Thursday, May 15, 2008

Lean and Mean Open Water Swimmers

Everyone knows that swimming more than 6 miles in the open water takes incredible endurance, especially when it is done at the world-class level.

But, why is it that open water swimmers can look a bit soft and pudgy when they get out of the water?

Before they take the plunge, whether it is in the English Channel or in the Olympic distance of 10 kilometers in a rowing basin, many open water swimmers appear to be the epitome of health with a typical swimmer’s physique: wide shoulders tapering down to narrow hips and strong legs.

The easy answer is that the body naturally swells from prolonged exposure to salt or brackish water. As a result, their bodies appear bloated when they exit the water, especially when the swimmers are in the water for over two hours which is just a bit longer than the world’s best open water swimmers take to complete 10 kilometers.

Physiologically there is a phenomenon called third spacing that can also cause the open water swimmer’s body to appear waterlogged or swollen. This third spacing can be caused by a loss of electrolytes. In turn, this results in extracellular fluids going out of the blood vessels and into the skin tissue that normally is not perfused with fluids. Third spacing occurs in the brain, lungs, abdomen and extremities when fluid is trapped in the interstitial spaces.

The third spacing effect becomes even more noticeable with an increase in water salinity and the duration of exposure.

As experienced open water swimmers know well, they know they can appear out of shape, especially around the hips, stomach and thighs, and are always less photogenic after a long swim. This is why many swimmers like taking pictures of themselves, their teammates and colleagues BEFORE open water races rather than after.

Swimming World Magazine reported the effects of third spacing on Grant Hackett at the 2008 World Open Water Swimming Championships. The article is at SWIMMING WORLD MAGAZINE.

Copyright © 2008 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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