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What is The Perfect Swimming Pool Temperature?

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Any member of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club would tell you that swimming in frigid water is an adrenaline rush, or a “boon to one’s stamina.” Meanwhile, devotees of Iceland’s Blue Lagoon go bananas for the 104-113 degree (40 – 45°C) hot springs. One thing is for certain: varying degrees of water temperatures can have major effects on your body.

While there can be serious health concerns on both sides of the spectrum, a little nudge in one direction or another can have a big impact on your health. But it may not have as big an impact on your fat burn as you’d like.

When The Pool is Too Hot

The 2012 London Olympic pool raised some questions when the sweltering summer heat caused the temperature inside to reach a sweltering 90 degrees (32°C).

When asked about the heat, the British and U.S. teams just “shrugged off” the worries. Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Tyler Clary took the slight temperature shift in stride, according the the Guardian UK. For speed swimming, slightly warmer temperatures are optimal.

Phelps, Lochte and Clary

Phelps, Lochte and Clary

Olympic racing and FINA events mandate a water temperature between 77 – 82 degrees (25 – 28°C), whereas synchronized swimming requires an 81-degree (give or take a degree) pool.

For diving, the temp is set to a temperate 79 degrees (26°C).

When pool temperatures are warmer, it allows the athletes’ bodies to perform at maximum endurance without causing shocks to your system, although too warm can prove dangerous. Dr. Kenneth Kamler, sports medicine expert explained to CNN that if the water temperature is too hot, the trapping of body heat can cause muscle spasms, which in turn can be fatal as the swimmer doesn’t always realize this over-exertion is occurring.

In 2010, the world learned a painful lesson when U.S. National team swimmer Fran Crippen died because the water was too hot. Officially, the water was 84 degrees (29°C), but many swimmers said it felt more like 86 (30°C), and many complained of swollen limbs and disorientation. Three were hospitalized.

Dr. Michael Bergeron, a heat/hydration expert told CBS news that, just like other sports, the temperature surrounding a swimmer has a lot to do with body heat dispersion. Although the medical field has done quite a bit of research on cold-water exertion limits, not a lot has been done on the impact of hot water on athletes.

When The Pool is Too Cold

Speaking of the research done on cold water and athletes, there could be dangers hiding under your pool cover next winter. Although Polar Bear clubs around the world may swear by their practice, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

Swimming in cold water has garnered some recent buzz for “burning fat,” but the research is inconclusive. Although your body works a little bit harder to maintain an optimal temperature, the myth that cold water burns fat stems from the fact that you do burn calories when drinking cold water, but those calories don’t necessarily equate to fat burn.

The calculations are based on the notion that the very definition of a calorie is raising the temperature of water— and your body will be on overdrive working to warm up if you’re surrounded by cold water. This doesn’t mean ditch your swimming regimen all together, just don’t torture yourself with uncomfortably cold water.

Cold water can become dangerous very fast. Your body has a “fight or flight” reaction to it, explains Professor Mike Tipton (Human & Applied Physiology at University of Portsmouth) to CNN. The invigorating feeling you get is your body in shock, and it can cause irregular heart rhythms in healthy people and cardiac arrest in those with heart problems.

The extreme constriction of blood vessels as your body struggles to keep its organs warm also causes many to gasp and inhale water in attempt to deal with their freezing surroundings. This can occur in water that’s below 70 degrees (21°C), as water wicks away body heat much faster than the air.

When The Pool is Just Right

While there seems to be a very small range of optimal temperatures for swimming and working out, the good news is that our bodies can adapt to temperatures quickly. Prof. Tipton advises that those interested in Polar Bear clubs will find that within only five three- to five-minute immersions in cold water, the body begins adapting and developing a tolerance that may slice your risk of shock in half.

As far as warm water goes, the preparation for handling it isn’t as well researched, but it’s best to keep warm water for lounging around in.

If you’re looking for a perfect pool temperature, not too hot, not too cold, 77 – 82 degrees (25 – 28°C) is the way to go. Goldilocks had it right.

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  • Susan Atkinson

    Great information Matt, Thanks.

  • Mick Nelson

    79-82 is fine for high intensity aerobic acctivity but not acceptable for childrens Learn to Swim or adult normal intensity vertical exercise. These are 2 of the major income streams for many aquatic facilities. This is why one pool – one temperature – can never satisy all of the programming needs for a community or facility. The most widely accepted temperature for a single pool in 2012 is 84 degrees. This has risen form 82 degrees in 2002. Mick Nelson USA Swimming

  • Bill S

    Recreational pools like hotels, apartments etc., should run the temperature between 84-86 degrees. 83 is too cold.