Lessons from Endless Pool Practice
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on May 5th, 2010

A recent thread on the TI Discussion Forum got me thinking about how and why I practice as I do.  While few will have the opportunity to swim in a “flume” pool, anyone can learn to practice with clearer purpose.

Lawrence asked: We plan on getting an  Endless Pool when we have a bigger garden and a shed large enough to put it in. I’ve convinced myself that an EP is the best training aid that exists and that with a mirror and video cameras to provide visual feedback it should be possible to make substantial progress in technique that can then be enjoyed in open water or a conventional pool.

WW replied: I had the opportunity to be coached by Coach Shane Eversfield at TI Lake Placid Swim Studio  in Feb.  The opportunity for instant feedback in the EP was priceless. Most of our time was spent on specific areas of technique with no extended swimming, which could be boring.  All in all they are a great tool for coaching and learning, less sure about swimming long.

My post:  I had the good fortune of nearly ‘endless’ opportunity to practice in an EP since 2004, when we installed two in a commercial space. We’ve since closed that space because revenue never matched overhead. We are nearly finished installing the pool at home.
From late ’04 thru early ’06 a spate of injuries and surgeries prevented conventional training (with a Masters group) for 9 or 10 out of 18 months. However, during much of that time I was able to practice drills or very gentle whole stroke in the EP. I call thiskind of practice Stroke Tuning to distinguish it from the distance/effort/time focus of more typical training.

Injury or inconvenience became opportunity. I experienced unprecedented success between March and  as I am convinced that the unprecedented success in the 6 months after I turned 55 in March 2006 – swimming my 2nd 28.54-mile Manhattan Island Marathon, plus winning two national Masters championships, breaking two 55-59 national records, and earning the #1 national ranking for Long Distance swimming in the same age group.

Impeccable fitness is normally considered indispensable to that sort of accomplishment in endurance events, but my conditioning was certainly compromised by being unable to train for at least half of the preceding 18 months. The only possible explanation is that the gains in neuromuscular efficiency and kinesthetic awareness produced by “tuning” in the EP were of greater value than whatever metabolic endurance I would have gotten by”training” in a conventional pool.

Note: I’m not suggesting one can achieve such outcomes purely with tuning. But in my case, the combination of tuning and training — which I would probably not have gotten had I not been injured — worked surprisingly well.

The factors that distinguish the EP– replacing the usual metrics of how many laps and what time, with the intensified feedback of resistance from the current and ability to observe oneself in the mirror — were of immeasurable value.

This experience not only changed my stroke. It also expanded my awareness of what practice means. Over the last 3 years, I’ve done relatively little swimming in the EP but the way I practice in a conventional pool, and in open water are still shaped by that experience. I now design practice sets that are more targeted to producing specific and measurable improvement. I also enjoy practice more than ever.

HOW TUNING LOOKS: While recovering from a shoulder surgery, my practice often looked like this. Practicing rotation and breathing without arms tuned up my spinal stabilizers, which are critical to maintaining alignment. This greatly reduced drag in my whole-stoke when I was able to train — and race — that way again. While in the nose-down position I studied my alignment in the bottom mirror.  (Images captured from video in Lesson One of Easy Freestyle DVD.)

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