Catch the Current!July 22nd, 2010
Get your workout and hydrotherapy in one convenient system.
By Rachel Harper
For homeowners who’d love to own both a swimming pool and a hot tub, but may not have the budget or space to purchase both, a swim spa is their best bet. Because swim spas are larger than hot tubs, they are ideal for athletes, swimmers, and casual exercisers. Users can swim against an adjustable-speed current, perform a fitness routine, and enjoy a massage from the hydrotherapy jets all in one place.
Choose Your Current
Models come with one of three different systems that generate the swim spa’s current. The most common are jet propulsion systems, also known as pressure-driven systems, in which the current is generated by one or more jets. They are typically powered with 4-HP motors 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 creates a smooth current across the entire width of the spa, moving in a layered, sheet-like flow. The current can flow as deep as two feet, and water is circulated under the swim current and back to the paddlewheel.
Propeller-powered systems create a smooth current similar to paddlewheel systems, but with the smaller current width of jet propulsion systems. A propeller at the front of the spa forces water through a grate in the spa wall, where the current continues toward another grate on the rear wall. Water often travels back to the propeller through recessed channels, sometimes concealed in bench seats or beyond the side walls.
Most swim spas come with hydrotherapy jets at the opposite end of the current so you can enjoy a relaxing water massage after a workout. (On some models, these jets are optional.) Smaller units typically have a small number of jets and a built-in bench. Other models have molded seats like those in a hot tub and typically have more jets because they are built into each seat. Larger units often have a wall separating the swimming section from the hydrotherapy area; this means the water can be set to two different temperatures, and both sections can be used simultaneously.
Swim spas can be installed aboveground or inground, and usually plug into a 240 V outlet, which requires special wiring. The interior shells and exterior cabinets of a swim spa come in various colors, so you can achieve a natural look or a bold, modern look. Some shells are composed of acrylic (used in most hot tub shells), while others are fiberglass or vinyl-lined. You may also add waterline tile and coping.
When deciding on a model, keep the extras in mind. Lighting, additional jets, handrails, steps, exercise bars, and certain fitness systems require installation and should be considered early in the decision-making process. You may also consider an underwater stereo to keep you motivated while swimming.
Like hot tubs, swim spas should be covered whenever not in use to keep out debris and prevent chemical loss.
What You Get for the Money
Swim spas vary in price based on size, style, and the options and accessories that take them to the next level. Basic compact models start around $15,000. You can get a quality unit with a strong current and spa cover for about $20,000; larger units retail for $25,000 to $33,000. Adding numerous options and several major accessories, such as an underwater treadmill, can drive the price as high as $42,000. Some dealers offer a number of accessories as tiered discounted packages. For shoppers looking for the ultimate swimming and soaking experience, luxury models offer a great deal of versatility and convenience.
Get Fit in a Swim Spa
When it comes to exercise, water has two major advantages over land:
1.) Water provides resistance in all directions making movement more challenging.
2.) All movement done in water is low-impact, meaning there’s a very low risk of injury. The low-impact environment is ideal for those with arthritis or who are undergoing physical rehabilitation, but swim spas appeal to users on any fitness level—from beginners to athletes and competitive swimmers.
Some models have deep water wells that allow for deep-water running while staying completely buoyant. Many models feature fasteners in various locations on the spa walls; these allow you to attach tension cords for leg and arm exercises, like rowing. Water weights and swim fins will also increase water’s resistance to work your muscles harder. Additional accessories that will really turn your swim spa into a home gym include underwater bikes, elliptical trainers, and treadmills.
Photo courtesy of SwimEx