Top Tips for Cold Water Swimming

Olympic open water swimmer and dryrobe® Ambassador Keri-Anne Payne shares her expert advice.

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Open Water Swimming in Winter

In recent years open water swimming has soared in popularity, but what do you do when the season changes and the water temperature starts to drop? For many people, wild swimming in the colder months is a less attractive prospect, but for some, the tough conditions and icy temperatures are all part of the thrill! Many outdoor swimmers feel the experience of cold water swimming as transformative, they enjoy the mental challenge of swimming in cold temperatures and discovering communities of other cold-water swimmers.

Whether you are swimming in the sea, lakes, rivers or even icy conditions, a dryrobe® Advance will be the best bit of equipment you can have to improve your experience.

If you’ve recently got into wild swimming and want to continue getting in the water throughout the coldest months of the year, but are not too sure where to start, Olympic open water swimmer and dryrobe® Ambassador Keri-Anne Payne shares her expert advice.

Keri-Anne had an incredible career in open water swimming after transitioning from the pool in 2006; winning a Silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics games and twice taking home the title as the Open Water 10k World Champion. Since retiring from competitive swimming Keri-Anne has now put her passion for swimming into coaching.

With extensive experience as a competitive open water swimmer and coach, Keri-Anne’s tips cover water safety advice, preparation and recovery when swimming outside in the winter.

1. Always be prepared

Doing a recce of the venue you want to swim, before you swim there, is a great option.

That way you can check the best place to get in and out, work out how far away your car

will be, find out what the phone signal is like there, and plan how you would get help there

if needed. Essentially do a dynamic risk assessment.

Being prepared includes having all the kit you need before, during, and after your swim.

Here's my kit list:

● Swimsuit

● Swim hat

● Goggles

● Woolly hat

● Booties

● Gloves

● Warm drink

● dryrobe® Advance change robe

● dryrobe® Changing mat

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2. Expect a cold shock!

When immersing in cold water, our bodies have a natural shock reaction that sends our bodies into panic mode - think fight or flight. 

Cortisol is surging through your body and this can lead to panic if not dealt with. The specifics of cold shock panic include shortness of breath, so the best way to overcome this is through breathing - specifically breathing out.

Run through a few rounds of breathing, breathing in for a count of 4 and out for a count of 6/8. This will help to switch the cortisol to endorphins - it is the trigger for people to feel euphoric when they get out from a cold water swim.

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3. Acclimatise to the conditions

A common feeling I hear from people that do cold water swimming is that they just can't put their face under because of the 'ice-cream' headache feeling.

There isn't a magic cure here I'm afraid, it's just a barrier we need to push through. Just like when you first get in, your legs feel on fire and after a few minutes you feel better - the same needs to happen with your head. 

The more you put it in the water the quicker you push past the 'acclimatisation' of your head. A neoprene hat can help here too...

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4. Get out wanting more

A big worry (other than cold shock) with cold water swimming can be hypothermia. This usually sets in after a certain period of time, which is different for everyone - especially if you are in a wetsuit or if you have swum through 10 winters. It also depends on if you have slept well, eaten well, and hydrated well. If any of the last 3 things are at a low then the chances of getting hypothermia dramatically increase. So, safety lesson one; don't go or limit your time in the water if you've slept badly, not eaten anything for over 6 hours, or not hydrated for over 6 hours.

My motto is 'Always get out wanting more'. When I go swimming and get to the point where I'm thinking to myself ‘This is amazing!', after the initial shock, I get out. It's always better to be safe than sorry. Also, this gives me the best chance to really understand how my body reacts to the cold and I have started to learn more about how long I can stay in for.

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5. Wrap up well and enjoy a warm drink

One of the reasons I also get out when I start to enjoy myself is because I know that the shivers are coming!

The shivering process requires us to have some energy in our system, so a nice warm hot chocolate or sugary coffee will be the best thing to feel a bit of comfort post-swim but also to fuel the shivering process.

Shivering is a good thing, it's our body’s natural way to warm up if we are cold. So, I usually want to make sure I am dressed before I start uncontrollably shivering. 

I also always make sure I have my dryrobe®, not only because it's SO warm, but because it's so easy to get dressed under. If you get out too late and struggle to get dressed, you will potentially make yourself much colder and potentially catch hypothermia because you can’t open a zip.

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