Cold Water Swimming – Why it Feels so Incredible

Cold Water Swimming – Why it Feels so Incredible
4 November 2016 Janine

The fear of my sub 10 cold water swim was barely hidden, yet somehow I lasted 20 minutes and the benefits were quite unexpected.


There are many triathlons which have always been out of reach for me, thanks to a generalised fear of cold water. It was challenging enough, ta muchly, to get used to swimming in a lake or the sea full stop; without the added concern of hypothermia, inhaling water due to the dreaded ‘gasp’ effect, or generalised confusion setting in before a technical bike ride. Yes, races like The Slateman and The Brutal are on my I-wish-could-do list, thanks to the chilly swim.

Triathlon races tend to begin at 12 degrees Celsius, and indeed both of these triathlons (usually) fall within that temperature range. To put this into perspective, my Ironman race in Bolton took place in a lake that was 19 degrees, and that still felt a little fresh…

However, the term ‘fresh’ is rather more officially applied to 12–16 degrees, whilst 19 degrees is in the ‘summer swimming’ class. 0–11 degrees is classed as ‘freezing’.

So, imagine my delight then, to be invited for a morning swim in the local lake — which being England in November, was a toasty 9.5 degrees Celsius. My trepidation was barely hidden. ‘I’m scared.’ I whined. My friend El, as brave and inspiring as always, was ready to go in a little two piece, whilst I was zipping up my surfing (warmer!) wetsuit and firmly applying a rather sexy neoprene hat to finish the look.


What happened next was utterly body numbing yet heart warming. El and I teetered into the lake, and began to paddle slowly away from the side, with intermittent yelps. Silly singing, rhyming, doing ‘hi tens’ (but with our feet instead) made us all the warmer. Before we knew it (and despite a pressure pain to the temples when we tried to front crawl) we were bravely splishing our way across the 250 metre long lake.

Out and back, plus a little loop we did, and 20 minutes later, we emerged not yet shivering (too cold to feel it), and ready for the hot mikly gift bestowed upon us by the Thermos along with the post-swim opiate-esque high.

And thus, we agreed to cold water swim through there winter together — because we just felt so utterly fab for it. It brought out the silly side, we laughed a lot. Subsequently I had no undesirable consequences. Brutal here I come?

Top 7 Reasons to Cold Water Swim this Winter

  1. It boosts the immune system
  2. It gets the circulation going
  3. It provides an enormous sense of achievement in a relatively short window of time
  4. It gives you ‘feel good chemicals’ thanks to the rush of endorphins
  5. It pushes the fear boundaries, which lead to a sense of freedom in life
  6. It’s not as hard as you think it’s going to be!
  7. You acclimatise — as long as you do it at least once a week

Things to be aware of…

You should not swim in freezing temps if you have a heart problem or asthma without seeing a Doctor first. Beware of ‘the gasp’ when you get in, people have been known to fatally inhale water in this way. Instead, breath out as you get in, and consciously breath in calmly. Yelp away. Stick close to the side if you are beginning, and always take a ‘swim buddy’ you can rely on, and look out for each other. Be silly (It helps.).

More reading on Cold Water Swimming from the Outdoor Swimming Society >>


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