Indoor Versus Outdoor Swimming: Which Do You Prefer?

Feature by Michelle Berman, Swimming World intern

PISCATAWAY, New Jersey, October 6. SWIMMING indoor versus outside? What is the difference, and are there differences in motivation that correspond to each of them? Are there disadvantages and advantages to both?

Growing up on the West Coast or the East Coast offers different challenges to the swimmers who make up the teams located in these areas. Whether it be environmental conditions or health hazards, every pool has its differences.

So what's the difference between the indoors and outdoors, or is there even one?

"As an athlete growing up in the Northeast, swimming outdoors always meant it was summer time, and there was a heightened focus on training and a little extra time to hang out with teammates," Western Kentucky assistant coach Brian Thomas, a former member of Connecticut's swimming and diving team, said. "And, because my club was spread throughout the Boston area, I didn't get to see a lot of my teammates during the school year, and the summer time was where we caught up. I used to travel about an hour every other morning to swim at an outdoor 50-meter facility, so swimming outdoors represented a lot of 3:45 a.m. alarms and some really great memories."

As Thomas notes, growing up in the Northeast where temperatures are not in favor of outdoor swimming most of the time, means that summer swimming is a bit of a luxury, and the little extra tan that comes with it is a great added bonus.

Ariana Kukors, a former member of University of Washington swimming and diving team, and now a full time member of FAST in Fullerton, Calif., has been able to enjoy both indoor and outdoor swimming in a somewhat consistent fashion.

"Training outdoors gives you practice to deal with swimming with the sun in your eyes as well as different weather situations," Kukors said. "Even if it's pouring rain, we are still getting in and out of the pool all practice doing our dryland. Indoor training has a controlled environment and pool temperature so there isn't really much variation in your daily training environment. "

For Kukors, swimming outdoors ended up being her ideal situation. As she says, "Swimming outdoors is way better!"

Another large factor that goes into swimming, whether it be indoor versus out, is the overall environment. Is there a difference in the level of motivation from a crowd outside versus being inside in an enclosed environment?

"I enjoy the environment of an indoor championship meet," California's Isaac Howell said. "It usually seems more important when everything is louder. The 2008 Olympic Trials and 2009 U.S. Nationals had lighting effects and everything else to make a meet more exciting. You can't accomplish that in an outdoor facility."

Clearly the sound factor can also make a big difference. However to some the sound factor should not and does not make a difference.

"I've always thought, if you've done everything to prepare to swim fast, you will," Howell said. "Experienced swimmers have a way of compartmentalizing once they enter the water."

Kukors agrees with Thomas.

"The crowd definitely gets me motivated before the race, but I don't think it really makes much of a difference," Kukors said.

Learning to swim fast, requires intensive training. However, for many learning to swim in both indoor and outdoor environments means dealing and adapting to the training environments. What are the consequences of each?

"The occasional below-freezing morning practice is always fun, waiting to jump in at 6 a.m. in only your brief while it is 27 degrees outside," Howell said. "Being in the Bay Area of California, we get a large amount of winter storms, too. Once, I did a threshold freestyle set during a storm while 60 mph wind gusts were creating waves and tossing me to opposite side of the lane."

"The sun sometimes gets in the way of things while swimming backstroke, but everyone has the same disadvantage in that regard," Kukors said.

Everyone who swims outdoors faces the exact same challenge. So is it really a disadvantage anymore? If the sun, wind, and rain are rivals for outdoor swimming, what issues are inherent in indoor swimming?

Some obvious challenges are air flow and the inhalation of chlorine.

"As long as the entire field is dealing with the same racing conditions I don't worry too much about the factors that I can't control," Howell said. "Get in there and race, period."

Michelle Berman is a junior swimmer at Rutgers University who is serving as an intern at Swimming World this semester.