• Mark

Cold water swimming

Updated: Mar 29, 2019

At some point you are going to want to enter an event with an open water swim (OWS); be this in a river, a lake or the sea. All three have their challenges from; water flow, weeds and mud, additional salt water bouncy and waves but all three have something in common, well at least in England, cold!

It’s true that after a couple of weeks of sun and no rain a lake could get reach around 22c, warm enough to forgo the wet suit. This, for most, is still quite chilly especially when most pools are heated to between 25c and 28c.

At some point you are going to want to enter an event with an open water swim (OWS); be this in a river, a lake or the sea. All three have their challenges from; water flow, weeds and mud, additional salt water bouncy and waves but all three have something in common, well at least in England, cold!

It’s true that after a couple of weeks of sun and no rain a lake could get reach around 22c, warm enough to forgo the wet suit. This, for most, is still quite chilly especially when most pools are heated to between 25c and 28c.


The more obvious action to protect against the cold, especially early in the season when temperatures are likely to be around 12c – 13c, is a good fitting wet-suit (made for swimming / triathlon). In addition to this; neoprene hats, gloves and boots can be worn. If you are having trouble keeping your core warm, a sleeveless neoprene body warmer can be worn under the wet suit. All of these are great for keeping the cold at bay whilst training but be sure to know the rules of the local triathlon governing body as some items e.g. boots and gloves, may be prohibited in races.


Even with all of the above, if you are new to cold OWS you may be feeling anxious and it may still be a shock as your face feels the cold water for the first time. This shock will ease as your brain and your body gets used to it, but this is how I help reduce the shock and speed up familiarisation each year.


Around a month before you plan to go for your first OWS start taking cold showers. Initially after a warm shower or bath run a cold shower over your legs and arms. You should find that after a few minutes the water does not feel as cold and you can continually move from leg to leg and arm to arm without your breathing changing. Once you are used to this try splashing your face with the cold shower and run the cold water over the back of your neck. Over the coming weeks you’ll find that the ‘shock response’ lessens. As you become more accustomed start having full cold showers. Yes, you may jump in an out to start, but you’ll soon get used to it. These cold-water experiences will help when you first enter the lake at the start of a season.


When you go to the lake for the first time and the water is cold, slowly enter so that you gradually get used to the temperature until you have covered yourself in it. Only once you are relaxed should you consider moving away from shallow water that is in easy reach of safe and quick exit and never swim alone.

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