince myself to just go over and do a little loosen down swim. Of course I never did the loosen down swim, because once in the pool, the overachieving, competitive nature of my personality (and probably yours as well) took over and there I was, swimming another workout.
My good friend, well-respected triathlon coach Roch Frey, was up here for a FIST workshop, and we had a discussion about the Endless Pool. Listening to him, it sounded as if I was talking to myself. He was so stoked about the pool, and for him it was a very important tool in coaching his athletes.
The Endless Pool was the toy I enjoyed the most during the last year, and of course it was the most expensive. For me it was a must, or I would now be a duathlete, writing about the latest in elastic shoelaces.