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Top tips for staying acclimatised when you can't swim

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

I first wrote this for lockdown, but holidays, illness, operations, limbs in plaster... there are lots of reasons why you might have an enforced break from cold water swimming.

Lockdown, quarantine or illness, there are likely to be times over winter when you won't be able to swim. Research shows that once acclimatised, you'll still be used to the cold water after as much as a 14-month hiatus. But, for most of us, there's a craving for that cold water thrill that remains.

So, how can we recreate the good feeling from the cold?

  • Cold showers have all the mental health benefits of cold water immersion because they put a little bit of stress on our bodies, which we then adapt. Wim Hof recommends combining them with breathing techniques.

  • Cold baths, wheelie bins full of cold water and plunge pools have the same benefits. With the latter, you can set up outside to also enjoy the fresh air.

  • Put your face in a basin of cold water. This is thought to stimulate the vagus nerve, which is part of the parasympathetic or 'rest and digest' nervous system, which helps improve your metabolism.

None of these on their own compensate for missing cold water swimming, but they might make you feel more positive. Combined with getting outdoors, light to moderate exercise like walking and cycling, meditative breathing, and good food might make you feel a bit better.

Whatever alternative cold water therapy you use, please remember:

  • Keep dips short and sweet: don't stay in a cold bath or pool for longer than 2-3 minutes

  • The usual rules of cold water immersion apply: warm-up well afterwards

  • Turn the shower from hot to cold and NEVER the other way around

  • If you feel unwell, have a temperature, fever or chills, lay off cold water therapy completely

Getting back to winter swimming

After a break, you can return to winter swimming. To do this safely, follow the usual rules of cold water swimming such as not swimming alone and warming up carefully, but also start with the briefest dips -- especially if the temperature has dropped significantly.


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