Aficionados of cold water swimming claim it gives them the ultimate high, making them feel invigorated, even euphoric. Swimming in the depths of winter has been popular in Russia, China and Scandinavia for many years and is now increasing in popularity in the UK.
Converts to cold winter swimming insist the practice has real health benefits. While these are subject to medical debate, habitual winter swimmers say it boosts the immune system, circulation and even libido.
The SLSC does not support or encourage swimming distances in very cold water (under 5º C) without proper training and medical support. If you are training for a cold water swimming event speak to the lifeguards and follow their advice. If the lifeguards ask you to get out of the water because they think you are at risk, please do so without complaint.
You need to acclimatise so that your body can adapt to the cold temperatures. You need to have access to an unheated open air pool or other stretch of open water (river, lake, sea) in which you can swim safely in order to acclimatise.
Be aware that open water can be dangerous. Familiarise yourself with the condition before entering the water and make sure you can exit the water easily and quickly.
Do not dive in unless you are used to cold water swimming. This can lead to cold shock and may be dangerous.
Wear a swimming cap, it helps preserve your body heat. The thicker silicone caps are best, but if you do not have one, use two standard caps.
Start with a quick dip but do not swim. Cold water can cause gasping of breath. Once your body has adjusted to the cold, you can gradually increase the time you spend in the water.
Know your own limits for the length of time you can spend in very cold water – if you aren’t sure, err on the side of caution. In winter many swimmers only swim for a minute or two.
A warm shower will cool you down. If you get cold, avoid the temptation of using the hot shower or sauna to warm up. Wrap up well instead.
Make sure you have plenty of warm clothes to put on afterwards and a warm drink.
Shivering is the body’s natural mechanism to maintain heat. If you shiver for more than a few minutes or continue to feel cold, you have stayed in too long.
Do not swim in cold water after drinking alcohol or when ill.
Good luck and enjoy the experience.