Take the Plunge: New Spas Can Put You in the Swim

The dual Aqua Swim 'n' Spa from Rio SwimSpas has separate swimming and spa areas.
by Barbara and Jim Twardowski on July 1, 2005 - 1:41pm

QUEST Vol. 12, No. 4

Denise Adamy doesn’t swim at a gym or even in her backyard. She swims in her garage.

The 43-year-old mother lives in Wasilla, Alaska, where it was 5 degrees below zero in February. Adamy has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, wears leg braces and walks with a cane. She swims and does aquatic exercises four times a week in a swim spa housed in her garage.

"I can’t think of a better way to exercise for anyone who is handicapped," Adamy said. "I love my pool."

Outdoor swim spa
Swim spas can be installed outdoors or indoors.

Swim spas — also called counter-current pools or therapy pools — allow people with a variety of abilities to swim in place. Carl R. Meyer of Rio SwimSpas in Brownsville, Texas, who’s known for his innovative swim spa designs, said, "I describe it as the marriage of a swimming pool and a spa."

Suit yourself

A swim spa is a pint-sized pool with many of the features found in a whirlpool spa. Water is circulated through jets, propellers or paddlewheels.

Swim spas come in varying sizes — typically 6 to 8 feet wide and 14 to 19 feet long. The depth ranges from 3 to 5 feet, and some units can be customized to greater depths for people who do aquatic exercises. Dual swim spas, with separate spa and pool areas, are longer.

A swim spa’s water temperature can be adjusted to provide therapeutic warm water for relaxing the muscles or cooler water for more vigorous workouts.

Adamy researched the market for years before choosing an Endless Pool. The unit can move up to 5,000 gallons of water every 2 minutes through grills that straighten and smooth the water’s flow.

The result is an adjustable, riverlike current that, with a turn of a knob, can flow gently or be intensified to a racer’s pace. Adamy’s swim spa is also 19 inches deeper than the standard model so she can do aquatic exercises in it.

Swimmer in a swim spa

Woman doing a front kick in a swim spa
Swim spas let users swim or enjoy warm water therapy. Photos by Rio SwimSpas and Dimension One Spas

Get moving

Warm water therapy is especially good for people with neuromuscular diseases.

"Aquatic exercise enables a three-dimensional environment," said Julia Meno-Fettig, a certified therapeutic recreation specialist (CTRS) and a national speaker for the Aquatic Therapy & Rehab Institute. "People leave their wheelchair, prosthetic, cane or crutches behind and have freedom of movement in the water. They can float on their backs, roll, and get into positions that they are unable to duplicate on land."

Activities in warm water (hydrotherapy) give a person greater range-of-motion and help to relax muscles. Hydrotherapy also can help to increase circulation and reduce leg swelling.

Moving around in water, if your doctor advises this, may even help increase lung capacity.

Because the buoyant nature of water supports the body, water therapy maximizes a person’s abilities. Meno-Fettig has worked with parents who don’t know the extent of their disabled children’s abilities.

For example, when Meno-Fettig tells young "Joey" he’s going to snorkel, his mother says, "He can’t do that." Joey successfully snorkels, and his mother’s view of him is changed.

"Water’s greatest gifts are independence, building confidence and increasing mobility," Meno-Fettig said.

Everybody's doing it

"Spas are a growing market. They are great for therapy and stress relief. With the aging baby boomers, we anticipate the trend will continue," said Suzanne Barrows, a spokesperson for the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals.

A swim spa at home also offers 24-hour-a-day convenience, year-round use and privacy. It can fit in a smaller space than a traditional pool, and requires a lower heating cost, easier maintenance and fewer chemicals.

NOTE: Consult with your physician before beginning a program of hydrotherapy or any other exercise. It’s important to know how much time it’s advisable for you to spend exercising or using a spa, and to have someone with you at all times.


More than a dozen manufacturers sell swim spas. Begin your research on the Internet to compare costs and options. Many companies will send literature and videos that demonstrate their products.

A swim spa can be installed in a garage, basement, patio, screened porch or sunroom. Some spas can be totally embedded in the ground. Others can be placed partially in the ground and some need to be situated on the ground, usually on a cement base. Indoors, a minimum ceiling height of 10 feet is recommended for above-ground installation.

Other considerations in choosing a spa: If you buy directly from a manufacturer, will you receive assistance in finding a contractor to install the unit? A pool builder or building contractor should be able to do the job. If you select a dealer, ask if the firm can handle the complete installation.

"Installing a swim spa is not the average do-it-yourself project," Carl Meyer of Rio SwimSpas said. "Permits may be required. A plumber and electrician will be needed."

Consider how users will enter the spa. Decide where steps, ramps or a chairlift will be located, and leave ample space.

The cost of a swim spa ranges from $8,000 to $40,000 or more. When planning your budget, don’t forget installation expenses.

Amenities, ranging from heart rate monitors to retractable security covers, are available. Features that may cost extra include: a cabinet, steps or a ramp, railings, a cover, landscaping, lighting and exercise accessories. If the person using the spa can’t climb steps, then accessibility features such as a chairlift should be added to the budget.

If possible, try a swim spa before you buy it. Many dealers have models on the showroom floor and will allow you to take a dip. Ask about customers who have purchased swim spas in your area. Carefully assess the spa’s depth and space to determine if it’s sufficient to allow you to swim or perform aquatics.

Talk to swim spa owners and ask for references. Consult the Better Business Bureau. Visit home shows where swim spas are being demonstrated.

Consumers should check their homeowners insurance to determine if they need additional coverage for swim spas. Ask a local contractor what city, county or state ordinances apply.

One of the simplest ways to pay for a swim spa is to include it in a home mortgage or home equity loan. Some swim spa companies offer financing.

If you have a prescription for aquatic therapy from your physician, the cost of a swim spa may qualify as a medical deduction on your income tax. Check with your accountant.

Aquatic Therapy & Rehab Institute
(866) 462-2874

Association of Pool & Spa Professionals
(800) 323-3996
Ask for a brochure on spa safety.

Cal Spas
(800) CAL-SPAS

Dimension One Spas

Endless Pools
(800) 233-0741

(800) 753-9633

Medallion Swim Pool
(800) 367-3865

Rio SwimSpas
(956) 831-2715

Sunbelt Spas
(800) 258-SPAS

(800) 877-7946

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