Open Water Swimming | Training Tips for Cold Water

by Claire Adam

I don’t know about you but this last lockdown has been so much harder than the last two, maybe because it’s been winter and it’s seemed endless.  But here we are – pools are still closed in England but the lakes and lidos are open!

If, like me, it’s been quite a few months since you last swam I thought it would be a good idea to put together a few pointers to help you return to open water swimming safely.  Over the last year, open water swimming has increased in popularity partly because of swimming pools being shut, but also because of the many well-being benefits that have been promoted in the media.

What kit do I need for open water swimming?

Open Water Swimming | Training Tips for Cold Water

First things first, get your swimming kit out of the cupboard and check that you have everything you need; wetsuit, goggles, swim hat just for starters!  You might also want to consider neoprene boots, gloves and hats as the water temperature will still be cold.  Some venues also require you to use a tow float when swimming as well.

If you’ve been wild swimming in other locations it’s important to make sure that your wetsuit, goggles, hat etc are all clean and dry before heading to your local lake. Doing this will protect your venue from invasive plants from other locations.

Getting into the cold water

Open water swimming | Training tips for cold water

As I’m sure you are aware, the air temperature has not yet reached the balmy heights that we were lucky enough to experience during Spring last year (but we’re hoping!).  With a bit of luck the water temperature will have crept into double figures by the time you start back, but this will still feel cool to those of you who aren’t acclimatised. 

  1. When you get into the water, spend a few minutes getting used to the cold. 
  2. Splash your face and the back of your neck, let some water into your wetsuit if you’re wearing one.
  3. Most importantly: spend some time getting your breathing under control before you start swimming.  

Open water swim safety tips

Open water swimming | Training tips for cold water

If you are new to open water swimming and nervous about your first open water swim let the staff know and hopefully they will be happy to offer advice and help calm your nerves.  There may even be other swimmers who are willing to help by swimming with you!

Once you start swimming, take it easy.  This might be your first swim for a while so don’t come with any expectations of how many laps you’re going to complete.  You might want to start just by doing some small loops and that’s fine.  Listen to your body and increase your distance and/or time in the water gradually.  You’ve got the whole Spring and Summer to look forward to!  If you do start to feel unwell or disorientated whilst in the water then signal for help and the safety crew will come and get you.

Tips to warm-up after your cold-water swim

Open water swimming | Training tips for cold water

Once you get out, please make sure that you have plenty of warm clothes to put on – a changing robe is ideal in these situations.  The air temperature will still be low so you want to get dry and dressed as quickly as you can. 

  • Having your clothes wrapped around a hot water bottle will feel like a treat! 
  • It’s also a good idea to bring a bath mat or something similar to stand on while you get dry. 
  • Don’t start socialising with other swimmers until you have looked after yourself! 
  • If there’s a café at your venue, grab a hot drink to warm up from the inside.  If not, be prepared and bring a flask of something warming.
  • You might find that it helps you warm up to walk around as well.

Safety first

Open water swimming | Training tips for cold water

If at any time during or after your swim you start to feel unwell please alert a member of staff who will help you.  It’s important that you don’t underestimate the effect the cold water can have on your body.  You may only start feeling the effects of 'after-drop' between 10 and 40 minutes after you get out of the water.  After-drop occurs when your body continues to cool, which is why it’s so important to warm up slowly from the inside out.

You can find out more information about the phenomenon of open water swimming at https://www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com/

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About Claire Adam

Neuff Red Ambassador | Triathlete Claire Adam

Neuff Red ambassador Claire is an experienced open water swimmer and works at a swim venue – Race Hub – in Leicestershire.  Claire is a menopausal woman who is passionate about inspiring women 'of a certain age' into sport and to achieve things they never previously thought possible.  See her blog at Hot Flush Triathlete