Fast Pools and LZR Suits

If your facility hosts a competitive swimming program–or even if it has a pool–conversations since August have likely centered on Michael Phelps, the U.S.Olympic swim team and their record-shattering results. Phelps won eight gold medals–an unprecedented accomplishment for any athlete in a single Olympics.

Along the way, there were such memorable performances as the 100-meter butterfly, in which Phelps beat Serbia’s Milorad Cavic by a margin so thin that it seemed to hinge on a pre-race decision by either athlete to trim his fingernails. And the 4 x 100 free relay, which the United States won in a field that swam so fast that every team in the pool posted a time faster than the winning time four years earlier.

The excitement has been contagious, and swimmers across the country, from the smallest child to the master’s level competitor, are telling coaches, “I want to swim like Michael!” Those who run these programs and facilities, however, are wondering what it is about the Beijing pool that has allowed such record-breaking results, what their programs need to allow their swimmers to consistently post personal bests, and whether a swimmer needs a full-body LZR suit to succeed in the new world of competitive swimming.

I sat down with Pat Hogan, managing director for club development for USA Swimming, to find out.

Can You Build A “Fast” Pool?

Swimmers look forward to swimming in a “fast” pool–one with features that reduce wave action and water turbulence, allowing swimmers to move through the water more efficiently and potentially post a fast time.

A backgrounder written by Hogan and Mick Nelson, USA Swimming club facilities development director, details the main features of a “fast” pool:

1. Good gutter design

2. Wide, wave-quelling lanes

3. Depth

Gathering Water In Gutters

First, the gutters of the pool are designed to capture the waves (or “dynamic surge”) created by swimmers as they move through the water, rather than bounce back into the pool. This function can be helped or hindered by other pool construction factors.

For example, some competition pools (including the one in Beijing) are built wide enough to allow for an additional lane along either side wall in which no athlete swims, allowing a swimmer to better avoid waves created by others and waves potentially bounding back from the side walls and gutters. Additionally, the end-wall design and placement of the touch pads play a role. In most competition pools, the touch pads hang from the gutters and stop at water level, leaving the gutters free to do their job. However, sometimes touch pads are designed to hang high on the end wall to display the manufacturer’s name, which blocks the gutter and its wave-capturing ability.

Drawing Lines For Lanes

A “fast” pool also has wide lanes and wave-quelling lane lines. Competition pools typically have 7-, 8-, or 9-foot-wide lanes. Wider lanes are preferred because they offer a bigger buffer zone between swimmers, and better accommodate athletes with long arms. However, wide lanes also increase the potential for swimmers to swim “crooked,” which translates into swimming farther. Lane lines can be designed to help control sideways-moving waves and keep the surface of the water smooth.

Depth Perception

A “fast” pool is deep. Typically, “when a pool is deeper than the average height of the swimmers, the pool usually ‘swims very fast’,” Hogan and Nelson write. This is fairly typical of competitive swimming pools.

What’s the most important factor for making a “fast” pool? “First and foremost, you need fast swimmers,” Hogan says.

Gathering Supplies

What equipment do I need for a competitive swimming facility?

Most facilities with a pool are probably already equipped to host competitive swimming. Hogan says, “To start a competitive swim team, you need access to a 25-yard pool–[it] could be another length, but 25 yards is the most common size in the USA–marked with lane lines on the bottom and turn crosses on the end walls of the pool. A minimum pool depth of 4 feet is desired.”

Once it is built, “the pool should be equipped with floating lane lines that attach to the end walls, backstroke flags at both ends, a pace clock and the safety equipment mandated by local health codes. In addition, the facility owner/operator must be willing to commit the necessary pool time,” Hogan adds.

Page 1 of 2 | Next page

Related posts:

  1. Double-Duty Pools
  2. Examining Outdoor Pools
  3. Design Parameters For Public Swimming Pools
  4. Everything H2O Q&A
  5. Developing Standards For Public Pools
  • Columns
  • Departments