Temperatures in my local river in December to March can often be below 5oC. In Open Water Swimming circles below 5oC is classed as ice swimming, and can be considered an extreme sport.
Swimming in winter should be considered carefully, with thought being given to location, air and water temperatures, river conditions, kit, wind speed, experience and company.
Your mood, hormones, food, sleep, stress levels to name a few can all affect how you respond to cold water. All these factors are exaggerated when conditions are more extreme, and you really need to know what you are doing to be safe. The difference between an ok swim and a dangerous swim could be a very short period of time.
Yes you see people having a Christmas or New Year dip and some people start their Open Water Swimming journey in winter, but as an Open Water Coach I would encourage caution.
Online in the many Open Water Swimming groups you will often see beginners asking for advice and wanting to find someone to swim with. Again I would be extremely cautious in offering to swim with a stranger who is relying on you for safety and advice. And if you are the beginner, I would urge you to think twice about following someone (however experienced they may seem) in to cold water.
Preparing to swim in Spring
You can start to acclimatise to the cold by using a cold blast at the end of your shower, or by turning your shower a little cooler.
The aim is to build resistance to the cold water and learn how to manage your breath to avoid a cold water shock gasp reaction.
Year round cold water swimmers often report that they feel the cold less, sleep with windows open and have the heating thermostat set lower than others.
Getting to know your River
Winter is a fantastic opportunity to visit your local swim spot to see how your rivers responds to high water and dryer periods. Watching the weather, knowing the catchment area of the river and keeping an eye on the water levels and visual clues can help you understand and risk assess.
Your river will change colour, have debris, raise and lower. You will see the speed of the water flow and the changes in the bank vegetation. This will all help you know your river and be able to gauge when you can and should swim.
Think about Kit
Have a look and consider what sort of swimmer or dipper you will be (head down crawl, head up breaststroke, or someone who bobs around, or someone who does all of them).
You may want to get to know other swimmers or visit popular spots to look at others kit and how they use it. A swimming costume, some sort of water shoes a towel and some warm clothes would be the basic kit you need.
Join Facebook groups, visit popular spots, say hi to the river users. The open water swimming community is really friendly. People love to share and to give advice. Please remember to take advice carefully. What works for one person, will not necessarily work for you, there are lots of myths and untruths out there too.
Open Water Coaches can be found up and down the county. An introduction to cold water or Open Water Swimming will be invaluable in your journey.
I will be running Confidence Pods and small group sessions from April 2022 – booking will open in early March.