In 2014 I couldn’t even do a length of my local pool in front crawl, and here I am about to tell you that I have taken my warm summer swims to cold water. It’s safe to say my swimming abilities have significantly changed. But, don’t worry, I’m not about to tell you that you should be going straight from your indoor swimming pool, to cold water, definitely not, it should always be a gradual transition, and this should give you a good insight. So what do you need to know before you take your first dip into cold water swimming?
What is cold water swimming?
As the name suggests, it is in fact, swimming in cold water! Basically anything below around 15 degrees is deemed as cold water and we’re currently at that time of year when you can do it. Why would you want to swim in cold water? There are actually a number of positives, but the main one I’ve found to benefit from is mindfulness. I just completely switch off from my anxiety when I swim in cold water.
It goes without saying for this. Open water is no joke, and to be swimming when you can’t really swim well, isn’t wise. If you can swim and you’re nervous, that’s completely understandable (I was a bit hesitant when I first started), so be sure to buddy up! I much prefer swimming open water with someone else any way, but this just makes the experience all the more enjoyable. You’re just far safer to swim in a group or in pairs.
Swim at an open water venue
Open water swimming venues do exist through the chilly months, but their opening times may vary. However, always swim at proper swimming venue, especially if this is your first time. You’ll find there are buoys that mark out the areas you can swim, and unlike other wild swimming areas, these lakes are well maintained. For example no overgrown weeds or blue green algae. That kind of algae is actually a danger to dogs, but can also make humans have a bad tummy. So basically, pick where you swim wisely!
Swimsuit or wetsuit?
That is the question! As you can see from my photos I’ve taken to ditching my wetsuit when I swim these days, even in cold water. I still use my wetsuit but ever since I tried just a swimsuit back at Springlakes, it was such an invigorating experience, I couldn’t dismiss doing it again.
Your wetsuit is buoyant so it’s a bit of a comfort blanket when open water swimming, remove that and you’ll immediately notice how much work your wetsuit does. I’ve spent years swimming with a wetsuit to build open water confidence, and now I’m happy to work on my swimming in just a swimsuit. However, please note that when you first get into cold water in a wetsuit you’ll still feel the cold. You tend to feel the cold immediately in a swimsuit, but in a wetsuit it craftily seeps in, but ultimately your wetsuit will keep your warmer in cold water.
I’d suggest always wearing a hat of some sort, that could be a woolly hat or a swim cap, then adding in your swim gloves and shoes. All of these will help when swimming in cold water to keep you both warm, and protect you.
Swim safety first
Swim with a pool buoy – always. Never go into the water without one. Even if you’re not swimming at a dedicated swim venue, a pool buoy is a must. A pool buoy allows not only other swimmers and safety staff where you are, but any other water users like boats, kayakers etc. Plus it’s a float too so if you get into a pickle you have a float as an emergency.
Don’t start jumping in to cold water, as you don’t know how your body will react if it is too cold. I find that if I gradually ease myself in, it’s far better. I do tend to have a mental battle when I need to dunk my shoulders in the water! Don’t worry if it take you more than a few attempts, even if you don’t go off on a swim straight away, just get used to that feeling. Swimming in the summer and swimming in the winter are two very different experiences, so make sure you’re happy and comfortable.
If you get in and start to panic or find that the cold is a big shock, take a second. I found my first time it caught my breath and I eased myself out of the water slightly. I then began taking deep long breaths and continued as I entered the water properly.
Get warm quickly
You’ve been for a swim, you got beyond that mental battle to submerge your body in the cold water, and now it’s time to get out. Get your warm items ready before you enter the water, so they will be there waiting as soon as you leave the water. When I did the Whitby Boxing Day Sea Swim, I was so full of energy (aka the post-swim high – which is another benefit of swimming), I completely forgot to get warm which made me catch a chill and caused me to struggle to get warm. Now I have a dry robe, socks, hat, change of clothes and of course, a flask of tea to consume! Getting warm after a cold swim is just as important as gradually getting in cold water in the first place.
Enjoy your swim
Only do what you feel comfortable with, because whilst cold water swimming is fun, it has got its risks so be sure to take it steady. My last tip is to find an open water swimming group to go with, as mentioned at the start, swimming with friends is one of the best experiences and I couldn’t recommend it enough! Happy swimming!