Best Swim Spas
Swim Spas: The best space-saving pools for home swimmers
Swim spas are an excellent way to get a full body workout in a compact space and are perfect for people that love swimming, but don’t have room for a large swimming pool.
Swim spas are designed so you swim in place against a current, rather than swimming traditional lengths in a pool. Some models even have a swim spa and hot tub combo, so you can massage those tired and aching muscles after a morning workout. Stay active, and remain healthy while enjoying that Jacuzzi-style comfort.
We spent 40 hours researching 10 swim spa companies. As we evaluated them, we considered their current systems and the types of jets they offer as well as their customer service, selection, prices and accessories. Price depends on the model you want and where you plan to install it, so you need to request a quote from the company you choose. Our research shows PDC Spas is the best place to buy a swim spa because of its large selection, strong swim current systems, quick customer service and many fun options.
How Does a Swim Spa Work?
Swim spas are mostly shaped like a traditional pool, but they also include jets like a hot tub. But these jets create a current for you to swim against to strengthen muscle groups and extend your endurance. The jets have different settings to vary current speeds, so you’re continually challenged as your strength increases.
For more advanced swimmers, who enjoy a more challenging swim, the jets can be replaced with a propeller. These propellers are usually designed to go at the front of the swim spa to push the swimmer backwards, and give them a greater resistance to push against. These models are usually more expensive than the jet models, with prices starting in the $25,000 range.
Swim spas with paddlewheels are the most expensive design though and usually cost $35,000 or more, but offer an excellent current to swim against. This design creates a cycle of water that is taken out of the back of the tank, and reintroduced to the front to create a smooth and stable current.
Some swim spas have treads at the bottom, much like a treadmill. These allow you to walk in your pool providing you with a whole different workout. And you can still use your jets to create resistance during your run. Side bars offer not only support, but also a means for additional water aerobic exercise. Some swim spa models, including those offered by Endless Pools, support mobile fitness apps that monitor your workout and send the results to an online fitness trainer.
Several swim spa models have a section dedicated for cooldown and relaxation. This area generally doesn’t hold more than one or two people at a time, and its jets mimic those found in traditional hot tubs. This area helps massage tired or sore muscles and lets you decompress after a good workout.
Best Swim Spas of 2019
PDC Spas: Best Swim Spa Overall
Pro: 14 swim spa models
Con: Not an especially wide range of spa sizes
PDC Spas has a big selection of swim spas with a variety of options for current power and jet customization. A handy product comparison chart on the company’s website makes shopping for a swim spa easy – it lists each available swim spa model along with its details and specifications, including jet type, type of filtration system, dimensions, lighting options and other accessories.
You can choose between models that create the swimming current with three jets or a dual prop propulsion system, which produces a really strong current. It’s easy to spot the difference between the swim spas in PDC Spas’ three series. For example, it’s easy to see you need to buy a Synergy or a TruSwim swim spa if you want cascading water spouts, not a Vitality model. In total, there are 14 swim spas to pick from – that’s the largest selection of the companies we reviewed, matched only by Hydropool’s inventory.
You can personalize your PDC Spas swim spa with audio features and LED lights. Its swim spas come in sizes between 1,792 and 2,700 gallons, and there are many jet options to choose from, depending on whether your spa is for family fun, therapy or a thorough workout.
We asked PDC Spas for more information and received a call back about seven hours later, which was one of the shortest response times of the companies we reviewed. The company also has plenty of online videos to show you how to use your new swim spa.
Endless Pools: Best Value
Pros: Can build your own spa online and see the price
Cons: Few accessories for sale
On Endless Pools' website, you can build your own swim spa and see a price quote right away, making it the only company we evaluated that posts all prices up front. We entered our contact information on the site but didn’t request an official quote because the prices are listed in the swim spa builder tool. Even so, we got an informational mailer and DVD in the mail postmarked the day after we used the website, and we received a phone call from a helpful customer service rep in six days.
An online spa builder tool under the “Build Your Endless Pool” option in the Products dropdown menu lets you create your own customized spa and the website will show the recommended retail price. You need to know a little terminology if you plan to build your own swim spa. For example, it asks you to select which liner you want and which coping system.
Endless Pools’ swim spas range in size from 1,200 gallons up to 2,395 gallons. That isn’t the widest size range of the companies we reviewed, but it’s big enough. There are also many other design elements you can customize, including jets and lighting.
A primary reason people buy swim spas is to swim laps without needing a big pool. Endless Pools’ swim spas create a current using a 16-inch propeller, and the current it makes is stronger than those created with jets. Because of the propeller, the current is wider than your body, deeper than your stroke and bubble-free. Endless Pools has only a few accessories for sale, although it does sell underwater exercise equipment.
SwimEx: Widest Water Capacity Swim Spa Selection
Pros: Sells propeller and paddlewheel current models
Cons: Underwater exercise equipment is costly
SwimEx makes six residential swim spa series. Each model holds a different amount of water, has different dimensions, and accommodates different types of aquatic exercise and relaxation options.
The smallest is the 400 OS, which holds 2,600 gallons of water. Although it is small, at least compared to SwimEx’s other spas, it’s big enough to accommodate several people with enough room for all to exercise. It uses a paddlewheel to create full-spa water currents, while its flat, non-skid floor permits all kinds of exercise, including those that require aquatic exercise equipment.
In case you need something much bigger, SwimEx makes the 1000 S – a multi-user swim spa that holds 7,700 gallons of water. It is the company’s largest model and can be used by several people at once. The paddlewheel current allows people to swim side by side, and there's also an area of still water for people who prefer that. Further, the 1000 S has a stationary underwater running pad built at an angle that mimics a treadmill as well as a step-up area and an exercise bench. There are also three wells you can use for weight-bearing exercises. These are fine choices, although some are expensive models.
Why Trust Us
We have been researching, ranking and reviewing swim spas for more than four years. During our research, we learn about swim spas made by well-known companies. We consider the styles and sizes of swim spas each company makes as well as the number of spas available, the kinds of water jet propulsion systems used and price range. In addition, we look for swim spa manufacturers that offer a variety of extras to enhance your swim spa experience, including spa covers, underwater workout equipment, sound systems, railings and LED lights.
Further, we consider how promptly companies respond when we request a quote. The faster the response, the better, as it could indicate the level of service you can expect later. We also take into account how informative the customer service representative is versus how eager he or she is to just make a sale.
Armed with quantifiable information as well as our own perceptions, we put the data we gather into a chart and use a proprietary system that weighs different factors. This helps us select which swim spa companies should be included in our reviews.
How We Researched Swim Spas
For research, we requested a quote from each company. To be as fair as possible, all requests were made during mid-morning hours on a weekday. Our requests were all for a residential address in northern Utah and if the website required it, we said we wanted to buy a swim spa in the next one to three months. We then timed how long it took for a salesperson or customer service representative to get back. We counted weekend days because there was actually one company which did call us on a Saturday. If we didn’t hear back in seven days we stopped waiting and counted it as a nonresponse.
Of course, we also looked at the swim spa systems each company offers. We favored those that sell spas with paddlewheel current systems, since they’re usually the strongest. In addition, we preferred companies with wide selections of therapy and swim jets. Other factors we considered include whether the company provides informational videos and which accessories it sells. We counted the number of swim spa models for sale on each website and gave preference to companies that make models in a wide range of sizes. You can personalize most swim spas by adding more jets, lights and a plethora of other features, making the actual number of models for sale nearly limitless.
As part of our research we also spoke with a regional representative for Master Spas. Kevin Richards explained some of the inside workings of the industry, what to look for, questions to ask and where to purchase a swim spa. For example, most swim spa companies have clearance sales in November and December to make room for newer models that typically hit showrooms in early February. It isn’t uncommon for people to get a quote during the clearance season, but it won’t be valid once the new models are delivered.
Richards also encourages you to purchase a swim spa directly from a reputable dealer in your area. This is because installing your spa may come with some necessary plumbing or electrical work. A dealer will be able to recommend a reputable plumber or electrician in your area to ensure your spa’s warranty is compromised during self installation.
Health Benefits Of A Swim Spa
Christine Schulte, president of the American Physical Therapy Association’s Aquatic Physical Therapy Division, said you should always go to a professional if you need aquatic physical therapy. However, something like a home swim spa can be a great transitional tool afterward for staying in shape.
“We absolutely have patients who go out and purchase pools for their home because they’ve had such success with the therapies,” she said.
And if you’re interested in swimming laps without installing a massive pool, swim spas are a great alternative. Schulte said in her opinion, spas with paddlewheel water current systems create an experience that’s truest to regular lap swimming.
Aquatic exercise in a swim spa can be helpful for people with chronic conditions, but Schulte said it varies by person. For example, people with multiple sclerosis should avoid a swim spa because warm water can exacerbate symptoms, while people with arthritis tend to prefer a pool that is around 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Putting them in a pool and using depth and buoyancy, it gives them an environment where they can freely move,” Schulte said.
Cope with Osteoarthritis
Swim spas are especially helpful for people with osteoarthritis (OA), which is the most common form of arthritis, according to Rick McAvoy, writing for PoolAndSpa.com. There are many reasons why, including the fact that the warm water can help reduce pain. Also, exercising in water can assist with joint flexibility, and water creates the resistance needed for a high-intensity workout but puts little impact on your joints.
McAvoy describes osteoarthritis as an ailment in which your joint cartilage begins to break down, which can cause pain, swelling and stiffness that sometimes requires surgery for relief. He writes that there is a “50-50 chance that at some point in your life, you are going to develop osteoarthritis.”
“One of the most effective ways to treat OA is to exercise,” McAvoy writes. “Your swim spa is one of the most comfortable and effective places a person with arthritis can exercise.”
Swim Spas Can Help With Weight Loss
In another 2018 article in PoolAndSpa.com, McAvoy points out that anyone with weight problems can benefit from swim spa workouts with less risk of joint or muscle pain. Benefits include low impact on joints since you’re buoyed by the water, greater flexibility for tight muscles since warm water helps loosen them, and overall calorie burning.
McAvoy also notes that water provides resistance since the harder you push, the harder the water pushes back. “So no matter what fitness level you are, you control the amount of resistance, which is a very safe and effective way to train,” he says.
Swim Spas Can Ease Lower Back Pain
Exercising in water can also help certain individuals who suffer from lower back pain. In fact, some studies suggest aquatic exercise may be more effective than on-land workouts for some people with back ailments, according to an article by Rena Goldman in Pool & Spa News.
“According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 80% of adults will experience low-back pain at some point during their lifetime. It’s also the most common cause of job-related disability and missed work,” Goldman states.
Exercising in water takes pressure off joints, and that makes it easier to move than if you were working out on land, according to Goldman. People with lower back pain, or any kind of joint pain, can build strength and take part in moderate-intensity cardio workouts while in water. In addition, this can help with weight loss, which helps ease back pain for many individuals.
“People who are unable to move as easily on land can be more physically active in the water,” says Goldman.
Swim Spas Can Improve Balance
Another little-publicized benefit is that swim spa workouts can help senior citizens improve their balance, according to another 2018 PoolAndSpa.com article by Rick McAvoy.
Seniors often become increasingly sedentary as they age, and unused muscles can create an imbalance that affects posture and walking, McAvoy says. This makes them more likely to fall, which can be extremely dangerous. “Falls are the leading cause of injury-related morbidity and mortality among older adults,” McAvoy says, noting that an older adult dies from a fall every 19 minutes.
He considers swim spa workouts an excellent way for seniors to improve their fitness. In turn, that gives them better balance, as well as greater flexibility and strength, out of the water.
The water resistance in a swim spa can help improve seniors’ coordination and confidence and strengthen normal walking patterns in a safe environment. In particular, “Single leg balance activities can be extremely important to your overall balance and can be very effective when performed in water,” according to McAvoy. Ideally, swim spa workouts are combined with a “basic land based exercise program” for optimal results.
Are Swim Spas Unhealthy?
Swim spas are only unhealthy if you don't look after them properly. Because the same water is used and reused (often by multiple people), proper maintenance and regular cleaning are important. If you keep your swim spa clean, you won’t end up in germ-filled water and it will last longer, maximizing your financial and health investment.
One important task is to sanitize the water. “Without proper sterilization, all of the germs and other bodily fluids like sweat that are excreted by everyone that uses it will become overpowering very quickly,” according to SwimSpasHotTubs.com. You can use chlorine, although the slightly more expensive bromine is easier on your skin. If you see any algae, you must drain the swim spa and clean it.
Another important task is testing and adjusting the alkalinity of the water because if your water is hard, you’ll end up having to replace swim spa parts. Many swim spas come with a PH tester kit, but you can also purchase one separately. Testing a water sample weekly and adding the right chemicals to get the correct levels is essential to maintaining your swim spa.
What Kinds of Exercises Can You Do in a Swim Spa?
Swim spas can be used for many types of exercise, beyond the invigorating workouts you get swimming against the resistance current. For example, beginners can strengthen their muscles by stretching and doing leg lifts or arm movements in the water. You can also get quite a good workout just walking in place with the water jets set at a low level. Additionally, you can fill clean plastic milk jugs with water – partially at first, adding more over time – to use as inexpensive weights. As you get fitter, you can invest in resistance bands that attach to the side of the swim spa and further expand your exercise options.
Intermediate and advanced exercises can incorporate more vigorous movements, and you can intensify workouts with the addition of aquatic exercise equipment. For example, hand weights designed for use in water can strengthen arms and pectoral muscles, while ankle weights provide resistance to help you strengthen, trim and sculpt your lower and upper legs and rear.
Many spa companies sell treadmills, stationary bikes and other equipment that works in chemically treated water. These pieces of exercise equipment give you a familiar, straightforward workout. The more costly, sophisticated versions of these machines have digital screens to track your pulse, exertion, workout history and more.
Are Swim Spas Worth the Investment?
Swim spas vary dramatically in cost depending on size, jet power, features and installation. A basic model costs about $4,000, while more expensive swim spas cost upward of $30,000. Even so, the answer to that question could be a resounding yes, depending on what you need and expect from a swim spa.
Most of us don’t have money to burn, but if it is an investment in your health, a swim spa could pay off beautifully, according to HFS Financial, a company that specializes in home improvement and swimming pool loans. A 2018 article on the company’s website lists the health benefits people with no serious ailments can derive from a home swim spa: improved sleep, reduced stress, faster recovery from injuries, weight maintenance, reduced muscle pain, increased muscle strength and better flexibility.
Besides those benefits, swimming spas can also help your heart and lungs. “When you exercise in one of these spas, you will be utilizing every muscle group in your body in a controlled setting. It is an excellent way to obtain a cardiovascular workout without having to leave your home’s property,” the article says.
They’re also great for socializing, since you don’t need to run the swimming jets all the time. Friends and family can enjoy a pleasant time soaking in the warm water and chatting. Alleviating loneliness can go a long way toward improving your health.
What’s the Difference Between a Swim Spa, a Jacuzzi & a Hot Tub?
People often use the terms “spa,” “hot tub” and “jacuzzi” interchangeably, but in fact, each refers to something different. Here’s a mini glossary:
Swim spa: This is a small pool that uses powerful jets to propel water toward you so you can get a workout by swimming against the tide, so to speak. They can be quite big, and you can also turn the swimming jets off and just soak.
Jacuzzi: This is the trademarked name of a corporation with a history of manufacturing excellent hot tubs and spas. It’s so well-known, its name has become synonymous with these products, much like Kleenex is with tissues. Jacuzzi also sells swimming pools, saunas, walk-in bathtubs and more.
Spa (also hot tub): Unlike swim spas, these are made for relaxation. They hold warm water, have seating and include jets that push hot water out from all sides. At the same time, water is drawn out, filtered, reheated and cycled back in.
Safety Tips for Swim Spas
In its 2017 annual report, the CDC, noted 6,400 pool- or spa-related injuries in children younger than 15 years. 73 percent of these incidents included children under 5 years old, and 351 resulted in death. Most of these accidents happened at a pool or hot tub at the child’s own home.
In a May 2016 article, LiveScience gives several tips on how to keep kids safe around pools and hot tubs and reduce the risk of drowning.
Always keep an eye on your child while they are near water, even if they aren’t swimming. It only takes a couple of seconds for a young child to fall in and get hurt. If your child is in the pool or hot tub, especially if they are very young, get into the water with them. This helps you stay focused and engaged with them and prevents injuries.
Install fencing or invest in a sturdy cover that kids can’t fall though, even if they step on it. Also, pull up or remove ladders from above-ground models when not in use to prevent children from climbing into the pool or hot tub.
Pick up around your pool. Even if you don’t have a regular recreational pool, make sure there isn’t anything enticing left around your swim spa or hot tub. This includes drinks, food, radios, flotation devices and toys. A lot of kids accidentally fall into open pools while trying to get something that’s near the pool.
Establish and enforce clear rules around your swim spa. Think about the rules posted at public pools, including no running or diving, showering before and after swimming, and no peeing in the water. These same rules apply at residential spas, hot tubs and pools, too.
Pool Alarms for Swim Spas
A pool alarm can help keep kids safe around all kinds of pools and hot tubs. They come in a variety of models including floating alarms and wearables, and all with very loud alarms to bring your attention to the water when something is amiss.
In our tests of the best pool alarms, we picked Brickhouse Pool Alarm as the best because it can monitor a decent sized pool and recognizes the difference between small debris and children. Anything larger than a golf ball that hits the water triggers the alarm, and it is loud.
Another good option is the Safety Turtle 2.0. This wearable alarm slips over your child’s wrist, like a watch, and it can only be removed using a special key. The alarm goes off when it is submerged, so you’ll know instantly if your child slips below the water while wearing it. In our tests, this pool alarm was very accurate and didn’t go off when water was simply flicked on it.
Swim Spas & Pregnancy
Relaxation is important during pregnancy, and since there are few better ways to relax, you may be tempted to swim in a swim spa or soak in a hot tub. However, pregnant women must be careful since increasing their internal temperature can potentially cause serious complications.
“The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that becoming overheated in a hot tub is not recommended during pregnancy. ACOG also recommends that pregnant women never let their core body temperature rise above 102.2º F,” according to an article on the American Pregnancy Association website.
The problem is that hot tubs are usually designed to stay at about 104 degrees Fahrenheit. “It takes only 10-20 minutes in a hot tub to raise your body temperature to 102º F or higher,” the article states.
There are studies that indicate women whose body temperatures went above 101 degrees Fahrenheit during the first trimester had a greater risk of having babies with birth defects.
It doesn’t hurt to sit in a bathtub of hot water because your upper body generally is not fully submerged and the materials used to build tubs cool the water quickly, unlike swim spa materials and systems.
If you really love your swim spa or hot tub and want to use it while you are pregnant, you can set the temperature lower, stay in less than 10 minutes, take your temperature, and pay close attention to any feelings of discomfort or sweating.
It’s also wise to talk to your obstetrician about all types of exercise that could raise your body’s temperature excessively high as well as about using saunas or steam rooms to relax.
Can Swim Spas Spread Disease?
All forms of water recreation carry the risk of spreading illness-causing germs, according to an article on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. The CDC says people catch “recreational water illnesses” by “swallowing, breathing in mists or aerosols of, or having contact with contaminated water” in everything from pools and hot tubs to natural sources such as lakes and rivers. In addition, the chemicals in the water can cause illness when they evaporate, and they can negatively affect indoor air quality.
“RWIs can be a wide variety of infections, including gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic and wound infections. The most commonly reported RWI is diarrhea,” the article states.
Certain chemicals, such as chlorine and bromine, can kill germs in swim spas, pools and hot tubs as long as proper pH and disinfectant levels are maintained. But even then, it takes time for chemicals to work fully. According to another article by the CDC, you should use pool test strips to check your spa water’s pH and free chlorine or free bromine concentration. To prevent the spread of disease, the water should have a pH between 7.2 and 7.8 and a free chlorine concentration of at least 3 parts per million (ppm) or a free bromine concentration of at least 4 ppm.
Should I Get a Hot Tub or a Swim Spa?
Hot tubs and swim spas are both significant investments and both can benefit your physical and mental health as well as your social life. According to a 2017 article on the blog The Great Backyard Place, you should consider three things before you decide which one to buy: your budget, how you plan to use it and where you plan to put it.
Swim spas are designed for exercise. Their powerful, adjustable jets let you swim and do other low-impact cardio and strength training workouts that are easy on the joints. However, you can turn the jets off and just soak, and many swim spas have an area designed just for that – essentially, there is a hot tub area in your spa. In general, swim spas tend to cost more than hot tubs of comparable size, although that varies depending on such things as the number of jets and other amenities.
On the other hand, hot tubs help reduce muscle tension and let you soak your stress away. They are intended to be relaxing. In general, hot tubs cost less than swim spas, although very large, beautifully designed models can get pricey.
The Great Backyard Place also recommends you give plenty of thought to where you want to put the hot tub or swim spa you buy. You need enough room, whether it goes on your patio or in your yard. Also, if you plan to put it on a deck, you need to be sure the deck is strong enough to support it.
Runners: Swimming Is Great Winter Exercise
Runners can benefit enormously from swimming, especially in winter, according to a December 2018 article by Hailey Middlebrook in Runner’s World. Among other things, it provides excellent cardiovascular exercise without tough impact on joints.
In the article, Earl Walton, head coach of the Tailwind Endurance triathlon club, said swimming can also strengthen your muscles, especially your core – the muscle group that supports the spine.
“When you do freestyle, for example, your abs, obliques, and lower back muscles help you maintain a streamline position and rotate you from side to side, while your upper back muscles work with your shoulders to pull through the water,’ Walton said.
Another benefit is it can help you out of an exercise rut if you’ve become bored, are between marathons, are moving from marathons to triathlons or are simply getting through the winter months. In addition, swimming can be great for runners recovering from injuries since it not only helps maintain good physical health but also improves mental health.
Swim Spa Maintenance Kit
Spa maintenance professionals suggest testing the pH, alkalinity and sanitizer levels weekly. Regular water maintenance helps avoid costly repairs, and frequent filter replacement removes calcium build up and scale formation. Here are some maintenance products to keep your swim spa clean and sanitary.
This drop testing kit comes with all the chemicals you need to test for chlorine, bromine, pH, acid demand and total alkalinity. The color-coded scale is easy to read and comes with step-by-step testing instructions and a quick reference guide. The test scale and chemicals come in a sturdy plastic case to keep all the contents organized and dry. Other kits use test strips, which are more cost-effective and easier to use, but drop test kits provide more accurate readouts if you use the prescribed number of drops.
Once you finish testing the water chemistry, you may need to add chemicals to balance the levels. This kit has all the chemicals you need to keep the water in your swim spa clear and sanitary, including pH increaser and decreaser, alkalinity increaser and decreaser, calcium booster and a defender chemical to prevent scale build up. The $90 price tag is expensive, but if you perform weekly tests, the chemicals should last for several years. Leisure time also sells the chemicals individually, so if you run out of one you won't need to purchase the entire kit again.
Contributing Reviewer: Linda Thomson