Ways to handle swimming in cold water
Whether you’re Christmas Day swimming or you’ve been a long time lover of cold water swimming, there’s no denying that swimming in cold water seems like madness. However, the few that have mastered the art say that it’s not only fun but has some health benefits too. Okay… but it’s still cold which means it’s quite unpleasant, draining, and even dangerous. We’ve all heard of cases where swimmers were rescued because they couldn’t manage the frigid conditions of the water. Hence, you’ll want to learn a few tips on how to acclimate to the cold water if you’re going to embark on this craziness:
First things first, wear the right kit:
You will undoubtedly have personal items you want to keep dry and waterproof. You don’t have to spend a fortune on expensive gadgets: This Ultra Dry Waterproof Phone Case at just £7.99 is perhaps the easiest option and best choice in terms of durability, quality and protection.
You’ll want to consider the following kit suggestions when taking your cold water swimming:
- Wear two caps – since most of the heat is lost through your head when you double your ’cap-age’, you’ll simply be retaining some heat.
- Wetsuit – perhaps you should consider taking a cold water swim in a full wetsuit. The sleeveless suits allow some heat to escape through the armpits. Other kits such as earplugs can still be worthwhile!
- Neoprene cap and socks – neoprene is a better alternative to standard latex and helps prevent you losing heat through your feet. Perhaps you’ll consider wearing some neoprene socks!
- Use a Dry Bag. The most popular item nowadays when doing any kind of water sport or activity, even lazing on the beach. Available in a range of colours, they make protecting your belongings from the wet 100% fool-proof. Reliable, tough, and protective. We recommend a Premium Ultra Dry dry bag, from 10 Litre to 30 Litre. All made from Pure Grade Y7.5mm thick 500D (Denier Density) WATERPROOF Polymer. It can also help with buoyancy.
Learn to dull the cold shock response:
Of course, when you get into cold water, the first thing you get is the ‘cold shock response’. You’ll have an initial gasp! then rapid breathing, and increased heart rate and blood pressure. However, swimmers have a way of dulling this response. For instance, by taking 5 – 6 immersions each at 3-minute intervals, you’re sure to cut the cold shock response by half. Interestingly, this effect is preserved for quite a while; probably more than a year.
Adapting the cold:
You can’t avoid hypothermia. When you get into water that’s colder than your body temperature, the water will cool you down to match its temperature. The best thing would be to learn how to prolong your time in this environment. How about learning to increase tolerance and dramatically extend the time you can safely endure in the cold condition?
- Get fat. Well, if you take a closer look at a cold water distance swimmer, you’ll see a bit of extra body weight. Of course, we’re not advocating getting fat, but a slight bit of extra body weight can help withstand cold temperatures a little longer. Consider putting on 1 or 2 kg in a healthy way, if cold water swimming is your regular thing. If it’s just a one-off swim, don’t worry so much!
- Get fit. Cold water swimming has no ‘walking up the hill’ or ‘freewheel down the hill’. Contrary to land-based endurance sport, there’s no time to rest. The moment you’re tired, cold will creep in you making it harder to keep going in each second that passes. Hence, you’ll need to be fit. You’ll be more prepared to swim harder and faster reducing the time spent in the water.
- Get freezing. It’s important to carry out your training in cold water. Otherwise, you’ll be in for a big shock if all you’re used to is a warm swimming pool. You’ll need to work out your own compensation techniques. You’ll be amazed at how your body will adapt to the cold after some time.
- Focus and familiarise. The main adaptation to the cold is in the mind. Apart from the physical aspect, a degree of the pain of getting into cold water e.g. numbness, screaming headache, uncontrolled finger separation, and the chattering jaw) can often be in the mind (mentally calming down and focussing helps!) They’re actually brain alarms trying to communicate that you’re in a bad place. However, if you’re able to train regularly in this condition while focusing on the changes in your body, you’ll become familiar with it. You’ll be training the mind to accept the changes taking place without much alarm. This mental wall will not allow cold water through. If you lack the convenience of an ocean or river at your doorstep, don’t panic, you can still condition yourself with an ‘ice bath’.
Remember, when you’re toughing it out swimming in cold waters you may initially bring a lot of things with you. Always take your phone with you using a waterproof case or pouch, and always carry a good, sturdy backpack for all your other items including towels, change of clothes, medication, shoes. These bags are multifunctional because whilst you’re out in the cold maybe icy waters, your gear stays dry and warm ready for your triumphant return!
The UltraDry Team.