Swim Spas: Worth the Investment?
By Jennifer Rhodes · Updated
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Swimming is an excellent form of low-impact exercise. We all know that, but what are the best ways to get enough laps without having to visit a public pool? One way is by getting a swim spa!
Swim spas are somewhere between a hot tub and pool: they offer you certain benefits of both. They're also great for your health—not just for getting a home workout, but also for reducing stress levels and relieving muscle tension.
And if that wasn't enough, they can also be used for hydrotherapy or even rehabilitation after surgery or injury! So, how do they work, and should you invest in one? Read on to find out more about these unusual machines.
How do you use a swim spa?
Swim spas are aquatic home fitness systems. They are self-contained rectangular pools with propellers or jets at one end, designed to produce a continuous flow of water which provides resistance to swim against.
Most models include an adjustable current feature that lets you adjust the difficulty by swimming against different levels of current.
The exact features on different units will vary, but most modern swim spas also have some hot tub features like therapy seats with built-in jets, and sometimes even a waterfall.
You can swim endless 'laps' for exercise, or use the relaxation features to help de-stress and ease muscle tension.
Can you really swim in a swim spa?
Yes, you can absolutely swim in a swim spa. However, you need to make sure that you're choosing a model with a strong enough current to hold you in place.
It's not just the strength of the current that matters either; the wider the current or 'swim lane' and the more smoothly it runs, the easier it is to swim.
If it's too turbulent, you'll get thrown off balance and struggle with your form while trying to keep up with the flow. This will depend on the propulsion method as well as the shape of the spa shell itself—some strategically placed curves to direct the water flow are better than a square, boxy shape.
Good quality swim spas aren't like your regular garden pool: they're designed for serious swimmers and athletes and come equipped with powerful jets and adjustable currents.
Don't be fooled by cheaper models with less powerful features: some products sold as swim spas are designed for general aquatic fitness, and not really for swimming.
General fitness spas won't have enough power to hold you in place, and aren't strong enough for serious swimmers.
Though some swim spas come with a tether or strap, these are primarily included with less powerful models to prevent you from moving too far forward in the unit. They're frustrating to use during a workout because they can feel restrictive and get in the way.
High quality swim spas don't require the use of a tether because they're designed to produce a strong enough current for people to swim.
How fast can you swim in swim spa?
Depending on the model, swim spas allow you to swim at a pace anywhere from 3 km/h all the way up to 18 km/h—but that's much faster than even Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps can swim the 200-meter freestyle!
The top speed depends on the specific unit you buy. Here's a comparison of the maximum speed offered by a few of the most popular swim spa brands:
|H2X||4.5 km/h for all models except for the new Challenger 18 D Pro, which is 5.14 km/h|
|Michael Phelps Signature Swim Spas||5.54 km/h|
|Endless Pools High Performance||5.98 km/h|
|Endless Pools Elite||6.45 km/h|
|Hydropool||18 km/h (AquaTrainer models only)|
Realistically, even the top pace of elite athletes is only around 6-7 km/h. So although Hydropool's technology is impressive, don't think that you will need anything close to this in your swim spa at home.
Is it difficult to swim in a swim spa?
If you're used to swimming laps in a pool, a swim spa does take some getting used to. You'll need to learn to shift your weight and engage your core muscles to stay centered in the swim lane.
Swimming in a swim spa has its own unique feel because the flow of water is constant, and feels much stronger than you might expect. Think of it more like swimming against an ocean current—but it's more consistent than that.
You do have to adjust your body position and technique slightly to accommodate, so expect to find it more tiring to start with. But most people say it doesn't take long to adjust once they get used to the sensation.
Swim spas are more challenging than swimming in a pool at first, but they can also be a lot of fun! They offer a unique way to get a fabulous home workout, with no other distractions or obstacles and no need to turn, so you can just focus entirely on your form and technique.
Is a swim spa a good alternative to a pool?
If you're torn between installing a pool or a swim spa in your backyard, let's compare the two on a few key points.
One of the biggest pros of a swim spa is that it's much more compact than a traditional pool. While an in-ground pool requires a large outdoor space, a swim spa has a much smaller footprint.
It's also less expensive than building a new swimming pool. Although swim spas are not cheap, even at the high end at $50,000, they do still generally work out cheaper than in-ground pools—both initially and in the long run.
Traditional pools require excavation and plumbing, which can cost up to $100,000 once you add in the labor and materials and various other relevant expenses.
Swim spas can also be installed in just a day. No pool project is going to complete that fast!
One of the other differences between pools and swim spas is how much work it takes to maintain each one.
While both need regular chemical treatments to sanitize the water, a pool typically requires more intensive upkeep of the lining and physical structure, whereas a swim spa has less maintenance requirements overall.
Perhaps the main advantage of a swim spa is that you can enjoy it year-round. Most pools can only be used during warmer months.
This means you can swim against the current to work up a sweat even while it snows outside!
Of course, it's going to cost more to run a swim spa during the winter than at other times, but it's simply not possible to even use many outdoor pools during colder weather.
Is a swim spa a good alternative to a hot tub?
What if you're not much of an athlete, but are more interested in using a swim spa as a large hot tub (for a relaxing way to unwind)?
Swim spas are a lot like hot tubs in that they're both great for relieving muscle tension.
You'll find that most models are designed with at least some seating at the end for people who prefer not to swim. The water jets provide a powerful and pleasurable way to rejuvenate your muscles, and many swim spas actually feature some of the same jets and seats that you find in hot tubs by the same manufacturer.
However, while swim spas can get you some of the same benefits as a hot tub, they do have a few crucial differences:
- Only a small percentage of swim spas heat water to 104 degrees (the maximum hot tub temperature)—the typical maximum temperature for swim spas is just 99 degrees.
- Swim spas are more expensive to purchase on average (unless you're looking at the most expensive end of hot tubs), and of course take up more space than hot tubs.
If you want the effects of both, you could consider a dual-zone model. These feature two separate sections with independent temperature controls—so you can get a workout at 85 degrees in the swim area while others unwind at a steamy 104 degrees.
Some examples of dual-zone swim spas are the Endless Pools Fitness Systems E2000 and the H2X Challenger 19 D Swim Spa.
However, bear in mind that dual-zone swim spas usually require a little compromise on both sides: the hot tub section won't offer quite as much as a real hot tub, and the swim section won't be as good as a pure swim spa.
So if you really care about the benefits of either type, you may prefer to just go all-in with one or the other.
Final thoughts on whether a swim spa is right for you
All this said, a swim spa could be worth it for you if:
- You are a serious swimmer who would like to work out at home without having to drive to the gym.
- You want to get a pool in your backyard but don't have the space or budget to install one.
- You want hot-tub-style relaxation but also more space to do more aquatic fitness exercises.
- You are looking for an all-season, year-round swimming experience—instead of trading in your swimsuit for a snow shovel when it drops below 32 degrees, you want to maintain your fitness throughout winter.
Swim spas come in many different shapes, sizes, styles and price points—so you're sure to find something that fits your budget.
Just be sure to look out for a good quality swim spa if you want to actually swim—better models will also have higher quality materials used in manufacturing too, which will not only mean they perform better, but potentially require less maintenance too.