Long course training in a short course pool
by Dick Bower
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It has probably happened to you.
You train for months in a 25 yard pool and then enter the summer long course championships. Upon arriving at the meet, you take a glance at the pool. It looks sooooo looooong! You stand at the end of the pool ready to warmup and it looks even longer. Swimming your first length, you reach about halfway and you're ready to flip. No wall! You keep swimming. Still no wall! You keep looking, you keep stroking. Eventually, the wall comes into sight. A few more strokes and you've finally completed your first long course length of the season.
Is there hope for the long course competitor who trains in a short course pool? Yes! I would like to emphasize that the lack of a 50 meter pool does not preclude the possibility of top performances in long course competition. Having coached 36 of my 42 years with no access to a 50 meter pool, my swimmers have done equally well in long and short course competitions. Two of my swimmers have won Senior National championships training only in a 25 yard pool. Some of my swimmers have achieved their best long course times in the Olympic Trials, a long course meet held in the spring, after having trained exclusively in a short course pool for seven months! Often, their times did not improve the following summer after long course training.
I think that most national and international level coaches would prefer to do at least half of their training in 50 meter pools. However, some coaches have been very successful in preparing swimmers for long course competition while training in shorter pools. George Campbell, who coached in Jacksonville, Florida in the late 1960s, had three world-ranked swimmers on a small team training in a 20 yard pool. One of these swimmers was Katie Ball, national champion breaststroker.
Personally, I would like my swimmers to do half of their year-round training in a 50 meter pool. I feel that only a couple of months of long course training is not effective and sometimes counterproductive, especially for sprinters. For effective training in a 50 meter pool, swimmers need to start long course training no later than May 1 to provide enough time for the build-up and taper. But don't forget that some short, very fast sprints are needed for anaerobic conditioning. Sprinters need this type of conditioning the most, and these sprints are best done in 12 to 25 yard distances. In a long course pool, I would suggest eight-second sprints, returning to the same wall.
There is a difference in the training and in the skills which are required for the long course events. Studies show that long course events are more taxing on the body than their corresponding short course events. It is easy to see that most long course events are ten percent longer than their short course counterparts, but there is more to it than the extra ten percent. Although the 400 and 800 meter freestyle events are comparable to the 500 yard and 1000 yard events, many distance swimmers, whose strength lies in the turns, have less success in 50 meter pools.
There are a number of training considerations that can be made to better prepare you for long course competition while training in a short course pool:
1. Charge the walls. By far the most important single factor is the manner in which the turns are executed. Turns can (and usually do) afford an opportunity to loaf or at least get a little rest. If turns are done with full effort, short course training will be equally or more taxing than long course training.
I tell my swimmers to "charge the walls." This means to pick up speed going into each turn, flip as hard and as fast as possible, and kick hard off the walls. Streamline well on the push-off, but don't overextend the glide. This is good advice for swimmers who train in pools of any length for any type of competition.
Masters swimmers who do not do flip turns must still swim faster in and out of the turns and make the turning action as forceful as possible.
2. Extend repeat distance. Since most long course events are ten percent longer, repeats can be adjusted to 125 yards in place of 100's and 225 yards in place of 200's. This is not one of the techniques that I have used extensively because all of our workout pace charts are based on 100 yard increments. However, it is used by many coaches.
3. Adjust backstroke flags. Placement of backstroke flags is very important to backstroke and individual medley swimmers. If possible, the coach should move the flags to 5 meters (instead of 5 yards) from the wall during the long course season. When participating in away meets, it is the responsibility of the coach to measure the flag distance prior to warmups and to tell the swimmers where the flags are actually set.
4. Increase kicking. Many top short course swimmers who don't do well in long course often complain that their legs give out. Therefore, plan on doing more and harder kicking. Vertical kicking sets are beneficial and can be done in a minimum of space. Workout time can be extended by crowding everyone into one lane or into the diving pool when the next training group takes over the pool. Vertical kicking can also be done individually during crowded recreational periods.
5. Train harder. Recognize that long course competition can be more taxing and commit yourself to a more strenuous all-around program. Add some time and yardage to your workout sessions. On occasion, decrease your amount of rest between repeats. Do extra kicking and more eight-second sprints.
Triathletes and other open water swimmers should also consider that they will be competing in a course without turns. Many of the above considerations will apply as well to the swimmer who is training for open water events.
If you are still daunted by the thought of that looooong pool, there is one more bit of advice you might follow: SNEAK INTO A 50 METER POOL WHENEVER YOU CAN!
Dick Bower has coached USS, collegiate, high school, and Masters swimming for 42 years and has compiled a record of over 100 state and conference wins. He has won many "Coach of the Year" awards, including the 1982 National High School honors, and has conducted hundreds of swimming clinics in seven countries. He has won 2 individual events as a swimmer at the YMCA Masters national championships and has been ranked number one in the world in SCM 50 freestyle.