Winter may seem like an unlikely season to plunge into cold water, but it is absolutely worth it. Cold water swimming is great for the mind and body and allows you to explore places you might not usually visit in winter. In this article, we'll guide you through some top tips for cold water swimming, from choosing the right location to acclimatization, gear, techniques, and more. By the end of this article, we hope you'll be inspired to take the plunge and reap the many benefits of this invigorating activity.
1. Choose the right location.
Picture yourself surrounded by pristine winter landscapes, with lakes, rivers, and coastal spots dusted in frost. If you choose a location that resonates with your sense of adventure and immerses you in nature, you’re more likely to enjoy your swim and repeat it than if you choose somewhere mundane.
So, seek out places that are beautiful and also have cold water swimming communities, so you can enjoy being in nature and share the experience with like-minded people.
2. Safety first!
Before you go cold water swimming, make sure you familiarize yourself with the risks, including hypothermia and cold water shock. Learn the essential safety precautions, such as swimming with others and/or near lifeguarded areas, wearing brightly colored swim caps, and having an emergency plan in place.
3. Acclimatize slowly.
Cold water can be a shock to your system, so it's important to acclimatize gradually. Start with short dips and increase the duration as your body adjusts. Pay attention to how your body responds and never push yourself beyond your limits.
4 . Invest in cold water swimming gear.
Invest in high-quality cold water swimming gear, including an open water swimsuit, a wetsuit, neoprene gloves, and neoprene socks. Layer up for warmth and invest in a swim-specific wetsuit that is designed to maintain your body temperature in chilly waters.
5. Do pre-swim warm-up exercises.
Warm-up exercises are vital to prepare your body for the cold shock. Engage in light stretching and some jogging before your swim to increase blood flow and flexibility.
6. Focus on your swimming technique.
Cold water can affect your stroke and breathing. Focus on maintaining a relaxed and efficient swimming technique and steady breathing. The initial shock of the cold water is part of the experience. Embrace it, stay calm, and keep moving. Your body will adjust, and you'll soon find your rhythm.
7. Monitor your body’s signals and stay alert.
Listen to your body during your swim. If you feel overly fatigued or too cold, it's time to exit the water. Stay vigilant, especially in colder conditions, and be mindful of any changes in your physical state.
8. Set realistic goals.
Set achievable goals for your cold water swimming journey. Whether it's swimming a specific distance or improving your cold tolerance, incremental progress will keep you motivated, and it will be easier than trying to achieve your big goal straight from the start.
9. Swim with a buddy or join a group.
Always swim with a buddy or in a group when you go cold water swimming. Not only is it important for safety, but it is also a lot more fun! Connect with fellow cold water enthusiasts through social media groups, local clubs, or online forums. Sharing swimming experiences and tips with a community can be incredibly motivating.
10. Get warm after your swim.
After your swim, focus on warming up to help your body regain its normal temperature and avoid afterdrop. Cold water swimming ‘afterdrop’ refers to a drop in your core body temperature after you’ve exited cold water.
To prevent and manage afterdrop, change straight away into dry, warm clothing, drink a warm beverage, and get out of the wind and into somewhere warm.
11. Maintain a healthy diet.
Maintain a balanced diet and stay hydrated to support your body's energy needs during cold water swimming. Warm drinks and nutritious snacks are excellent choices post-swim.
12. Prepare mentally.
Mental strength plays a significant role in cold water swimming. Practice mindfulness and breathing techniques regularly so you can stay focused in the water. You might be surprised to learn that freediving has many benefits for swimmers, including mental resilience.
13. Plan ahead and reward yourself.
Keeping your motivation alive during the winter months is the key to your success. Fix regular swimming dates, reward yourself for milestones achieved, and focus on the unique beauty and benefits of winter swimming.
Reward yourself partway through winter with something new and fun that will also benefit your swimming. Why not put a date in your diary to try freediving? It’s something to look forward to during those chilly swims and it is a great way to connect with like-minded water enthusiasts.
When you learn to freedive, you are taught meditation and breathwork techniques and you learn in a warm swimming pool. Freediving also has many fitness benefits for swimmers. Simply find a dive center near your preferred wild swimming spot, have a chat with the staff about which freediving course is right for you, and make a plan with your friends for a fun day out.
14. Seek out experienced cold water swimmers.
Gain wisdom from experienced cold water swimmers. They can offer valuable insights, techniques, and stories to inspire and guide you on your cold water journey. Ask your local swimming group if there are any cold water swimmers nearby or search online for inspiring swimmers on social media.
Read about successful cold water swims and what other people have achieved. These stories will ignite your passion and show you what's possible with determination and preparation. Explore books, articles, and documentaries about cold water swimming to deepen your knowledge and feed your curiosity.
In the world of cold water swimming, winter becomes a season of exhilaration and rejuvenation. By following these top tips and embracing the challenges, you can unlock the incredible physical and mental benefits of winter swimming. So, as the winter chill settles in, take the plunge and make this winter truly unforgettable!
Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for SSI (Scuba Schools International), wrote this article.