Does Swimming Have Any Negatives?! (Drawbacks Listed)


We all know that swimming is a great activity whether it’s for sport or leisure. And, we know that it has many positive effects (benefits) on one’s health both physically and mentally. We know this because of both scientific data and statistics (i.e., research) as well as anecdotal evidence (i.e., personal accounts). 

What is less known about and rarely discussed is [any of] the [potential] negative effects of swimming.

While the positive effects of swimming [far] outweigh the [potential] negative effects, for sure, it is important to be aware of the [potential] negative effects. By being aware of the [potential] negative effects [of swimming] one can take measures to lessen their effect, and/or, quite possibly, avoid them altogether (i.e., mitigate them). 

“Knowing is half the battle”

G.I. Joe (animated character)

So, with temperatures becoming warmer and summer just around the corner, let’s take a look at [some of] those [potential] negative effects of swimming. Because, when you know about them you can take steps to lessen their effect(s), if not completely avoid (mitigate) them. And, that, in turn, will allow one to, as Dory says,  “just keep swimming”. In other words,  one can still enjoy [their] swimming and all the positive effects (benefits) despite the [potential] negative effects. 

12 Negative Effects of Swimming 

Here are twelve (12) negative effects of swimming, both common (known) and uncommon (lesser-known). [This list is by no means all-inclusive, however, it is fairly comprehensive.]

1- [Risk of] Drowning 

This is the proverbial elephant in the room when it comes to water activities/sports, especially swimming. Nonetheless, it is a very real risk and one of the few, if not the only, negative effect(s) that can be deadly (hence why it is #1 on the list).

While there is always the chance of a situation beyond anyone’s control concerning drowning, one can take steps to minimize the chance of drowning: 1. be aware of your swimming level, 2. be aware of the water conditions, and 3. take proper precautions accordingly.  

2- Harsh chemicals such as Chlorine (and/or bromine) 

Both of these chemicals can have adverse effects on one’s hair and skin as well as lungs. The chemicals can cause both hair and skin to dry out as well as skin rashes or allergic reactions. Concerning the lungs, the chemicals in pool water can exacerbate Asthma.

With a proper pre-and post-swim hygiene routine one can minimize the effects of harsh chemicals on their hair and skin, and, in some cases, mitigate them altogether.

With regard to the lungs and the potential exacerbation of one’s Asthma, if you are one that suffers from Asthma, be sure to bring your inhaler and/or other asthma medications.

3- Injuries 

The most common injury type is an overuse injury. Most often, these [overuse] injuries affect one’s shoulders and/or knees (i.e., swimmer’s shoulder; swimmer’s knee). Other injuries are possible (as is the case with any sport/physical activity), but these are the two most common. 

For more on this, check out our post Can You Do Too Much Swimming? How Much is Too Much?! (Age & Experience)

4- Cramps

While not necessarily as long-lasting as an [overuse] injury, cramps are still a nuisance (and pain). And, are rather common amongst swimmers.  Cramps typically affect one’s legs (often referred to as a Charlie Horse) and can be debilitating.

Though they can be painful and [momentarily] debilitating, they will, generally, subside on their own within a few seconds to a minute (gently massaging the affected area can help). 

5- Dehydration 

Although one is in the water while swimming, one can [and does] still sweat. Thus, they can still lose fluid (become dehydrated) when swimming.

So, you’ll want to be sure to drink plenty of water and/or electrolyte replenishment beverages before, during, and after your swim. 

6- [Undesired] Weight Gain 

Swimming builds muscle as well as, typically, increases one’s hunger. Thus, this [undesired] weight gain comes from increased muscle mass and/or increased calorie consumption. Regardless of the source of the weight gain, knowing this is a potential effect of swimming, one can take proper steps to minimize its effect(s) (i.e., monitor their calorie intake and their workouts as well as physique). 

7- Infections 

Both fungal and bacterial infections are possible when swimming. Though pools use chemicals to help mitigate bacteria and fungi, some strands manage to survive. Open waters can have microscopic parasites that can cause infections. A couple of the most common infections include Athlete’s Foot and Swimmer’s Ear. 

8- Fatigue (Tiredness) 

It’s unclear what exactly causes this effect. Some theorize it’s simply the demands of the activity (i.e., it works pretty much the entire body). Some theorize that it has to do with sun exposure. And, some believe it to be a combination of the demands of the activity and sun exposure.

Regardless of what exactly causes it, swimming can leave one feeling tired (fatigued). Thus, rest and recovery between swims as well as taking precautions for being out in the sun are not only helpful but essential. 

9- Polluted Water

While pool water can technically be polluted due to people urinating in the pool and/or trash blowing into it, this typically affects open water (lakes, oceans, rivers) more so.

Open water is easily polluted due to both human and animal traffic- both of which will urinate and defecate in the water- as well as litter (trash).  This pollution is a contributor to bacterial and fungal infections. 

10- Sun Exposure 

We all know that prolonged exposure to the sun (UVA/UVB rays) can damage one’s skin (and hair). When swimming outdoors one is constantly exposed to those UVA/UVB rays, but with precautions such as sunscreen and/or UVA/UVB blocking clothing, one can safely enjoy swimming outdoors with very minimal negative effects (if any) from the sun. 

Also, we recommend that you check out our post titled Tips to Prevent Tanning While Swimming! Protect Your Skin & Hair Against Sun & Water

11- Risks of Cold / Winter swimming 

Swimming in cold water can have several negative effects on one’s body/well-being. Some of these negative effects can be quite dangerous. Some of the negative effects of winter (coldwater) swimming include [risk of] hypothermia, sudden heart attack, inability to swim (loss of swim capacity), and hyperventilation.

Thus, for many, winter swimming is not even an option. However, for those that have the training and/or are beginning training for such swimming, there is equipment out there to help protect you in colder water temperatures. 

12- Saltwater Absorption 

The salt content in ocean water is much higher than that of the table salt used for cooking/seasoning food.

Thus, consuming copious amounts of saltwater (whether it is through [accidentally] swallowing it, absorption through the skin from being in the water for a prolonged time, or a combination) can be dangerous to one’s health.

This risk is easily minimized by doing your best to not ingest the ocean water and being mindful of how long (and how often) you are in the ocean. 

Drawbacks of Competitive Swimming

The above list discusses some of the [major] negative effects- both common and uncommon-of swimming (in general and competitively). However, there are some less serious “negative effects”- what I would refer to as [potential] drawbacks- of swimming as well, particularly regarding competitive swimming. 

So, here are a few of the drawbacks concerning [competitive] swimming [Note: Much like the above list, this list is not all-inclusive. Also, as with any sport or activity that is done competitively, there is generally a cost (time and money) that comes with it (so, know that going into it if it is a sport you decide to participate in).]

  • It’s a repetitive sport. This means it can become boring both to participate in and watch.
  • Early mornings or late nights  (for practice) (i.e., time consuming/little time for a social life)
  • [Competitive] Swimwear is extremely tight… tighter than everyday swimwear (i.e., it can be uncomfortable) 
  • [Competitive] Swimgear can be/get expensive. Though swimming leisurely is relatively inexpensive and requires minimal gear overall, competitive swimming [eventually] requires [a good bit of] sport-specific gear/clothing that can be expensive both as a whole and for individual items. 
  • Limited visibility [of your competition]. This is due to one’s body position when swimming as well as [potentiall] foggy goggles- another drawback.

(Source A) (Source B)(Source C)

Melissa Frank

My passion, outside of animals, is helping people and adding value to their lives…I strive to leave the world a little better than I woke to it each day. The first part of my career, for a total of about 15 years, was spent in the public safety field as a Volunteer Firefighter/EMT-B and 9-1-1 Operator. In 2019 I obtained my personal trainer certification (ACE certified) as well as many group fitness certifications and certification as a Corrective Exercise Specialist.

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