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How Cold is Too Cold

The past week has been quite an experience in EXTREMES in water temperature. My neighbor has finished a long project JUST in time for winter. Through much work, my neighbor has finished construction on a fantastic backyard pool… I say much work, because he’s done the majority of the project himself.

As you can see, I wasn’t consulted on the design. There’s not a good wall to push off on in the place. In other words, it’s a HUGE hit with my family…no laps!

Hot Tub and Pool The final peice of the puzzle was finishing the hot tub, which sits on the side of the pool. The past few nights, we’ve been invited to enjoy this fantastic creation, and had an opportunity to watch the beginning of the lunar eclipse from the warmth of the wonderful water. Of course, this is where everything gets a bit interesting.

The neighbor who build this glorious HOT tub is the same neighbor who convinced me that it would be "fun" to jump into the Chesapeake Bay in the middle of JANUARY, when the water temperature would be a balmy 31 degrees. We have tools to crack the ice, he said.

So now that you’ve got the picture on my neighbor, take another look at this picture, and take a guess about the temperature in that OTHER pool. Yes. Right next to the HOT tub (a) is the COLD pool (b). The swimming pool is NOT heated, and with the recent weather change the water temperature has settled at just below 60 degrees. Now, in my opinion (and we’ll keep Don Walsh out of this discussion) ANY water below 60 degrees is best used for drinking, NOT swimming.

The range between the hot tub at 104 degrees and the pool at 58 degrees is 46 degrees. This means you pretty much have your option of extremes to experience, and as we’ve learned in the past few evenings, the more frequently you experience BOTH of these temperatures, the more fun it is. Even though we’re in Maryland, I’ve never felt MORE Nordic. What a great feeling to alternate freezing cold water with the hot tub.

So this past week, if you consider that I ALSO get to swim in the morning at a wonderful competition facility, I’ve experienced many extremes in water temperature. It’s made me wonder: What IS the right temperature for swimming? While the governing bodies of swimming have determined that competition water should be between 79 degrees and 81 degrees, it seems that WAY too many pools these days have made the athletes compromise to make everyone else happy. If any rec swimmers are visiting the site, I’m sure this will be controversial, but I’ll say it anyway: If the water doesn’t SHOCK you when you jump in, it’s just not cold enough to train in. 

Having the water temp at 82 degrees or 83 degrees, while not seeming like a big deal, is a HUGE deal when it comes to athletics. Imagine running in one of those silver sweat bags that you see on late-night infomercials. Or imagine the childhood snack of "pigs in the blanket" — a hot dog wrapped in a biscuit-type bun. This is how many swimmers feel when they’re subjected to real training in water that’s just a bit too warm.

Striking the perfect balance for all swimmers, of all ranges, at all times, is something that simply can NOT be done in one pool. In fact, if you run a facility, you’d be hard pressed to make everyone happy even if you had TWO pools. You could have one pool at 81 degrees for the swim team, but try to teach a group of 8-year olds how to swim in that pool and you might as well hand them a soccer ball, and send them outside to play soccer (unless, of course, you’re simply teaching them the finer skills of shivering).

Ask a rec swimmer to swim laps back and forth in 81 degrees water, and he simply may NOT be able to build up enough body heat to make it comfortable. Ask people trying to do aquaerobics to move to the music in 81-degree water, and you’ll find you’ll only have a couple people in class. Well, we certainly understand this, and absolutely feel it’s extremely important to the world of aquatics that everyone has a place where they can get done what they need to get done.

This MUST also apply to competitive swimmers; however, in visiting facilities, I’ve noticed that it’s the competitive swimmers who most often take a backseat. They are expected to swim long, hard, demanding sets, hold fast repeats while using superior technique, and maintain specific breathing patterns while getting a few seconds rest here and there, all the while, fighting back headaches and lethargy, simply because the water is too hot.

It’s tough for everyone and, in my opinion, the only option is to have specific pools for specific purposes. If you find that this is somthing that just isn’t going to happen in your community, if you’re a competitive swimmer reading this, or a parent of a competitive swimmer, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. If the people who ask for the pool to be colder OUTNUMBER the people who ask for the pool to be warmer, maybe the pool will get colder.

It will be a constant struggle, and I know I’m risking repercussions from lap and rec swimmers, but I, for one, would gladly sacrifice my own comfort level in a pool to make sure a young swimmer is getting the environment he or she needs to succeed.

Beyond that, the other option would be to build a pool like the one my neighbor put in, and have the best of both worlds. That is, of course, for part of the year. That 59 degrees is still for the polar bears!