Even with the best intentions, inertia is a beast to overcome. It can easily slay nascent fitness enthusiasm. In more houses than anyone cares to admit, treadmills and rowing machines routinely gather dust or function as ersatz laundry lines, storage units or questionable decorative accessories.
But the Endless Pool is difficult to ignore. Unlike flirtations with other exercise machines, you have to make a serious commitment. The equipment requires a room of its own and costs as much as a mid-size car. How does it work? Basically you swim in place against an artificial swim current. Since 1987, the machine has been manufactured in Aston, Delaware County.
An Endless Pool is the very definition of a 1990s luxury object: expensive, indulgent, useful and long-lasting. Like cashmere sweaters, sport utility vehicles, and commercial stoves, these swimming pools are what Fortune magazine labels "decadent utility." They satisfy the requirements of everyday living—and then some.
An Endless Pool is the dream of the ocean on call and summers without end. It's the promise of swimming in privacy around-the-clock, in the buff (if this is a liberty you covet), or holding a bobbing party with a dozen close friends (ditto).
Unlike other icons of household efficiency, like the coffee grinder, blender, disposal and washing machine, running an Endless Pool is a quiet affair. The engine can be placed 75 feet away, so can the water filtration system. They're noisy, but the pool itself purrs.
Swimming in an Endless Pool is a lot like cross-country skiing on a Nordic Track; both simulate the experience, yet the force you contend with is machine, not nature. Resistance can be adjusted but it takes practice to balance your strokes with the five-horsepower motor's swim current. A mirror on the pool's bottom helps swimmers keep the body in sync with the swim current's pull.
The pool's compact size and free-standing design make it ideal for indoor use, as well as rooftops, garages, patios and yards. The bolt-together assembly kit, complete with everything for the standard 8-by-15-feet swimming pool, costs over $20,000. Maintenance is minimal and electricity averages $500-$1,000 a year if installed indoors.
An Endless Pool is a toy for some, a fantasy for most, but half of the Endless Pool's 10,000 owners purchased the equipment out of necessity. Swimming, water aerobics and aqua-jogging strengthen muscles, enhance flexibility, improve circulation. For those who suffer from arthritis, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis or physical injuries, the weight-free environment provides welcome relief. Just knowing a body of water is nearby can help slow down the mind a little.
But the Zen of a backyard stream or a private pond is lost on an Endless Pool. When not in use, the pool is covered. Otherwise, the humidity levels inside would soar, requiring the constant use of fans and dehumidifiers.
Still, the pool room itself can evoke water's calm. In the Center City home pictured here, the blue and white tiles are loosely reminiscent of splashing water. The warm wall color suggests sand. The floor-to-ceiling windows offer ambient light. All this, and the possibility of a garden view.
In the end, if inertia wins the tug-of-war, there are other uses for the Endless Pool. Maybe even aqua culture. After all, salmon like to swim upstream.