This is my second winter swimming season. My first without the wetsuit, what we call ‘skins’. The interest in cold water swimming has exploded this year – with The Guardian and all sorts of other people writing lots of articles about its positive effects on mind and body. For the most part I love reading these. Because I am one of the people who is lucky enough to have discovered it magic – I have unlocked a secret super power. I love that my local Lido is busy and therefore making money and less likely to get taken over by an evil gym empire. But some of these articles and insta accounts make me mad as hell – especially the ones that talk about the ‘weight loss’ possibilities. So anyway, Here is my take, these opinions are my own – I am not a doctor or an expert – but I DO swim in Cold water. A lot.
Is its Dangerous?
Well, yes it can be – but not if you are sensible and careful and don’t act irresponsibly. Do not, ever get into any water drunk or with a hangover.. especially open water or cold water and especially where there are no lifeguards or other people. around And never wild swim alone. Before I started my cold water journey I did three things.
- I became informed. I read up as much as I could on the subject, from respected sources. The Outdoor Swimming Society and The Lone Swimmer are both excellent places to start. Both full of useful info and some of the Lone Swimmers content is quite scientific.
- I watched and learned. Especially last year during my first year in a wetsuit – I watched the skins swimmers, I listened to them and I asked for advice.
- I acclimatised. A soon as the triathlon club I train with moved indoors in Sept, race season was over and the Lido went to winter hours I packed my trusty wetsuit away and swam only skins. And as the temp dropped I kept doing this – at least 3-4 times a week. The time in the water became less and less at the temp dropped. Everyone has their own ‘way’ – this is mine.. once the water gets below 10 degrees I wear boots and gloves. I have severe Raynauds and if I didn’t I couldn’t do it. I swim a length per degree of water temp. Its 5-6 degrees at the moment so I am doing 5 or 6 lengths. Never more and sometimes less – if its windy or raining it can feel colder and I swim less. If I am in open water rather than the lido I switch to minutes – 5 degrees, I’m in the water for 5 mins. Everyone has their own rules – this is what I follow and it works for me. Simples.
You need to be as warm as possible BEFORE you swim and able to get warm quickly when you get out. Here are some tips:
- Get your CORE temp up before you start – this is your inside temperature and can be done by eating something warm, drinking hot drinks
- Wear warm layers. Lots of them. Its not sexy – but its helpful – I have tons of thermal undies and big knickers these days. Warm, fleecy baggy layers and socks. Track suit bottoms. Not Jeans or fancy gym-bunny leggings. A Hat and gloves.
- Don’t mess about – once you are changed get in the water… slowly or quickly – each to their own. But get in the water.
- Have your clothes all laid out neatly and ready to put on so you are not messing about when you get out. and DO get dry and dressed as quickly as possible – you want to do this before the Afterdrop hits. Have a swim buddy so you can help and look out for each other.
- If you can afford it. Invest in a Dryrobe (or other similar item, there are lots out there now). Especially if you wild swim as it doubles as a changing room!
- Have a flask on hand with your hot drink of choice – Ribena for me
- Eat cake
Its Mood Enhancing
“Cold Water swimming made me miserable” – said NOBODY. Ever.
Cold Water Swimming is used by thousands of people around the world daily and weekly to treat anything from low mood to full on depression. More and people are enjoying the benefits on their mental health.
When I swim in cold water – whether its the Lido, the sea or a lake or a puddle (I bring a swim kit with me everywhere these days and sometimes I look at puddles and think.. mmmmmm) I feel alive in a way I just don’t anywhere else.. and in winter I feel like a superhero. Cold Water swimming has had a tremendous effect on my self-esteem and relationship with my body – this slightly wobbly peri-menopausal mother/woman can swim 10km non-stop – stick that in your pipe and smoke it people. My Body doesn’t look like Kate Moss’s – But its bloody amazing and I love it – Its taken me 45 years to be able to say that.
It makes you skinny.
This is Bullshit.
I have researched extensively and can say with some degree of certainty that this is nonsense. And it makes me mad as hell. I feel strongly about this because I am a mother of a tween and she is quite serious about ballet and I worry that she is weight obsessed. One of the ladies I swim with in the early mornings told me she had heard beautiful young women at the ponds saying that they were winter dipping to ‘lose weight” – these girls apparently had no business trying to lose weight from their already perfectly toned bodies.
I keep reading things that say – ‘Swimming in cold water burns calories faster’, as though this is the key to a perfect body. Without Fat. Well, ok, technically – yes it does burn those calories. Because your body has to work harder to keep warm. BUT speak to anyone who does it regularly and through winter and they will tell you this –
a) You can’t stay in for very long so how many calories do you think you are actually going to burn in your 5 min dip? For context, I only burn about 180 for a 30 min swim at moderate speed.
b) AND swimming makes you hungry as hell. hugely ravenous – Like you could eat a small person. So, unless you are planning on starving yourself the post-swim cake to calorie ratio won’t work any wonders on the size of your arse.
I’ve put weight ON since I took up cold water and distance swimming. Have you ever seen a skinny Channel Swimmer? Check out Diego Lopez – Seven Continents swimmer, hero of mine and not a Waif.
Wim Hoff seems to be one of the main exponents of this school of thought and it feeds down to normal people with self-esteem issues and the info gets all skewed. Look, I’ve nothing against Wim Hoff, whatever it is. But I watch all the Wim Hoff Guys panting and making strange noises while they gyrate at the Lido (but not spending much time in the actual WATER) and actually what I want to say is – just get in the water you wimp!
So anyway, I ended up having a bit of a rant there. Cold water swimming is brilliant. Its life affirming and its wonderful. Its also great for your immune system. I haven’t had a cold in 2 years. I have had one brewing this week – but I refused to let it happen (Mums can do that) – I went to the Lido this morning, BOOM. Its gone.
It might make you happy, joyous even.
It may even change your life for the better, But it won’t make you thin.