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Swim Spas for Aquatic Fitness
Learn how swim spas work, what you get for your money, and which products and accessories help you get into shape.
By Rachel Harper
Swimming enthusiasts may already be aware of the existence of swim spas, but for those of you who aren’t quite sure what they are, here’s the breakdown. A swim spa is a self-contained unit with a swim current at one end; it functions like a mini lap pool and resembles a large, rectangular hot tub. It can be used for swimming laps, performing aquatic exercises, and relaxing against hydrotherapy jets. If you think this compact pool/spa hybrid might be for you, read on to learn how they work, what they cost, and the many options that promote fitness.
Swim Spa Basics
The key component in a swim spa is its current, and all models use one of three types: jet propulsion, paddlewheel, or propeller.
Jet propulsion systems, also known as pressure-driven systems, generate a current by forcing water through one or more jets. They are typically powered with a 4-HP motor and can be adjusted to speeds up to 8 mph. Some jets allow swimmers to change the direction of the current for a customized water flow.
Paddlewheel systems create a current powered by a rotating paddlewheel at one end of the swim spa. The wheel produces a smooth current across the entire width of the spa, moving in a layered, sheet-like flow that can reach as deep as two feet. The water is circulated under the swim current and back to the paddlewheel.
Propeller-powered systems create a wide, deep, smooth current that is essentially turbulent-free. A propeller forces water through a grate in the spa wall; the water continues toward a second grate on the rear wall, which keeps the water circulating. Water often travels back to the propeller through recessed channels, sometimes concealed in bench seats or beyond the side walls.
Cost & Available Options
Swim spas have a wide price range. Factors such as size, style, current type, number of jets, and an endless array of optional features all influence the cost.
Basic compact models start at $18,000. These will not have a separate hot tub area, but may include therapy jets and a built-in bench at the opposite end of the current. Compact models are great for consumers on a budget and those with small pieces of property.
Most mid-size and large units have a base price of $25,000 to $35,000. Various options can then be added, such as underwater treadmills, bikes, and sound systems, which can tack on another $1,000 – $10,000, depending on the features you choose. A luxury unit that includes a separate 4- to 5-person hot tub area is typically in the upper price range; however, it offers a great return on your investment because you’ll be able to use it for both entertaining and staying in shape.
Other options include cabinetry, water features, and LED lighting, as well as coordinating steps, bars, and deck surrounds.
Fitness in a Swim Spa
Exercise machines typically found in a gym can be used in a swim spa, including exercise bikes, elliptical machines, and treadmills. These are usually add-ons to existing models, but at least one manufacturer offers a swim spa with a built-in treadmill. Some swim spas have optional water wells, which make the spa one or two feet deeper and allow for additional fitness activities such as deep water running.
You can attach resistance bands to fasteners on the swim spa in order to perform arm and leg exercises. You can also attach bands to rowing bars for arm strengthening.
To increase resistance and maintain body position while swimming against the current, you may utilize a swim tether. This aquatic fitness aid is composed of a belt that goes around your waist and is connected to a band that mounts to the end of the swim spa.
A number of other aquatic fitness products are available; these can be used in a pool, hot tub, or a swim spa:
• One unique product is comprised of a stick attached to two resistance bands with handles. By combining stick and resistance training, it allows for many different exercises in the water.
• Using ankle weights in the water can help shape inner thighs, calves, and glutes.
• You can strap buoyancy cuffs around your ankles to increase resistance without adding weight.
• Webbed gloves and fins increase the surface area of your hands and feet, increasing the drag.
• Foam buoyancy belts promote correct posture, support your lower back, and tone your abdominals while water walking or running.
• Certain exercises can be done while using dumbbells or dragging a ball or kickboard through the water.
Photo courtesy of Master Spas, Inc.
Benefits of Aquatic Exercise
Aquatic exercise provides many health benefits and is suitable for people of varying fitness levels. Here are the two major advantages to exercising in water as opposed to on land:
Water’s buoyancy supports the weight of your body. In fact, you weigh only 10 percent of your land weight when in water up to your neck. This means your movements are very low-impact and less likely to become painful; your risk of injury is also very low.
Water is also 12 times more resistant than air, meaning your muscles work harder as they move through the water.
What do these benefits add up to? A great workout in an environment with a low risk of injury. Your pool, hot tub, or swim spa can be used for many different activities, including exercises to keep you in shape and treat various conditions; just be sure to consult your doctor before attempting aquatic exercises as a form of treatment.
Photo courtesy of SwimEx, Inc.
They Got the Beat
Most runners, joggers, and even moderate exercisers listen to music when they hit the gym for some cardio. In fact, studies have shown that music can help you work out longer and more vigorously. You can have that extra boost of motivation when you swim laps with a waterproof music player. Some high-end swim spas offer underwater sound systems built right into the spa, but if you’re looking for something more versatile, you have a few choices:
Waterproof casings ($40 – $90) and waterproof headphones ($80 – $100) are available for various iPod models so you can take your iPod right into the pool or spa with you.
If you’d rather purchase a separate music player, two popular athletic brands offer waterproof MP3 players that have 1 GB built-in storage space, holding approximately 250 MP3 files. If you have an iPod, you can use iTunes to easily convert MP4 files to MP3s so you can play them on these waterproof devices. Retailing at $100 – $150, they run for 8 to 9 hours on a fully-charged battery and are recharged through a USB port.
Instead of requiring an armband, these compact devices can clip right onto your goggles. One type of MP3 player uses ergonomic earbuds for comfortable, high-quality sound as you swim. Another available player gives a new meaning to the word “wireless,” requiring no headphones at all: As the player rests on your cheek bone (while clipped to your goggles), it transfers sound vibrations to the inner ear.
Load these players up with your favorite workout mix, and you’re ready to jump in and get fit!
Photo courtesy of Speedo
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