Everything has their pros and cons, and even things with a lot of upsides come with their share of downsides. Today, we will be discussing some of the disadvantages of swimming that you ought to be aware of so that you can better prepare yourself to handle them.
Some of the most common problems swimmers have to deal with are:
- Increased risk of drowning due to currents or fatigue.
- Dry or irritated skin and hair from frequent exposure to salt and chlorine.
- Increased risk of fungal and bacterial infections.
- Exposure to sunlight which can lead to sunburn.
- Dehydration from sweating and peeing (due to immersion diuresis).
- Repetitive or bad stroke technique resulting in injury.
- High likelihood of quitting once winter comes around (indoor swimming is still an option).
The list above is not completely exhaustive, but it gives you a good overview of the most pressing problems that swimmers face (both indoor and outdoors).
If any of these disadvantages seem like a deal-breaker to you, then perhaps swimming is not the right sport for you. That said, many of these problems can be largely mitigated if you’re willing to put in the effort, and swimming has numerous advantages that it provides you as well, but that will not be the focus of this article.
Keep reading on to learn about each of these issues in more detail and how you can avoid these downsides as best as you can.
Main disadvantages of swimming
Risk of drowning
Any activity that takes place in a large body of water has a non-zero risk of drowning. Swimming in a controlled environment with others nearby such as a swimming pool is the safest option, but people have drowned in swimming pools before.
The biggest risk is swimming outdoors where almost everything can kill you. You will have to consider changes in currents, water temperature, weather, as well as the presence of kelp forests that you can get entangled in, marine life, boaters, jet skiers, kayakers, surfers, and myriad other things that coming into contact with could be dangerous.
There is also a concern with your physical limitations, swimming ability, and any pre-existing medical conditions. For instance, if you have asthma, normally it would not be a problem on land. In the water, you might struggle for breath and end up drowning. Any sudden medical episodes could spell disaster if you’re in the water when it occurs.
To minimize your risk, always go swimming with at least one other person watching over you, either by swimming next to you or watching from shore or a boat. In the event of an emergency, they can toss you a flotation device, call for help, or attempt to mount a rescue of their own.
Risk of infections
Untreated water is filled with bacteria and pathogens. Even chlorinated pools are not as clean as you think. It takes time for chlorine to neutralize pathogens, so waterborne diseases can still be spread. Furthermore, any human errors in maintaining the water chemistry can also result in bacteria and pathogens spreading. This can result in various infections.
The most common infection is swimmer’s ear, which is when water lingers in the ear canal for a long time. Bacteria thrives in damp environments, so the longer your ears stay wet, the greater your risk of swimmer’s ear.
Another common infection are fungal infections, and a common one amongst swimmers is athlete’s foot. This infection is highly infectious and so swimmers with good hygiene could still develop it if they use the same changing rooms as someone with poor hygiene.
For women, a common concern is the risk of yeast infection, which is caused by a combination of the bacteria in water growing due to high humidity and heat.
To reduce your risk of infection, make sure to thoroughly wash yourself after swimming. Be thorough when drying yourself and you can use ear drying drops to help dry your ears. Make sure to wear flip flops when using public spaces, and wear clothes that have a lot of airflow to facilitate faster drying.
Dry and irritated skin and hair
Spending too much time in salt water or chlorinated water can cause dry and irritated skin and hair.
Both salt and chlorine can strip the natural protective oils from your skin and hair that keeps it moisturized. Furthermore, salt is a desiccant, which means it absorbs moisture from its surroundings and it’s going to absorb moisture from your skin and hair.
In addition to drying out your skin and hair, people with sensitive skin may experience rashes on their skin due to how harsh of a chemical chlorine is. Furthermore, dry skin and hair is very sensitive and prone to cracking which feels uncomfortable.
It doesn’t help that the sun is also shining down on you the entire time, further weakening your skin and hair.
To limit the damage done to your skin and hair, remember to take a break every once in a while so you can drink water and use the restroom. Both before and after swimming, you should rinse yourself thoroughly with freshwater so that your skin and hair can absorb and become saturated with as much water as possible, which can limit the damage salt and chlorine does.
Use chlorine removal shampoo to ensure all of the chlorine has been washed off, and if needed, use conditioner or apply hair oil to restore the protective and moisturizing layer of oil to your hair. For your skin, apply skin moisturizer.
Make sure to wear waterproof sunscreen if you’ll be swimming outdoors. Wear a swimming cap to protect your hair from sun damage and to limit the amount of salt or chlorinated water it is exposed to. Worst case scenario, decrease the amount of times you go swimming if you are experiencing dry skin and hair.
Risk of injury
There are many ways to get injured while swimming. At the pool, the biggest danger is colliding with other pool-goers swimming laps. Even in other sections of the pool, particularly where there are children, they may accidentally swim into you or be wildly swinging their pool noodle or pool board and this can be dangerous if it hits your head.
Diving into any body of water is generally a bad idea unless you have checked that the water is deep enough and that there are no hard objects nearby. Botching a landing can really knock the wind out of your sails, and hitting your head too hard can knock you unconscious.
With regards to swimming laps, another concern if you swim backstroke is accidentally swimming directly into the wall. Also, be very careful if there are people diving into the water so as to avoid a collision. Maintain a wide berth around people and be aware of your surroundings.
For outdoor swimming, colliding with a boat, jet ski, surfer, or kayaker can be extremely dangerous and often fatal. Be cognizant of your surroundings and wear very bright swimwear to increase your visibility.
Pay attention to marine life, debris, and the changing currents. If the current starts picking up, getting hit by a six-feet tall wave can give you a concussion or knock you unconscious. Again, pay close attention to your surroundings.
Swimming is often advertised as a low impact sport. However, poor stroke technique can result in shoulder injuries like tendinitis and shoulder impingement, knee injuries, and neck and back injuries. Repetitive motions can often cause injuries in the long run. To minimize this, learn the proper stroke technique, rest sufficiently between swim sessions, and stop if you feel any discomfort or pain.
Staying hydrated is extremely important when you’re doing any sport, but this applies especially to swimming because the water can hide the fact that you’re sweating and exerting your body since the water is keeping you cool.
When you’re dehydrated, you can feel lightheaded, dizzy, weak, and fatigued. This will negatively impact your performance in the water.
Additionally, being dehydrated increases your risk of experiencing muscle cramps. A cramp is when your muscle involuntary contracts, and it is typically so painful and tight that you are unable to use that muscle. When you’re in open water and you get a muscle cramp, without anybody nearby to assist you, there is a very high chance of drowning.
You can avoid all of this by taking the occasional break to replenish the fluids you lost by drinking water or a sports drink.
Swimming is a seasonal activity which limits how often you can do it. People on swim teams and enthusiasts can swim year round at indoor pools, but most people stop doing that as soon as it starts getting chilly.
It also depends where you live. For most people, it is too cold at least half of the year or up to even three quarters of the year. Not everyone lives in a tropical climate.
With the right equipment, you can continue swimming outdoors during the off-season by wearing a thick wetsuit (5mm or more), swim cap, and possibly even neoprene gloves and boots to keep yourself warm while swimming in temperate water temperatures.
Most people aren’t going to jump through all of these extra hoops to continue swimming outdoors. Even if they have the option to swim indoors year round, the cold weather saps away the desire to do so. Not even the lure of the hot tub is enough since you can just enjoy that at home.