"Truly Astonishing": Endless Pools at the USMS Summer Nationals
As is the case with many swimmers who haven't tried swimming in an Endless Pool®, I was skeptical. Would it really work? Is there enough moving water to swim against? What if there's too much moving water to swim smoothly? Will it be weird to see myself swimming in the mirrors both above and below me—sort of a never-ending swimming selfie?
But mostly, wouldn't it be boring?
Every single piece of home exercise equipment I've ever purchased has gathered dust because no matter how beneficial the exercise, I wasn't motivated to do it alone. No coach, no teammates, no catching up between sets or in the locker room, no mojo. The social component of exercise is critical for many. … Even for a swimmer who prefers long open water swims to pool workouts (guilty!), it's easy to get the social fix when swimming with a group of like-minded adventurers who enjoy both the long swim and après-swim conviviality.
While I was in Oregon for Summer Nationals, I had the opportunity to try an Endless Pool, and the experience surprised me. The Performance model that Endless Pools set up on deck had a steady flow of interested swimmers through it during the meet, and many of them had some of the same questions I did. Here's what we learned.
For starters, there's plenty of current, and the controls on the pool are finely tuned so that all swimmers can get just the right amount of flow for their strength and ability. A handy remote control unit gently increases or decreases the flow as needed. And it will be needed.
Even though I was warned that it's easy to start out too fast— due to an unconscious reaction to having a torrent of water coming at you—I cranked it up too quickly and realized that I wasn't getting a proper warmup. I also jammed my finger into the metal grate where the flow comes out. Once I settled down and reduced the flow significantly, then gradually increased it, finding my rhythm along the way, I realized how much I was enjoying myself.
The experience is more like swimming in smooth open water than in a pool. It was easy for me to find my mojo without all those pesky walls interrupting my mellow. If I had slapped on an MP3 player, I could have spent all day in the thing.
There isn't really much turbulence, as the water flows to the propellers through return channels that double as benches.
The mirrors on the bottom of the Endless Pool give you a crystal clear view of your stroke, and the one suspended above the pool means backstroke is easily monitored as well. Having video of your technique has been a great tool for swim training, but being able to watch in the mirrors and make stroke corrections in real time is truly astonishing. As someone who has always struggled with backstroke, I found that seeing what I was doing in the overhead mirror allowed me to make postural corrections that made my stroke feel more relaxed and natural almost immediately.
My time in the Performance Endless Pool at Summer Nationals went by far too quickly, so for more information, I turned to a USMS member who's built an entire swim training business around the use of Endless Pools.
Michael Mann of Colorado Masters, 62, is a multiple USMS record holder, an All-Star, All-American, and Top 10 swimmer. He's also the founder and president of SwimLabs.
Mann has been using Endless Pools for 11 years, and SwimLabs now has 30 of them in swim schools across the country. He trains swimmers of all ages and ability levels, from children and adults taking their first strokes through Olympians and pro triathletes looking for an extra edge.
He primarily uses the Elite model, which boasts a higher water volume, courtesy of dual hydraulic pumps. In addition, because of its larger size, it can accommodate multiple swimmers in a training session.
Mann says one of the greatest benefits of using an Endless Pool is the instantaneous feedback on poor technique. "If you aren't holding water the way you should, if your stroke is inefficient, you'll know—you'll slide to the back wall."
He reiterates the value of the mirrors as "a complement to any technique that you're training." Mann augments the mirrors with video cameras and strategically mounted computer monitors so that coaches and swimmers can review and compare stroke technique and efficiency in real time and save the information for later analysis.
"Endless Pools has been a good company to work with. The pools are easy to move and build, and easy to maintain."
In addition, Mann credits his own swimming to the enhanced training benefits he's experienced. "The best swimming I've ever had, my record-breaking swims, have been after training regularly in an Endless Pool."