TOP TIPS FOR OPEN WATER SWIMMING IN THE WINTER
Always wanted to brave the cold and go for a dip?
1. Swim down the temperatures – it is probably best not to pick a random date during the winter to conquer your first cold water swim. Swimming down the temperatures, so starting from the end of autumn and make your way into the colder temperatures. This way it is better not to send your body into shock from your first time getting into the water. Our bodies need to acclimatise to the temperature, head into the water regularly, even for short periods to get your body over the cold.
2. You can lose a lot of heat through your hands & feet – if you want to go skins, there is no shame in wearing gloves and boots/socks. I personally prefer to wear them, it causes too much pain in my hands if I don’t wear gloves and it makes it a far more enjoyable swim if I can feel my hands and feet.
3. Always have a plan when you go for a swim. You need an idea of how long you will be in the water, find others to swim with you and always have someone there to help you out and get changed/provide the warmth .
4. Do not dive or jump in if it is your first swim, this could cause gasping for breath or cold water shock (the involuntary, sharp intakes of breath) – this can be really dangerous if it happens. If it is your first time, slowly walk in and submerge yourself, splashing water on your chest, breathe slowly and calmly, get oxygen to your blood, and then dip. Don’t put your face in the first time unless you feel comfortable to, keep your head above the water, just take it easy and don’t force it too quickly.
5. Know your limitations in the water! As soon as your hands become stiff or your body starts to slow down – you should get out of the water. It is always tempting to stay in, to add a few more minutes to your swim or to just go a few more meters, but you need to have a time in your mind before you get in and stick to that. Try 5 minutes at first, and then 10, 15, 20 etc. If you start to feel warm in cold water, this is the first stage of hypothermia and you will need to get out of the water immediately. I have personally felt warm a few times and thought, oh this is fine, I can stay in – definitely get out of the water and get warm and changed.
6. Make yourself visible in the water, there might be other users of the water such as boats, fishermen or walkers. A brightly coloured swim hat, tow float or a light if a night/dull day swim will be a good way to be spotted. Be safe, be seen.
7. Aftercare – a very important thing for when you have been swimming. The ‘afterdrop’ is something that most swimmers will experience after a cold water swim which brings the on shivering. It is basically the effect of cooled peripheral blood returning to the core – it can cool your core very quickly. If you heat up too quickly, it can also send the blood away from your vital organs too quickly to your extremities as your body believes you have fully heated up. Warm up slowly when you get out of the water, plenty of warm clothes, a hot drink, take off your cold layers. Do not warm up suddenly with a hot shower or bath, slowly and steady is more effective.
8. The outside temperature and wind really makes a difference. Some days will be better than others, make sure you know your limits and follow the steps above to have a good swim.
When you first get into the water, some things you may experience:
- The short sharp breaths when you first get in, try and slow your breaths down.
- Very painful feeling in your hands, feet and head as the cold sensitive nerves go into shock. Squeeze your fingers and toes quickly and keep moving them to keep the blood circulating.
- You may feel a dizziness when you get out of the water.
- A feeling of accomplishment because you are open water swimming!