As someone with a fear of deep water, I have always found the deep end of a pool a challenge. Although I am now a regular swimmer and have faced this fear, there are days I can feel uneasy in the deep end, as the fear can sometimes creep back if I do not manage my thoughts.
As a general rule, swimming in a deep pool requires the same level of physical effort and ability as swimming in shallow water. However, deep water can be psychologically harder to swim in, as many have a natural fear of deep water.
Although swimming in deep water can be more difficult for those who are fearful, I want to look at the differences between deep and shallow water to understand:
- How does depth of water effect swimming?
- Can you swim faster in deeper water?
- What do swimmers mean by a “fast pool”?
- How deep is an Olympic pool?
- Do you float better in deep water?
- How can I relax in deep water?
How Does Depth Of Water Effect Swimming?
As someone with a lifelong fear of deep water, I am fascinated with the subject.
When you first duck your head under the water at the shallow end, you might glimpse the dark blue of the deep end of the pool. For some, the deep water excites them, but for most, the deep end is scary.
Assuming a perfectly calm pool with no waves, the depth of the water does not affect your swimming. If you can swim well in the shallow end, you can do the same at the deep end.
The depth of the water can affect your swimming in the following ways:
1 – Water Turbulence & Deep Water
Water turbulence impacts your swimming. The more “choppy” the water, the harder it is to swim.
In a busy pool, the water is turbulent. Many swimmers splash around and create waves. These waves typically disperse throughout the pool or bounce off the pool walls.
Just like sound waves, water waves travel until they hit an object and reflect, or travel until they run out of energy.
Deep water absorbs waves more effectively, making deeper water in a swimming pool less turbulent.
It is easier to swim in calm water, so it can be easier to swim in the deep end of a busy pool.
You will feel less impact and influence from waves in deep swimming pools and swimming will feel easier because of this.
2 – Psychological Impact Of Deep Water
For many, swimming in deep water is harder as they have a fear of deep water, which will cause their muscles to tense, making swimming feel much more of a challenge.
As someone who has struggled with a lifelong fear of deep water, I can testify that this is a real challenge to overcome.
I always believed that if I became a good and confident swimmer, that my fear of deep water would disappear, but I have found that this is not the case.
Today, I consider myself a good swimmer and can easily swim long distances without effort, yet the deep end can still freak me out.
I have found that I am not the only one, which shows the strong psychological impact of deep water.
It is perfectly understandable to have a fear of deep water. Anything that is a threat to our safety should be treated with caution, so I believe it is a normal phobia that has a function.
However, it is important to understand and deal with your fear of deep water in case you ever find yourself in a position where you are out of your depth.
If you become uncomfortable or scared in the water, your muscles will tense, which will make floating more difficult, which could lead to serious problems.
For many, deep water is hard to swim in because of the fear and psychological challenges it poses.
It is possible to overcome these psychological barriers with the right knowledge and help.
I found that doing 1-to-1 private lessons where a swim instructor stays with you in the deep end can help you deal with the sensation of being in deep water.
In addition, it is important to train your body to float in deep water, in case anything goes wrong. Instead of freezing up and panicking, your instinct should be to get on your back and float.
In addition to learning to swim, learning to cope with the fear of deep water is an extra aspect of being in the water that needs to be handled in order to be safe while you swim.
3 – Shallow Water & A Feeling of Speed
Many swimmers argue that it is easier to swim in shallow water as they feel they swim faster in the shallow end.
In reality, the feeling of swimming faster in the shallow end is due to depth perception and being able to see the tiles on the floor of the pool.
As you swim into the shallow end of the pool and see the pool tiles sweeping past, you might feel like you are swimming much faster as seeing the pool tiles going by quickly tricks your mind into thinking you are now flying it!
If you have visual markers, such as pool tiles, going past your eyes as you swim gives the perception of speed.
In reality, you will be swimming at the same speed in the deep end, but as you cannot see the pool floor tiles in as much detail, you have less of a gauge for speed.
It is like driving on the motorway and looking out the window at the world flying by. If you look at objects in the distance, you feel you are driving slowly, but if you look at closer objects on the roadside, you will feel you are speeding as these objects fly past your vision quickly.
Can You Swim Faster In Deeper Water?
How fast you swim in a pool is not dependent on the depth of the water. In theory, you can swim as fast in deep water as you can in shallow water if the pool water is calm.
When we swim, we typically stay on the surface of the water, so as long as the water is deep enough to support your body, it will not affect your swim speeds.
What affects your swim speeds is water turbulence and how choppy the water is.
As we mostly stay on the surface when we swim, if the water is choppy, it is more difficult to glide smoothly through the water.
In swimming pools, the deeper end of the pool is typically less choppy as the deeper water does a better job of absorbing the waves and turbulence.
If you swim outdoors such as in the sea, this is a very different story. Deep water can produce more powerful waves and experience undercurrents which can slow you down and prove a real risk to life.
In the pool, the deep end might be faster as the water will be typically less turbulent.
What Do Swimmers Mean By A “Fast Pool?”
Competitive swimmers may sometimes refer to a pool as a “fast pool”.
There are certain factors with pool design and water depth that can help a swimmer perform better or swim faster.
A fast competitive pool will be deep enough to prevent or minimise waves and have a poolside edge design that allows water to drain off effectively, not allowing waves to bounce off the walls and back into the pool.
In pro races, often the outside two lanes are not used to ensure that each swimmer has a fair race. If the two outside lanes are used, these swimmers are at a disadvantage as they would be more likely to suffer from choppy water, because of waves hitting off the side of the pool.
Choppy and turbulent water can cause slower swim times.
How Deep Is An Olympic Pool?
According to FINA specifications, an Olympic swimming pool must be at least 2.0m deep.
Here are the full FINA Olympic pool specifications in greater detail: [source]
|2m (minimum), 3m (recommended)
|Number Of Lanes
|25–28 °C (77–82 °F)
Do You Float Better In Deep Water?
Floating is the same in any water depth.
The depth of water has little to no impact on how you float. How you float in deep water is exactly the same as how you float in shallow water.
I think this is an important fact to talk about, as if you have a fear of deep water, it may help your mind to cope if you understand that the depth of water does not matter when it comes to floating. It could be 1m or 1000m depth.
How Can I Relax In Deep Water?
I can lie on my back, floating in the shallow end all day long as I am relaxed and calm. However, I would be less confident in doing this in the deep end of the pool.
Because I have a fear of deep water, my mind plays tricks with me once I am in deep water, and I have to reassure myself that I can tread water for hours and swim miles and the water depth does not matter.
I have practised and trained to do this, so if I get a panic moment in the deep end, my muscle memory to tread water and floating skills come into play automatically.
From my experience, learning to swim, learning to float for survival, and learning to overcome a fear of deep water are all different things.
I thought that if I learnt to swim, my fear of deep water would go away, but it didn’t.
I can swim for hours and cover miles, but sometimes, the old demons still raise their heads when I am in the deep end and I get some deep water fear creeping in.
From my experience, most swim instructors have never had a fear of deep water, so cannot understand that you have to train the mind to cope, not just swim well.
From my experience of learning to deal with a fear of deep water, here are my tips for relaxing in deep water:
1 – Hire A Personal Swim Instructor
If you have a problem with deep water, hire a swim instructor with the sole purpose of helping you deal with your fear in the deep end.
A good 1 to 1 private swim tutor will get in the water with you, teach you the basics on how to tread water and how to float on your back.
Treading water and learning to float are fundamental survival skills that you need in deep water. If you are confident that you can keep afloat in the deep end, you can learn to relax and enjoy it.
2 – Learn To Play
Growing up, both my parents did not know how to swim and water was a “no-go” area.
As a result, I never learnt to swim as a child or to play in the water.
I firmly believe that playing in the water and learning to enjoy the water can build water confidence and help you relax in deeper water.
Have you ever seen a swim teacher throw a block into the deep end of the pool for a swim student to dive and get it? This is more than just a diving skill. It is a fun game to help swimmers to build water confidence and feel calm and in control.
Under the supervision of a swim teacher, or swim group, learn to have fun and enjoy the pool water. This will help you gain water confidence and relax at the deep end.
Always swim with others in deep water to be safe.
3 – Learn To Float
Learning how to float is the best way to relax in the water. By learning to float correctly, you can float on the water indefinitely.
Check out this article to learn more about how to float and why it is an important life skill to know.