With lockdown restrictions closing outdoor pools and open water swimming venues, many swimmers are wondering if this is the end of their winter swimming season or if they can keep acclimatised while in lockdown. This is of particular concern to swimmers contemplating their first winter of swimming outdoors, hoping to continue swimming outdoors in the many venues that have decided to open through the winter for the first time this year or with swimming groups around the UK.
This year marks my eleventh winter of swimming outdoors in just trunks, hat and goggles. And although the recommended way to swim through the winter is to keep swimming as the temperatures drop to acclimatise yourself to the cold, I started winter swimming on a Christmas Day when the water temperature was in single figures. So, don’t worry – you will be able to keep swimming after lockdown, but just manage your expectations. When we are allowed back in the water think “dips not distance” and don’t expect to be able to swim for the same amount as time as you are swimming now.
There are, however, ways that you can keep yourself acclimatised while we have no access to water. Below I set out the programme I will be following over the coming weeks. Some of the benefits may only be psychological but there will be tangible physical benefits too. The science behind what makes cold water swimming so good for our mental health isn’t conclusive: it is likely a mixture of the cold, the community, being outdoors and physical exertion. So I will be trying to incorporate all of these elements into my day.
Cold showers or baths
The best way to keep acclimatised to the cold is to keep getting cold. A cold shower or bath will keep you used to the cold and give you a bit of the rush we get from being immersed in cold water. If you normally have a hot shower, try finishing off your shower with a blast of cold. Over the coming weeks increase the length of time you spend under the cold water. Athletes often use ice baths as an aid to recovery – take a leaf out of their books and give it a go. If you don’t have a bath, try filling up a wheelie bin with water and ice cubes! The aim is to become used to being comfortable with being uncomfortable. I always finish my shower with a blast of cold so this month I will be taking cold showers – no hot water!
Turn down your heating
Cold water swimmers often claim that they don’t need the heating on as much as regular people. It may be only psychological, but turning down the heating a notch can not only help you manage the cold but save on your heating bills too!
Wear fewer clothes
Embrace the cold! Leave that thick jumper at home when you go for a walk or walk in your running clothes rather than big winter coat. A brisk walk or run in the cold will also give you the added benefits of physical exertion and being outdoors.
Leave your bedroom window open at night
Again, the aim is to make yourself more comfortable with being uncomfortable in the cold.
Keep fit by doing swim-specific land training outdoors
Boost yourself by doing a swim-specific workout outdoors, preferably with a friend so you can have the mental health benefits of social contact as well as the physical benefits of exercise. A routine will also give structure to lockdown. I will be doing a daily core workout followed by body-weight exercises and a short run in my local park.
If you live near a natural body of water
If you have access to water and are able to swim within government guidelines, be aware that you swim at your own risk. In the last lockdown many swimmers chose not to swim in case they got into difficulties and then placed an unnecessary burden on the emergency services. What would happen if you got into trouble? If you do decide to swim, adhere to government Covid regulations and follow our swimming safety advice. More information on winter swimming can be found in our cold water swimming section.
Jonathan Cowie is the editor of Outdoor Swimmer magazine. With over a decade of winter swimming experience, he has swum in International Winter Swimming Association and International Ice Swimming Association winter swimming championships in the UK, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Germany and Czech Republic.