Spring has sprung, and that can only mean one thing: the time for warm water swimming has come. Whether you’re headed to a tropical destination or opening the pool in your backyard for the first time in months, the water won’t be freezing cold for long.
Warm water is amazing, for more reasons than one. Not only does it signify a change in the seasons (and upcoming summer vacations), but it has a ton of health benefits too.
When I Googled “warm water swimming” one of the first articles I saw was titled “Swimming in warm water can take a deadly toll on the body” from CNN.com. This article is about U.S. swimmer Fran Crippen, who died in 2010 during a distance swimming competition. His cause of death is still unknown, but many believe it to be from heat exhaustion.
I will go into further detail about this, but while it is true that swimming long distances in water that is too hot can lead to heat exhaustion, it is not guaranteed. Many articles paint the evils of warm water but don’t talk about the benefits. Being cautious is always a good practice, but that doesn’t mean it has to be scary. I hope to change your perspective about swimming in warm water; it really isn’t bad!
When you ask yourself what the “ideal” temperature would be for the water you swim in, what would you say? Personally, I much prefer swimming in warm water over cold. To me, it just feels more comfortable (has anyone else ever gotten the tight chest feeling in cold water? No, just me? Okay.).
Preferences do not dictate competitive swimming rules though. FINA, otherwise known as the International Swimming Federation, has set standards for the temperature of competitive swimming pools, for both standard and Olympic competitions. The mandated temperature range for the water is between 77°F and 82°F.
If you don’t trust the rules set by FINA, the American Red Cross also has rules for water temperature. For swimming laps, they recommend the water being 78°F. If you’re just in the pool to have fun, the Red Cross recommends the water be a bit warmer – 81°F. Lastly, water therapy requires the pool to be about 86°F.
The general consensus seems to be that the water should be warm, but not scalding. Who knew?
If you’re only reading this to see how warm water can affect your swimming performance, then you have made it to the right place my friend. Thanks for holding on so long!
Swimming in warmer water requires a lot more energy. Just like running in the middle of a summer afternoon, you tend to get tired more quickly. When you swim in water that is closer to your body temperature, less heat can be transferred to the water according to an article written by Michael Tipton and Carl Bradford. In other words, if your water’s temperature is close to that of your body, the water cannot remove the excess heat from your body. This can cause you to exert yourself faster, and even risk heat stroke. This is relevant to your swimming performance because swimming in warmer water may actually cause your stamina to go down.
Now that I have (I hope, anyways) sufficiently warned you about the negatives to swimming in warm water, let’s get to the benefits for your performance. There has to be a reason why FINA and the Red Cross regulate temperatures to be upwards of 81°F, right?
A study from the “Journal of Sports Medicine and Fitness” published in 1993 concluded that warmer swimming water actually yields faster swim times. Warm water allows your muscles to stay relaxed, essentially allowing you to stay “warmed up” for the duration of your swim. So, if you are someone who wants to win sprint races, warmer water is the best for you. Just don’t overdo the distance you’re swimming.
Even though warm water can help you swim faster, it doesn’t make you swim farther. If you are swimming at a relatively fast pace, you will overexert yourself more in warm water rather than cold. To bring my running analogy back in, sprinting a mile in 90°F weather takes a lot more effort than on 70°F days. The rule of thumb is to just be careful when swimming distances in warm water. Save yourself the pain (and embarrassment) of getting a heat stroke in the water.
Pools are meant for more than just swimming, whether it’s recreationally or competitively. One of the biggest reasons for someone to get into a pool is for physical therapy. Swimming is a very low impact activity, allowing for people to strengthen their joints and muscles with little to no pain.
Warm water is the ideal environment for physical therapy, which is why the Red Cross recommends the pool to be 86°F. The reason for this is that cold water can cause muscles to tighten, and possibly tear when overused. When you have relaxed muscles, you can stretch further and maximize your time in the pool.
Even if you haven’t suffered a critical injury, you can still use a pool for physical therapy. Many personal fitness trainers recommend getting in a pool between intense workouts to stretch your muscles and recover faster. Some exercises you could try are walking or jogging, lunges, or side steps! Trust me, it can turn into a workout really quick.
Now that you have read the good and bad of swimming in warm water, what’re you supposed to do with this information?
Well, my hope is that you have tucked away the warnings about heat exhaustion and embraced the benefits of warm water! Whether you are swimming recreationally, competitively, or engaging your body in physical therapy, there are benefits for everyone. No matter if you’re in warm, tropical water or at your local YMCA, warm water swimming doesn’t need to be scary.
Happy swimming everyone!