Feeling Cold

A few months into our cold water acclimation, I wanted to post an update about my progress. Perhaps for some of you non-cold water people, this can encourage you to get out there and try it because it’s really not that bad and it is incredibly rewarding.

From mid-Nov through January I completed approximately 5 ocean swims in a wetsuit (10-14℃) for up to 46 minutes.  During the same period, I was trying to do a non wetsuit swim once every 2 weeks in a cold saltwater outdoor pool where the water never got below 14.8℃.  This pool is a gift because it allows me to feel safer testing my cold levels as exiting the water quickly is easier than if I were in the sea.

The 3 minute rule by cold water Guru Loneswimmer is actually a really cool phenomenon to experience.   At first, I felt a very quick transition from ice-pain-freezing to really warm-relaxed and comfortable, then I’d slowly get colder until I had to get out. This was both in the sea with the wetsuit and in the cold water pool with no wetsuit.  In both places I had to swim with my head out of the water during the first few minutes as it was too painful to submerge in the water.  I loved to get through the cold water shock phase just to feel this sudden bust of warm-happy-energy. It was like a drug.  But in the last 3-4 swims I felt this wonderful sensation a little less; after the initial shock, I just felt “comfortable” rather than “wonderful”.

Club Natació Barcelona

As far as the cold water pools goes, I started swimming in an indoor 28℃ pool to warm up my muscles (2-3k), and then swam for approx. 15 minutes at around 16℃.  Recently I  was able to increase the time in the cold water to 30 minutes (14.8℃ and 15.5℃).  Last week I skipped the warm up, starting in the cold water pool and I found that I swam much slower than when I had warmed up in the indoor pool. Just another indication that my muscles aren’t completely on board with (adjusted to) the cold water.

Generally, in the sea, I swim much slower than in the pool with or without the wetsuit. The cold factor is just another additional stress to my system that shortens my breath and makes me tense, all in all slowing me down.

No matter where I swim or for how long, once I start shivering, I get out.  I usually take a hot shower that doesn’t succeed in warming me up – often spending more time in the hot shower than in the cold water.  Drinking a very hot tea seems to be the trick to getting warmer faster.

If you have any tricks to quick post cold swim warm ups, please post!

My new goal is to last an hour in the cold pool before the water warms up as spring rolls in. Although, I must say, I am really looking forward to the warmth that spring will bring.

Categories: Cold Water


9 replies

  1. Hi Emily, I’d strongly advise against the post-swim cold shower. That is making you colder, it’s quickly sending cold blood into your core. Exercise & clothing layers, or a sauna, are better and safer. Keep at it, you are doing well, it’s not a quick process.

  2. But I am taking HOT showers. Is that not good either?

    • Sorry Emily, I meant HOT shower.

      Remember what’s happened: the blood in your periphery has cooled significantly and quickly. If you measured it, it might be about 20C (maybe less, I go to about 17C in average temp water). Meanwhile your blood flow has slowed to keep your core warm by keeping the cold blood away from it. After you exit the water & return to an upright position, the constriction eases and cold blood enters, which cause the familiar Afterdrop. However, if you have a HOT shower, you speed up the process of sending cold blood inwards, so your core temps drops faster. The shower doesn’t warm the blood sufficiently, only the skin. Doing so can cause people to suddenly pass-out (I’ve seen it happen).

      It’s why medical teams approaching rewarming slowly and carefully, usually by only warming between the thighs where arterial blood flow is close to the surface and can be warmed more quickly, under the armpits and between the thighs. A sauna is more effective for warming those areas. Exercise also will raise your core temperature to combat the cold blood, layers are more effective at trapping heat. The human body rewarms at a rate of about 1 degree Celsius an hour once effectively covered, excluding external heat input. A hot drink feels psychologically good, but has little effect because the volume is too small for the temperature difference compared to the volume of the human body.

  3. We actually thought you were allergic to the word HOT.
    This is helpful, I know you explain this in parts on your blog but the overload of information hasn’t quite sunk in completely and my brain is still frozen from all of the cold water swimming.

    I can’t imagine getting dressed and going for a jog, I find I am so disabled from the cold that I can hardly stand upright. So going to the warm (28℃) pool and continuing to swim after the cold swim might be my best option. Even though once I did this and my muscles felt really weak and my pace was lethargic. I acutally posted about this once but I lost it in the blogsphere.

    • Ha!

      The thing is there are many who are better at cold than me, it’s just that I’ve read & written more about it than most swimmers. I never thought I’d become some kind of expert on the subject, I just have the kind of mind that wants to understand the science behind what I’m doing.

      I was tortured for a long time trying the understand the science behind two people of roughly the same physical build could be affected so differently and why I was suffering so much when I started. I wasn’t happy with every just telling me “you’ll get used to it”.

      Then I realised other people must want to understand it also, rather than just doing it and it gave me a primary subject for the blog that seems to give me new ways to write about. Every time i think I can’t possibly find anything else to write about, something presents itself.

      And finally, and pretty importantly, because I have to swim mostly by myself, I wanted to understand as best I could so I could maximise my safety.

      I have done cold water and warm after myself, but it’s not something I like, I found I couldn’t train properly on the warm swim, cold always makes you more tired than you realise. Hmmm, I wonder if that’s something I can turn into another post…


  4. I swim in cold water all winter (it was 47-48f yesterday and I was in for 45 min.), and although I am no expert, I have found a few tricks that work for me. I do not warm up before hitting the water. I get in and get going. I recommend putting your head/face in and swimming counting to 100 strokes before I stop and reassess. I have to breathe every other stroke, and kick hard (i feel a bit panicked but I work through it) but if I focus on counting my hands entering the water or just counting my breaths, by about 40-50 strokes I am starting to feel ok. And by the time I hit 100, I am feeling good. I have noticed that even if I shiver, I am ok, and it may stop if I kick harder or eat something (maybe a GU that I carry in my suit). Cold water swimming is a head game. You need to build up your tolerance both physically and mentally.

    • Head in right away? I am sure that is some sort of torture in some countries. I’ll try it though. You should know that reading your interview in the fall is what got me to thinking I needed to be tougher and start some cold water swimming, so thanks for the inspiration.

  5. HI Not only would I recommend smiling as you head in straight away, with a forceful outbreath to avoid hyperventilation,during my acclimatisation for the English channel, I used chilli chocolate pre-swim and laugh if you want, but the chilli warmth helped. South Devon Chilli Farm do lush flavours- and not only does the capsaicin in the chili boost your metabolism to get you warm, it also beest seratonin so you feel happier about it too!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: