Winter Swimming Options in the Time of the Pandemic

MoCoMoCo Worcester, MASenior Member

I guess it's time to figure out how I'm going to keep swimming through the winter now that water and air temps are dropping here in Massachusetts. Case rates are high enough (and I am high-risk enough) that I don't really feel comfortable going back to pools in general and my ancient pool in particular. It's very old so it has very old HVAC, and it's in a basement. It's also the old-style pool with about a 1 foot drop between the deck and the water, so the water-level air quality has never been the best.

An Endless Pool is way out of the budget.

Anyone swim regularly on a tether? If I set up a tethered pool situation in my basement, will I die of boredom? Will it be useful? I've lost so much speed this year without regular pool workouts (and well pandemic lack of motivation is a thing).



  • kejoycekejoyce New EnglandSenior Member

    I got a backyard pool with a tether back at the end of March. I do not regret it at all, but it's not quite the solution to all my problems I was hoping for. In a fantasy world I was going to be in it for hours at a time. In reality the pool is just a bit too shallow for me to zone out - I need to focus on my stroke 100% of the time so I'm not scraping the bottom and that makes me wary of staying in there over an 30-60 min at a time. So if you do it, make sure it's deep enough (mine is 75cm deep and I'm just shy of 6'). If it were deeper, I would definitely have spent more time in it.

    That being said, it was worth its weight in gold in mental health! Back in April-May when we were in hardcore don't-go-anywhere mode, I was able to swim. It was cold and it wasn't for long, but it was more than enough. Throughout the summer on days when things were stressful and I couldn't make it to open water, it was there.

    From a stroke mechanics point of view, there are some differences. The waist belt alters your body position (pulls your hips down). So if your shoulders are sensitive to things like that, you need to take it very slow so you don't wind up with an injury. It's something you can adjust to, but it's something I hadn't fully appreciated. Perhaps in a basement with a ceiling anchor you might be able to get this effect to lessen. There's also a fair amount of chop since the water splashes back on you - I have seen many people using a snorkel for a little relief from that problem.

    Is it worth it? If you're going to be going out of your mind in January because all you want in life is to feel that stretch when you're reaching for the catch... yes.

    Is it mind-numbingly boring? A little, but you can build sets and mix it up. I use my kickboard in there sometimes. I've seen people get waterproof cases for their tablets and use them as an underwater timer (or video player). I mean, swimming in a real pool isn't exactly stimulating.

    Happy to weigh in on other aspects of tiny-pool ownership if you have any :D

  • abbygirlroseabbygirlrose Los Angeles and Palo Alto, CASenior Member

    I have been incredibly fortunate to be able to swim tethered in my parent's small backyard pool. The pool is about 4.5ft deep and I do think that the depth makes a huge difference. Back in April, i was swimming up to 3 hours at a time in it.

  • Back in march and april.i was twice dream (swimming) and drink(jack) in jacuzzi for 5 hours!

  • curlycurly Issaquah, WASenior Member

    I've been pondering the same issue. I'm contemplating a (gasp!) wetsuit. Still in the mulling it over phase as I generally have no desire to own a wetsuit. But if that's the only way I'm going to get wet between now and next May, then it might be a viable option.

    I'd ask you guys for recommendations, but what the heck does anyone on this site know about wetsuits? Maybe I'll have to go over to the tri sites...

    The water is already starting to get a little cold for me and I really don't want to acclimate down to 50F in January. I'm built for warmer weather, what can I say? Our pool is doing reservations for lanes and trying to maintain a healthy environment considering everything. Trouble is, the reservations fill up really quick and I really don't want to battle for a lane every single sign up time. I think they are doing the best they can, but it just isn't going to work so well for me. Going to be interesting figuring this all out.

  • dairy_queendairy_queen San Francisco, CANew Member

    I registered just to offer a decidedly non-triathlete perspective on wetsuits! I am a classic pandemic pool refugee - a few months after my pool closed I could not keep myself out of Aquatic Park any longer. I rented a Blue70 wetsuit and was sooooo happy to be back in the water! But I really disliked the position the suit put me in, in the water - it just felt so artificial and made it hard for me to adjust. I was still convinced that the Bay was too cold, so I got an Orca Openwater Core that has far fewer buoyancy panels. It felt much more like swimming.

    And then I just got fed up with the whole thing and exited the water mid-swim to take off the darn thing, went back in and grinned continuously for the next 48 hours at how great it was to finally have a nice proper swim.

    Check back with at the end of November, though! ;)

  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member

    Anyone swim regularly on a tether? If I set up a tethered pool situation in my basement, will I die of boredom? Will it be useful? I've lost so much speed this year without regular pool workouts (and well pandemic lack of motivation is a thing).

    I swam for two years on a tether when I was stationed in Kyrgyzstan. There were boring days, but I did get a lot of thinking done. And I managed my lake Issyk Kul crossing near the end of that two years. PM me if you want more info.


    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • abbygirlroseabbygirlrose Los Angeles and Palo Alto, CASenior Member

    When I was setting up my tether in March and @IronMike was super helpful!

  • MoCoMoCo Worcester, MASenior Member

    Thanks for all the great advice, guys... I think I'm going to try to tether outside to see if I can tolerate it. I just don't want to invest the $$ (we'd need to semi-finish a basement room if we want to have a chance of the water staying a swimmable temp) if I'm going to actually hate it. That's what makes this so challenging!

  • abbygirlroseabbygirlrose Los Angeles and Palo Alto, CASenior Member

    @MoCo I will say that I don't hate it nearly as much as I expected to. I am in a location where the pool stays warm outside but even as we have the ocean and open pools here, I still swim tethered 2-3x a week.

  • j9swimj9swim CharlestonSenior Member

    I would also recommend watching @abbygirlrose video that helped me. The angle you tether to matters.

  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member

    The angle does matter, and if you can't get the angle right, (I never could in Kyrgyzstan), then put a pull buoy between legs. Voila! Solved!


    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • LakeBaggerLakeBagger Central OregonSenior Member
    edited September 2020

    For awhile I was swimming 7 of my 18-20 hours a week in a tether pool, with my longest tether session 3 hours. I used a waterproof iPod to keep me company. I didn’t have any trouble adjusting my stroke, but I’ve been told that I have a good body position with high hips, so maybe that is why?

    The tether goes directly behind me at the lowest angle it can be at and still clear the side of the pool. I’m swimming in an 18 ft intex easy set pool, but I don’t think I actually needed the 18 footer. There is some chop, but helpful in preparing for choppy lake conditions.

    The tether is actually a piece of rubber tubing attached to a luggage strap I use as a belt. Super low budget. The tubing is attached to a rope tied around a tree.

    What helped me deal with boredom the most was making “sets”. Here are a few of my favorites:

    9x 100 stroke cycles (every right arm =1 cycle)
    1-3 “descend”—meaning each one faster than the next
    4-6 descend
    7-9 build (go from easy to hard in the course of 100 cycles)

    12x 60 stroke cycles odds easy backstroke, evens very, very hard freestyle.

    I’d typically swim for 20-30 minutes easy/moderate in between “sets”

    Don’t forget to throw in some breastroke!

  • curlycurly Issaquah, WASenior Member

    That "sets" idea is really good. It's always a great idea to break a big thing down to smaller components. I use this concept in solving problems as well as swimming.

    If you take a dispassionate look at swimming in a pool for an hour, it's kind of a dumb thing. But if you develop a workout consisting of a warm up, some technique, some interesting sets, a little warm down at the end, and a nice shower at the end, then you've just spent a productive hour doing something fun.

  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member

    I did sets similarly. Mostly dealing with strokes "100 fast, 90 normal, 80 fast..." then back up the other side. I also practiced feeding by putting a bottle on the pool deck. Every 20 or 30 minutes (or whatever), I'd "swim over" to the side of the pool, flip on my back, drink some, then get back to swimming.


    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • jendutjendut Charter Member

    I'll chime in! Tethered swimming (something I wouldn't have EVER considered doing pre-pandemic) definitely is not as bad as you would think. I do have a very high tolerance for repetitive motion and boredom, as do many of us on this forum, so that helps. I started out going by number of strokes when it was new and chilly in April, then went mainly to a timed set thing- 40 mins, then 30, then 20, etc. Sets of 5 mins each go by very quickly. The best investment EVER. I have gotten up to a few hours in it, believe it or not, and it definitely helps my open water swimming since there are no "ends" so you get used to just going. And going. It also has been very good for my body awareness and I have fixed some weaknesses (i.e. when only one hand hits the bottom, that tells you something). The downside now is that the temp seems to be falling precipitously as the nights get colder and my fantasies of swimming in it through winter are becoming shaky!

  • MoCoMoCo Worcester, MASenior Member

    Thanks again for all of the very helpful responses - after a chat with my coach, I'm skipping tethered swimming this year and either going to the actual pool, or (sob) taking an extended swim break once it gets too cold. I have a few "interesting" biomechanical issues, as anyone who has ever seen me swim can attest. I have a severe anterior pelvic tilt that I've spent years improving but not resolving, so I can't connect my core correctly which has a lovely cascading effect on my stroke mechanics. Since my hips don't actually do what they "should" when I swim, and I develop compensatory patterns really easily, we (me and my coach) think that my chances of an injury of some sort are really too high to justify the benefit.

  • KarenTKarenT Charter Member
    edited October 2020

    @MoCo - sorry that your swimming has been so disrupted. I am very lucky and have an Fastlane Pool at home, but the motor died on me in May and took three months to get fixed. I tried swimming on a tether, including short, sharp intervals and doing longer plods while listening to audio books. I also used a snorkel quite a bit to try and keep body position, and to be honest, I found it all pretty grim (and really take my hat off to those who have been doing long hours on tethers). But I also have a chronic back / neck problem and I found that the change in body position, even though only slight, started to niggle away and I felt like I was doing more harm than good after a bit. Sounds like you might have similar problems, and it's perhaps not worth the risk (although I also appreciate the desperate need to swim). I hope you can find a pool to swim in over the winter. If ever we've needed it more...

  • sosophiaphiasosophiaphia Colorado USAMember

    Sounds like 75cm (~2.5ft) might be a bit too shallow, but does anyone have any suggestions on what length of pool to get? I'm about 5'7". I'm trying to figure out if I can make this work somehow in a Colorado winter, where our pool slots are too restrictive for my night shift schedule. I'm not worried about the boredom, more the risk of injury...

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member

    I'd love to get something like this. Problem for me is that I live in a duplex, and the kids downstairs are not too careful--I'd be worried they'd want to get in--and thinking liability! (If anyone is in a similar situation and can offer guidance, I'm interested.)

    So far, I'm still doing open water, and my Y doesn't require lane reservations. It's first-come, first-served, although I don't like to swim there for more than an hour or two, as I'm beset with swimming pool sniffles and coughing if I'm there for much longer. My local high school has a great pool, much better kept--but closed for now to the public.

    Fortunately, I do see that the other Y branches are opening up... though I'm crossing my fingers b/c if covid spikes up again, we may be just where we were earlier in the year. I have Stretch-Cordz for dryland--it's even more boring than I'd imagine swimming with a tether would be. But something at least. And I also did Zoom strength training workouts. But nothing like swimming in open water!

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