COLUMBIA — Three weeks ago, the MU swim team emerged from the locker room to find that someone had been messing with the pool: it was now more than twice as long as before.
This was no April Fool’s joke, though. Every spring, the team switches from the short-course college season to the long-course spring and summer training.
Short-course pools are 25 yards, while long-course pools are 50 meters (just over 54 yards). Though the events in a meet are roughly the same, the pool format can make a big difference in how swimmers train and race.
“You get more tired without the turns,” MU freshman swimmer Melissa Jamerson said. “Turns are a resting spot – they shouldn’t be, but they are. You do a lot more aerobically because you’re going for a lot longer.”
The number of turns is perhaps the biggest change between short course and long course. Good short-course swimmers typically have fast turns with a strong kick coming off the wall. Long-course swimmers typically have longer glides with each stroke and are more rhythmic swimmers because getting up to top speed off the wall is not as great a concern.
Jamerson said that long course fits her own stroke technique better.
“Once you’re in a rhythm, the turns don’t break it up,” she said. “You get into a breathing pattern. My turns are pretty fast. I just like the rhythm of long course. I’m more of an aerobic flyer, so once I get into a rhythm, I can hold it.”
Jamerson, who swims what is generally considered one of the toughest races in swimming, the 200-meter butterfly, said she may not swim as fast on the first part of her race in a long-course pool as she would in a short-course pool to prevent getting tired. But her teammate Erin Yeager, a junior breaststroker, sees the two arrangements differently.
“My 200-breaststroke short course and my 200-breaststroke long course are completely different races,” Yeager said. “I don’t even really compare them in my head, because I swim them differently, I prepare for them differently and I race them differently.”
To get his team prepared for the long-course stretch of the season, MU swim team coach Brian Hoffer eases them into a long-course training schedule. Practices may be a bit shorter yardage, just because meter swimming takes longer. The team also uses more sets of shorter swims – like 50s and 100s – than a short-course practice. Hoffer said that doing more kicking and swim drills in long-course practices helps prevent injuries, especially to the shoulders.
“During the transition, we’re not really competing,” Hoffer said. “People that only swim high school have a hard time adjusting, those people that haven’t done that much meter swimming. People who have done it their whole lives are already used to it. Those people who haven’t had it, their transition may be three or four weeks. The experience of the athlete makes a huge difference.”
Mixing long course swimming and short course swimming in training can also be an effective practice method. Though Hoffer can’t mix them much during the college season because converting the pool can be a hassle, the team trained long course on its winter training trip to Arizona.
“They both benefit,” Hoffer said. “Training long course makes swimming short course seem easier, and short course helps build up speed for long course. It’s not uncommon to see coaches mix it up to benefit both ... Swimming only yards can affect your stroke. Meters can allow you to stretch out your stroke, where turns don’t interrupt it. And conditioning-wise, meters are a little better for getting in shape.”
But swimming long course is an important skill not just for getting faster. Nearly all national and international level meets are held in long-course pools, including the U.S. Open and the Olympics.
Jamerson and Yeager both swam on club teams in their hometowns that emphasized long-course swimming. Sophomore Molly Bollen swam on a club team in Dallas that made her start swimming long course at a young age.
“We had an affiliation with SMU,” said Bollen, who needs about two weeks to fully get into long-course shape. “They use the short-course pool for the college athletes, so we get stuck out there. That made me more well-rounded. Being able to switch from short course to long course is a pretty good skill to have.”
Though Bollen, Yeager and Jamerson all prefer swimming long course, they’re in the minority on the MU team.
“People definitely prefer short course,” Bollen said. “It is shorter, so your arms are able to recover on turns, and it’s funner. Long course just feels like you’re swimming back and forth. Short course, I think, adds more variety.”
Hoffer said the length of the pool can be a little intimidating at the start of the training season.
“There’s a mental aspect – they convince themselves they’re not good at it, and they don’t attack it quite like they should,” Hoffer said. “The better you can get through that, the better athlete you’ll be, and I think that holds true with any mental roadblock. They need to break through those and really challenge themselves as athletes.”