Angela Wilson enjoying a cold-water swim

Cold-Water swim preparation – How to take the plunge

What does swimming mean to you? A weekly commitment to your favourite gym, something reserved for calm tropical seas or an occasional trip with the kids. For Angela it’s her go-to fitness and wellness solution and that means all year round.

Outdoor, cold-water swimming, whatever the weather, may take getting used to. But, we feel it can be for everyone if they’re properly prepared. It’s great to see increasing numbers are up for the challenge of triathlons, ice swims and open-water swimming. In just 15 years the Outdoor Swim Society has seen its membership jump from 300 to 100,000.

“Taking a cold-water swim triggers so many sensations. It’s most definitely an exhilarating experience. To begin with you feel numb, and then your body adjusts to its new surroundings, and you almost stop feeling cold” explains Angela.

However, feeling brave enough to try is not the same as being fully prepared. For survival and success, all cold-water adventures must start with first being able to swim properly. So, let’s define ‘properly’. It means having the water survival knowledge to cope with the unexpected, the breathing stamina to manage extreme conditions, the physical strength to power the body through and the correct swim stroke technique to produce maximum impact with every arm move and leg kick. You want the greatest impact for least effort in these conditions.

Watch Angela take part in her very own cold water swim. The water was 8 degrees.

What lessons can teach you

Away from lessons, we never know where our younger learners will swim. So, we do all we can to prepare them for a lifetime of the sport. Every aspect of our swim teaching with the Swimstylers focusses on providing a complete set of outdoor skills. Diving, treading water, swimming on top of the water, bilateral breathing, survival techniques and water safety knowledge are all built into the syllabus, plus the ultimate challenge to achieve a 1500m swim. Only by doing this do we equip swimmers with the complete skill toolkit.

That’s why our adult provision operates for all swim abilities. We think offering lessons to tighten skills and extend experience is just as important as new swimmers learning the basics. We invite adults at intermediary and advanced levels, along with beginners, to join us for targeted classes. Across a series of lessons, we help soon-to-be cold-water swimmers to understand how to adapt current techniques to prepare for challenging conditions ahead.

Get yourself acclimatised

It’s important how you prepare for a cold-water swim. Even in a wetsuit, being plunged into low temperatures is something your body needs to get used to. Spend 5-10 minutes before you swim to acclimatise your breathing and body temperature to its new surroundings. For Angela, it’s about being both physically and mentally up for the challenge.

Give these tips a try:

  • Take time getting in – no jumping or diving
  • Enter the water with a positive can-do attitude to help reduce feelings of panic
  • Use a ladder to enter the water one rung at a time, pausing for each body section to take in the change
  • Breathing is swimming’s most important part so remember to keep breaths calm, long and slow
  • Avoid quick, shallow breaths as they can trigger hyperventilation
  • Tensed muscles are prone to injury so no hunching – slow breathing helps here too
  • Keep swim strokes long and flowing, rather than short and sharp
  • Feel better with cold-water swimming

More research needs to be done, but there’s evidence of various health benefits to cold-water swimming. In response to the low temperature, the body flows through more blood to maintain core heat and health professionals have seen this positively impact circulation, blood pressure, and reduce inflammation.

Along with this, many cold-water swimmers themselves say they experience a broad range of health benefits. Over 600 people responded to the Outdoor Swimming Society’s appeal for information sharing how their cold-water swims help them manage a range of other non-circulatory conditions including anxiety, depression, migraines and arthritis.

You’ll only know if cold-water swimming is for you by trying it. Remember, you’ll be swimming in conditions you’ve never come across before. Come to it well prepared, having learnt to swim properly. Email us if you have any specific training needs you’d like help with.

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