Welcome to the world of cold water swimming!
Winter swimming communities famously thrive in northern European countries where an icy dip can be followed by a toasty sauna. There are many theories on the benefits of cold water swimming, amongst these are that as well as being surprisingly addictive, it’s said to give the immune system a kick start and gives an amazing sense of well-being which can benefit your mental state of being. What are you waiting for?
Tips on becoming a cold water swimmer
1. Authentic cold water swimmers around the world wear a regular swimming costume, a silicone swim hat and goggles. No wetsuit is worn, as this defeats the concept and benefits of feeling the cold water on your body, although a lot of people find that training in neoprene socks and gloves can help the extremities manage the cold better.
2. Most people stop swimming outdoors when it gets to October, but a cold water swimmer keep swimming throughout the year and just reduce the distance and time in the water. Your body will continue to acclimatise as the temp drops. A top tip is to keep a log book of when you swim, how long for, how you felt and what your recovery was like.
3. Find a safe place where you can swim, ideally somewhere where you can park nearby or can use a changing room or sheltered area for changing. You also want to make sure that you have easy access in and out of the water.
4. Find some others to dip with you, to make sure you are safe during and after swimming, and stay within your depth on your first cold water dip. There should be people around when you come out of your swim to assist with your recovery or hand you a warm drink etc. Basically cold water swimmers look out for each other, its as important part of winter swimming as the swim itself.
5. Swim safe. Swimmers need to be easily seen by boats in open water so at the very least avoid swimming in busy areas for boats, jet skis and ferries. It is also a swimmer’s responsibility to make yourself as visible as possible to other open water users: always wear a brightly coloured swimhat; consider buying a coloured swim tow-float (available from swimsecure.co.uk online shop); in dull or foggy conditions, or at night, attach swim lights or light sticks to the back of your goggles or swim costume. You also want to make sure that you can be easily seen by any support team on the water on standing on the shore side.
6. The trick with cold water acclimatisation is that there is no trick! It’s all about going in the water regularly, daily dips, even for a very short period prepares the body to cope with the ‘cold water shock’ and the recovery. Don’t rush to be a ice mile hero, become a winter swimmer first, go through a winter swimming regularly, so you understand how your body copes with different water temps. Once the water is under 10 degrees it will feel very cold when entering the water, but once its under 5 degrees, event drop of 1 degree C makes a big difference. Also the wind and outside temp makes a difference, and some days you just feel better than others. It’s only by spending time in cold water that you get to know you limits. Don’t push too far to quickly and ENJOY IT!
7. A thermometer is not essential, but can be helpful in knowing how you body copes and recovers in different temps, some people like to know before they go in the water and other just want to get in and swim and find out what it is when they get out. Keep a check on how long you swim for as the temperature drops and starts to rise again approaching the summer. You soon learn your limits and how much you should do each time.
8. Don’t try to be a hero in cold water, know your limitations, and get out as soon as you feel your body moving more slowly or if your hands start to become stiff. Try just a few minutes the first time. Breath slowly and calmly. Keep your head above water until you are comfortable putting your face in. If you begin to feel warm in cold water, you are experiencing the dangerous first stage of hypothermia so get out of the water immediately (see link below for a full definition).
9. When you exit the water, put on a hat, and get fully dressed immediately. Your body temperature will continue to drop for a few minutes after getting out of the water, so don’t delay! Set all your kit out ready before you go in the water, have it stacked in the order you will put it back on in. As soon as you are out, your only focus is getting out of your wet kit and into your clothes ASAP. There’s plenty of time to chat afterwards with your friends whilst having a warm drink. Do not warm up the body suddenly with a hot shower or bath, gradual warmth with layers and a warm drink is much safer and more effective.
10. Hypothermia can be fatal, please see links below for more information: