Five things you must always do when cold water swimming

From warming up gradually to dressing appropriately, here’s five tips that will help you and your cold water swim

Person in wet suit
(Image credit: Getty Images)

These days you only have to open your social media before you stumble across someone wrapped up in their dry robe, or cautiously pacing into an idyllic-looking lake. Cold water swimming may not be new, but recently it’s risen rapidly in popularity with the Instagram hastag #coldwaterswimming racking up more than 400,000 posts.

Numerous studies have revealed the many benefits of cold water immersion from reducing inflammation, to boosting our immunity, mood and circulation, to name a few. Fitness enthusiasts, such as the Stoltman Brothers, also swear by it, regularly heading for a loch swim nearly every morning. Plus, you don't need to spend ages in the water either, Wim Hof 'The Iceman', says two minutes is enough for your vascular system to adapt the cold water (which is probably relieving to hear).

Keen to give it a go? Outdoor retailers Blacks share five things you should always do when braving the cold water...

1. Dress appropriately

Woman in dry robes after cold water swimming

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Taking your first steps into the cold water is hard enough, but it’ll be made even harder if you aren’t wearing the right attire and could lead to hypothermia. A good quality wetsuit, especially in the winter months, will help retain body heat, whereas in the summer you may opt for a thermal neoprene layer. A swimming cap, neoprene gloves, boots and swimming goggles are also advised.

2. Warm up gradually

To prevent a rapid drop in body temperature it’s crucial you warm up after your cold water swim. But, you must do this gradually. Do not jump straight into a hot shower, as this can send your body into shock and increase the risk of after drop. Instead, take your wet kit off (a dry robe is handy as you can still change without worrying about your modesty) and dry yourself down. Having a mat to stand on is also handy to prevent losing heat from your feet. 

Opt for loose baggy clothes that are warm and easy to pull on, like a fleece jacket, a beanie hat, joggers and a nice pair of warm socks. Sip on a warm, un-caffinated drink and eat a sugary snack. Then, if you choose to shower, make sure it’s warm, not boiling.

3. Avoid swimming alone

Even more so if you’re a beginner but, regardless, swimming with a partner or in a group is always the safer option. You never know what could happen in the water, so having someone nearby who can assist you, or you them, can be life-saving. Plus, it's a fun experience to share with someone. 

Group cold water swimming

(Image credit: Getty Images)

4. Monitor water temperatures

Cold water can be extremely hazardous, therefore it’s important you monitor the water temperatures. Ethan Ball, Author and outdoor enthusiast at Blacks says that entering cold water with a temperature below 15°C  may cause your body to react with an involuntary gasp, followed by hyperventilation. If the water is deep, turbulent, or you’ve jumped in, water could enter your lungs and lead to drowning. Stay informed about the water temperature before swimming and let your body acclimatise gradually.

5. Listen to your body

Knowing your limits and being aware of how your body responds to cold water is important. If you’ve gone with a friend, or a group, it may be tempting to try and hold out as long as the rest, but you need to listen to your body. Pay close attention to any signs of discomfort, fatigue or numbness that you may experience when swimming. If you feel extremely cold or experience cramps, exit the water immediately and warm up.  

Bryony Firth-Bernard
Staff Writer, Active

Bryony’s T3’s official ‘gym-bunny’ and Active Staff Writer, covering all things fitness. In her spare time, you will find her in her natural habitat - the gym - where her style of training is a hybrid of bodybuilding and powerlifting. Bryony loves writing about accessible workouts, nutrition and testing innovative fitness products that help you reach your fitness goals and take your training to the next level.