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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 crazy for the 104-113 degree (40 – 45°C) hot springs. One thing is for certain: varying degrees of water temperature 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 significant impact on your health. But it may not have as big an impact on your fat burn as you’d like.
When is The Pool Water Temperature 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 to The Guardian UK. For speed swimming, slightly warmer temperatures are optimal.
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, they set the pool water temperature to a moderate 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 went to the hospital.
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, we still don’t have good information the impact that hot water has on athletes.
When is The Pool Water Temperature Too Cold?
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 an 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.
5 Best Digital Pool Thermometers
Here are the best digital pool thermometers on the market today. Keeping an eye on your pool temperature can save you money using a pool heater too.
When Is The Pool Water Temperature Perfect?
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.
Here are some helpful articles on heating and maintaining the temperature in your swimming pool:
- How to Use a Solar Pool Cover
- How to Buy The Best Pool Heater
- The Definitive Guide to Liquid Solar Covers
- 5 Best Digital Pool Thermometers
Spend Less Time Cleaning and More Time Swimming
We cut out all the fluff and confusion of pool maintenance and stripped it down to the bare bones in this easy-to-read illustrated digital guide.
Last Updated: Wednesday, April 10th, 2013