Winter Wild Swimming—Is It for You?

Ice Swimming

Are you a warm weather water lover who packs away the swimming gear when winter chill sets in?

Well it might be time to think again. Winter wild swimming is growing in popularity and across the country,  swimmers are braving icy waters to experience the mental and physical stimulation that comes from a dip in cold water.

So what exactly is cold water? Well, the International Ice Swimming Association has defined an Ice Mile as swimming in water that is 5C or less—but we don’t recommend that you start off by swimming that far or in water that cold. Fall can be a great time to adjust to colder air temperatures before the winter starts to pull the water temperatures down and cold water swimmers all over the world will tell you the positive impact this chilly hobby has had on their physical and mental health. So why not give winter wild swimming a go?

Here are 10 tips to help you find out if winter wild swimming is for you.

1. Remember the Dangers

Cold water, especially with sudden or unexpected immersion, can be a killer so make sure you follow a few safety guidelines such as not swimming alone, taking local advice, being aware of tides, understanding water flow and building up your acclimatisation levels.

2. Find Someone to Swim With

By far the best way to enjoy cold water is with a group of like-minded friends and the good news is that outdoor swimmers are a friendly bunch. Social media is a great way to find outdoor swimming groups and arrange swims and some of the bigger groups have websites. Winter water may feel frosty but you can be sure of a warm welcome (and quite often cake!)

3. Acclimatize Gradually

The first time you get into cold water (never jump straight into cold water) you probably won’t find it very comfortable and won’t want to stay in for long but the more often you go, the better your body will acclimatize and you will gradually be able to build up the lengths of your swims.

4. Try Without a Wetsuit

Winter swimmers often prefer to swim in just a swimsuit with maybe a neoprene hat, gloves and socks to keep their extremities warmer. Whether you choose to do the same is up to you but we would definitely recommend trying it for a few swims. Remember, in winter swimming, the cold is your friend not your enemy and if you don’t wear a wetsuit, you won’

5. The First Couple of Minutes are the Worst

Even hardened winter swimmers will feel the shock when first entering cold water. The trick is to get in slowly and submerge your hands as soon as you can. When you first get in, focus on your breathing and don’t move around too much until that is steady. Swimming a few yards before you put your face can also help.

6. Don’t Aim for Long Swims

Winter Wild Swimming

Cold water swimming isn’t about getting as much aerobic exercise as you can, it is about the adrenaline rush and the experience of cold water. If you think in terms of ‘dips’ rather than ‘swims’ when you first start, you will have the right idea.

7. Plan Your Exit from the Water

Getting out of cold water and shivering your way into your clothes is part of the fun of winter wild swimming but it is also a time when you can feel very cold. Before you get in, have your clothes and towel organised and have something insulating ready to stand on whilst you dry yourself off.

8. Take Plenty of Warm Gear to Put On After Your Swim

Sometimes it is only a jog or a hot shower that will warm you up after an icy swim but taking enough clothes to put on once you are dry can help. Layers are important but so is speed, so consider packing merino tops and bottoms, thermal socks, a warm hat and a down jacket in with your swimming gear. You probably won’t feel warm immediately after your swim but a hot drink can also help so bring one along in an insulated mug.

9. Choose Your Favorite Swimming Time

Be as flexible as you can about your swimming times. Early morning sunrise swims can give your day an amazing kick-start but moonlit night time water adventures will help you to sleep. Be prepared to join swims at all times of day to find out which suits you best.

10. Consider a Challenge to Keep Yourself Swimming

Finding friends to swim with is the best way to encourage yourself to keep swimming over the winter months but setting yourself a challenge (the more public the better) can also give you the incentive you need to head for the water. How about a ‘once a week chilly dip’ or a ’15 minutes, without hat or gloves, once a month’ challenge to make sure the sofa doesn’t win out over the water this winter?

Winter wild swimming allows you to experience beautiful water views at their frosty best and also gives you the opportunity to make new friends. Why not give it a go this winter and find out for yourself how great you feel after a dip into the icy stuff.

Winter wild swimming - is it for you?

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