How to Prep for Cold Water Swims


Posted by Coach Jay Weber

As the triathlon season is closing down in many parts of the country, the thoughts of getting into the open water has left the minds of many. But cooler water does not need to mean the end of open water swims in some areas.

To enjoy cold water swims, there are some questions to be asked: Does my wetsuit still fit? What kind of swim cap will I wear? Do I need to wear wetsuit booties?

While cold water is uncomfortable, you can actually get acclimated to colder water swimming through repeated exposure. Preparation starts before you ever get into the water. Here are some helpful tips to begin the process of getting ready, and staying as comfortable as you can during the swim.

  • Acclimate to the cold: By wearing lighter layers for a period of time when outdoors, and ending your shower a few times a week by turning the water progressively colder, your body will slowly learn to acclimate to colder conditions.
  • Dress appropriately for the event: While you may see some people who are members of the Polar Bear Club doing their early season swims without wetsuits or in Speedos, staying warm is the key. Since most people are not acclimated to cold water, wearing your wetsuit will provide a much more enjoyable experience.
  • Add layers where needed: While gloves are not allowed in USA Triathlon events, booties and extra thermal caps are. An extra swim cap to keep the head warm, such as a silicon or neoprene cap, will make a big difference. If you will be using neoprene booties, it is best to find ones that are very tight fitting so that the water is not constantly entering and exiting the booty. This will ensure that your feet stay warmer. If you are not focusing on the extremities, you'll avoid shivering and allow yourself to keep swimming mentally.
  • Walk before you run: While your offseason training may have you swimming 3,000 - 5,000 yards in the pool, the cold water will take some time to adjust to. Don't expect to jump in the water and swim the same distance which you have been practicing. The exposure time can gradually increase, but it should be time based as opposed to distance based.
  • Mental exercises of warmth: Studies report that the body temperature can increase by 2 - 3 degrees by thinking of being warm. The more you practice thoughts of warmth, the more effective it will be.
  • Wear earplugs under your cap: This will keep water out of your ear canal which can assist in keeping your core temperature up.
  • Blow bubbles: This works in two different ways: The first is that it helps the capillaries in your cheeks receive blood flow. This enables lung expansion during the exhale. This also helps alleviate shock to the lungs.
  • Get warm, and stay warm: There is no such thing as too much warm-up, just warming up too hard. Give yourself plenty of time to go get warmed up. Once you're warmed up, don't allow yourself to cool off. Keep moving in the water until you're ready to exit.

~ Coach Jay Weber

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