Swim Flumes: An Alternative to Improve Swimming Performance

Photo Courtesy: Milliken Aquatic Development

By Daniela Navarrete, Swimming World College Intern.

Technology has drastically changed sports throughout the last decades, and swimming is no exception. A newer trend that coaches have added to the training regimen is practicing in a swim flume as an alternative to improve performance.

The most popular regulation pool sizes are 50m by 25m, 50m by 25y, and 25y by 25y. Pool dimensions depend on the size of the land available, local weather conditions, and the targeted athletes’ developmental level.

A swimming pool flume is a smaller, compact, counter-current pool in which the swimmer must work against to maintain position. These started to be developed during the late 80s as an alternative to practicing for open water swimming without having to go into the ocean or do flip turns. Later, these pools started to get attention not only from competitive athletes but also from people who wanted to learn to swim or recuperate from physical injuries.

Photo Courtesy: Marci Suarez

Although the experience feels much different than practicing in a long or short course pool, compact counter-current swimming pools have benefits worth exploring.

Affordability

Regular pools are quite expensive to build, install and maintain. If an indoor pool is being installed, external factors – such as heating, air conditioning systems and lighting – will increase the overall daily energy costs.

A regular 25-yard competition swimming pool costs around $56,250. On the other hand, while it mostly depends on the brand, the total price of installation and maintenance of a swim flume would fall around the mid $20,000s.

Usage

Upkeep for outdoor pools may be difficult when built in locations with extreme cold or rainy weather. As explained above, indoor pools are usually more expensive to maintain, so sometimes an outdoor pool is built due to a smaller budget. The problem comes when experiencing extreme weather – either chilly or thunderstorms – causing an interruption to daily practices.

Photo Courtesy: Grace Gutierrez

Instead, flumes can be used 365 days a year no matter the location or the weather conditions. The engine produces heat and reuses it as energy; most of the maintenance needs lie in the pumps that generate this hot temperature. In addition, some of these pools include a thermal cover that can either hold in the heat or keep it cold in the hot climate.

Design and Structure

Traditional pools require large portions of land and several months for the completion of its construction, whereas installing a swim flume right in your backyard would take a couple of days with as little space as 9 feet by 14 feet. These pools range from 7 feet by 12 feet to 10 feet by 15 feet with a maximum depth of 50 inches.

Photo Courtesy: Christopher Rojas

You can even decide on the most suitable measurements depending on the purpose of its use. For example, a shorter pool in length and depth would be suitable for beginners and little children as novices in the aquatic sport. When they are learning how to swim in a long course meter pool – or even in short course yards or meters – they often automatically become overwhelmed and scared in such a large body of water.

Photo Courtesy: Milliken Aquatic Development

Furthermore, these smaller pools are more environmentally friendly than standard pools, as they take up less space, water and energy. In addition, the sanitation systems used for these pools improves the water quality and preserves it for longer.

Efficiency in the Sport

During the last decade, club and college coaches, such as David Marsh, have opted for additional sessions using a swim flume. The most outstanding feature of it is that the water current can be manually controlled.

With an easily controlled water pace, the swimmer can have a more efficient technique practice with coaches or instructors watching just a few feet away. He or she can detect his or her errors easily and the coach is able to pin-point them more specifically.

Photo Courtesy: Christopher Rojas

Nowadays, underwater cameras and mirrors (even for backstroke) can be placed, hence the feedback becomes more immediate because the swimmer can see exactly what he or she is doing wrong. The coach can stop him or her at any time to fix the problem.

backstroke-mirror-endless-pool

Photo Courtesy: Endless Pools

On the other hand, a fast pace can be helpful for resistance and speed work. Some special pools designed for elite athletes can reach a maximum pace of 100 yards every 51 seconds, providing ample resistance to fight against. At the same time, it’s difficult to swim fast if your body-line has weaknesses – the swim flume gives immediate feedback in the form of drag.

The Evolution of Technology

Technology has modernized swimming throughout history. More hydrodynamic caps and goggles, sleek swimsuits, extra training sessions and new pools have resulted from these advancements.

Swim flumes have proven to enhance swimming performance in athletes of any level. However, the inability to practice crucial pool racing skills such as starts, turns and underwater dolphin kicks with breath control can never quite substitute for practice in regular pools.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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