Aquatics Center Planning and Design: The Fast Pool Phenomenon
There is some debate over how much the design of a competition pool impacts the speed of its swimmers. However, many coaches and swimmers agree that the pool and its facility affect performance, and the science validates them.
The optimum pool design supports the complex relationship between swimmers and the water. It starts with keeping the surface as smooth as possible, especially after swimmers dive in. An 18- to 24-inch gutter absorbs water that would otherwise cause turbulence by splashing back into the pool.
Higher quality lane lines also reduce turbulence. Extra lines placed near the edge of the pool can aid swimmers on outside lanes, where waves strike hardest.
Pool depth also impacts the swimmer/water interaction. A “boundary layer” of water moves with the swimmer. If that layer touches the floor, its water returns to the surface, causing resistance. A deep enough pool—seven to eight feet at a minimum—combined with a strong recirculation system, keeps that boundary layer moving with, rather than against, the swimmer. However, some pools have shallower water at the non-springboard side to offer more flexibility for inexperienced swimmers.
Another factor that affects pool speed is temperature. Seventy-eight to 80.5 degrees Fahrenheit keeps water cool enough to prevent sluggishness, and warm enough to avoid causing muscle tightness. A water temperature of 85 degrees is more appropriate for recreational functions.
Starting blocks also increase pool speed. Heights of starting blocks are regulated, no less than 20 inches and no more than 29.5 inches above the surface of the water. They all have non-skid tops, but there are side grab rails and foot chocks that can be added to provided more of a “track runner” start off the block.
Finally, the fast pool uses advanced ventilation systems to aid breathing, and fine-tunes chemical treatments, filtration systems, and lighting to maximize the swimmer’s ability to see.