Getting started with cold water swimming - By Annie Brooks
If you love your pool swims and enjoy those open water swims, then this winter you might be ready to take on cold water swimming! Unlike hopping into to your local heated swimming pool to run through your drills, or dipping into that beautiful lake during the summer time, cold water swimming not only challenges physically, it tests you mentally also. Knowing you’re about to step into water that barely reaches double figures, can be a challenge, but this is exactly why it’s fantastic because that sense of achievement is like nothing else.
1. Find a open water swimming venue
There are many open water swimming venues that continue to allow swims during the chilly months. Due to the increasingly popularity of cold water swimming, more and more venues are keeping open longer. The best thing to do to find them is get searching on the internet, or better yet, Facebook. There are numerous specific open water swimming groups across the UK who regularly meet up for swims, these often host their own Facebook groups too. If you do some digging and you’ll not only find many venues, but potentially make some new swimming buddies!
2. Get the right kit
When you’re just starting out with cold water swimming the best thing to do is get the right kit to keep you warm. If female, a good swimsuit and if male, well-made swim shorts, followed by a wetsuit. Not only is a wetsuit designed for buoyancy in the water, it is also keeps you warmer than just swimming in a swimsuit. When wearing a wetsuit, unlike just a swimsuit, the wetsuit allows the water to seep in gradually. This gives your body a good amount of time to slowly acclimatise. Beyond your wetsuit, you can pick up gloves, hat and boots to keep you toasty!
3. Safety first
Always take a tow float. This isn’t specifically for cold water swimming, but if the cold water shocks you, you can be easily be spotted by other water users. Tow floats are often mandatory for open water swimming venues. Another option is to attach a whistle to your tow float to alert that you need assistance to the open water swim venue staff. It is just about being safe, seen and heard.
4. Swim with a buddy
At a dedicated open water swimming venue you don’t always need to swim with a buddy, just be a confident swimmer. Personally, I like to always swim with a buddy, for both safety and enjoyment purposes. If you decided to wild cold water swim, then having an extra person with you is really important. However, if you’re off for a cold water swim and it is your first time, there is something comforting going through the process of acclimatisation with a friend.
5. Getting in the cold water
Firstly, never jump in. You might have seen those beautiful instagram shots of outdoors grammers leaping into fresh water. Don’t. You should never jump into cold water, acclimatised or not, your body might go into shock which can be really dangerous. I prefer to ease in gradually, and the more I have acclimatised the quicker this process is, but the most important thing is to give your body time. I love to wear swim socks and gloves because these two body parts get the worst of the cold for me. I like to call them ice cream feet and hands! Getting your shoulders under is the hardest part, but in a wetsuit because it gradually seeps in, it makes this a little easier.
6. Cold water skin swims
You’ve mastered swimming in your wetsuit in the chilly months previously, and this season you want to take on cold water swimming in just your swimwear. Bravo, because it is a challenge! I love a skins swim, and how I began was doing a normal training swim in my wetsuit, getting out and taking it off, then getting back in. My body had acclimatised and I was able to appreciate the new sensations of no wetsuit in the cold. I’ve now managed to swim first time in with my swimsuit, keeping going for a 20 minute swim and now cannot get enough!
Why cold water swimming if it is hard to do? It has been proven to boost your immune system and help with mental health. I do it for the post swim high I get and that bizarre sense of achievement. Getting out of the water to a warm robe, hot water bottle and a flask of tea, always makes me glow. I feel a sense of calm from a mentality perspective and it makes me feel both alive and thankful.