5 Factors that Affect Your Swimming Speed in the Pool #DontBlameYourself!

5 Factors that Affect Your Swimming Speed in the Pool #DontBlameYourself!

Feel that all that time you’ve been putting into swimming lessons? It’s all too easy to blame yourself for not being able to swim faster and better. But is it really your fault that you seem to be moving like a slug through the water? Perhaps it’s time to lay the blame elsewhere!

To be clear, there is no cure for being slow in the water – you’re just going to have to get better by working harder and smarter.

HOWEVER, you’ll be glad to know that it may not be entirely your fault. In fact, well-known forces are at work in the pool that even the pros have yet to sort out completely. That’s right – from water turbulence due to inadequate pool design, to the effects of sunlight  – chances are you’re just a victim of situations that are beyond your control.

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1. Turbulence.

Of all the excuses you could use to explain your ineptitude in the pool (perceived or otherwise), water turbulence should probably be your number one choice. So much so that minimizing its effects has long been the primary dictating goal of pool design.

The dream of designing a turbulence-free pool has kept engineers and material scientists busy as they experiment with fluid dynamics, new layouts and materials, and over the years pools have undergone dramatic changes to accommodate those many changes.

Although wind can also cause some turbulence in a pool, the main source comes from the swimmers themselves. As they swim the force of their movements create waves that go in all directions – and any swimmer can attest to how disruptive they are.

Direct Turbulence.

The most disruptive of these is direct turbulence, particularly from the swimmer directly in front as the waves are moving in the exact opposite direction to the swimmer behind. Where water turbulence is present, remember that it’s always advantageous to be swimming in front of everyone else as you’d be free from a large brunt of these forces.

Modern lane ropes are very effective at absorbing waves/turbulence and you’ll always find that they used in pools that host high-level competitions. The effectiveness of a good rope lane is dramatic to say the least. But many pools either don’t have them or have not been refitted with newer, better models.

Indirect Turbulence.

A poorly designed pool will result in waves being reflected away from the walls of pools with its magnitude virtually unchanged from the point of origin. In other words, it’s round two (or three, or four…) as the swimmers tussle with the redirected waves.

To reduce the amount of waves that get reflected, special materials and textures (also called wave-damping) are incorporated into pools that absorb or break waves up. A quick fix is to simply align one those handy lane ropes along the pool walls.

swimming classes in singapore - lane ropes

Notice how the water on the other side of the lane rope isn’t affected by the tidal wave caused by the swimmer? Nice!

And, have you ever wondered why a ‘proper’ pool always has a deep-end? No, it’s not just to dive into and/or for underwater swimming; its real purpose is to shrink the size of the waves. Think of a tsunami – far out at sea where the ocean is deep the height of tsunami waves are very low (about a few centimetres to a metre). However, as the wave gets closer to shore and the depth of the ocean gets shallower, the waves get much higher as its wavelength shortens but its frequency increases. Shallow pools are the worst, with waves being reflected directly back up at swimmers and go on to intersect with one another to create new waves.

Textured walls and floors further help absorb the waves. So if you’re gauging your speed based on how quickly the floor is passing below you, don’t get discouraged if it appears that you’re swimming slower at the deep end – it only seems to be because of the distance you are from the floor. Bigger pools with more lanes have the same effect except it works horizontally.

2. Temperature.

You can blame water temperature for messing with one thing: natural biological function. And no, swimming in a more viscous fluid (due to coldness or chlorination, etc.) does not make you go faster or slower – so save yourself some embarrassment and avoid using this as an excuse.

However, the temperature does affect your body. This is because your body, complex as it is, is single-mindedly trying to do one thing – to maintain a constant temperature that’s necessary for cells to carry out metabolic activity and other functions.

Water that’s too cold will cause blood vessels to constrict in an effort to reduce heat loss, too much of which leads to hypothermia and eventually an untimely death. Too hot and cells attempt to cool off – and the best way to do that is to stop working so hard, which manifests as exhaustion. Ignore your body’s warnings to slow down at your own risk – it can also lead to an untimely death (or at least, blackouts and unconsciousness).

To avoid either circumstance, pools are typically maintained between 25-28 °C where warmer is better for speed swimming, lower is healthier.

3. Air Quality.

While you’re in control of what you eat, the same can’t be said about the quality of air at the local pool (you could have gone somewhere else, but that’s beside the point). Poor air quality can mess with proper respiration that’s essential for energy-giving metabolism. From irritant induced coughing attacks to the hijacking of oxygen-binding haemoglobin by carbon monoxide, poor air quality is as villainous to your performance in the pool as the negligent criminals who let it happen.

Poor air quality at indoor pools can also result from poorly maintained air vents that mix clean air with contaminants and before blowing it all around. In addition, organic contaminants (largely introduced into the water by swimmers who refuse to shower and/or wear proper swimming attire) react with chlorine to form chloramine gas which then hovers just above the water’s surface. Chloramines in most forms are toxic and irritate the lungs if inhaled. (http://www.poolcenter.com/chloramine)

4. Swimwear Material and Design.

This one is pretty legitimate: space-age swimwear. Fabricated from NASA-approved low-friction materials and ultrasonically welded rather than sewn to further minimize drag, the use of high-tech swimwear (particularly at competitions) has caused more than a little controversy.

So big was the advantage that from 2008 to 2009 (the period when it was most widely used) a total 130 world records broken, seemingly overnight. So big was the fuss that by 2004 the Olympic governing committee had it banned from competitive swimming for good. Now if that isn’t negatively impacting your performance in the pool then what is?

swimming classes in singapore - 1960 and 2008

1960 vs 2008 men’s swimming attire. 

Pictures courtesy of Swimming World Magazine and via Pinterest.

5. Body Shape.

Alas, if all other excuses fail there is one final ace card that you can play – body shape. According to the physics that govern wave drag given by the Froude number co-relation below…

swimming lessons in singapore, body length and speed

Courtesy of Lund University.

… basically suggests that taller, slimmer individuals have it easier than those who are shorter, who generally have wider upper body muscle cross-section that stay largely above water but adds to their ability to propel themselves. Disclaimer: At least I believe it does.

HOWEVER, to quote Edward Cussler of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, “The best swimmer should have the body of a snake and the arms of a gorilla.” (via “Swimming in syrup is as easy as water“)

Not exactly a form that’s achievable nor desirable, if you ask me!

There is no cure for being human – but you can make the best of it! Sign up for swimming classes in Singapore at SWIMFUN 123 and be the best human swimmer you can be!

Justine Foong

Likes lone walks in the park. Doesn't think that waiting an hour in a line for food is worth any recommendation. Believes that a major breakthrough in Engineered Negligible Senescence will come within this lifetime.