Open water swimming is an exhilarating and life-enhancing experience for many people, bringing an instant dopamine rush and a lasting sense of wellbeing. There are many proven benefits, from improved cardiovascular health to better moods and the chance to connect with nature.
It’s also a bonding experience that can lead to new friendships and build a sense of community. There’s research to suggest that regular submersion in cold water can improve the body’s response to stress because it learns how to regulate cortisol levels. It may also boost the immune system and have anti-inflammatory effects.
However, there’s no denying that submerging yourself in cold water for the first time does take a bit of raw courage! If you plan to start the activity as part of a triathlon training programme, you may find this the most daunting aspect of the course. Swimming in cold water is a learning curve but it’s well worth the effort.
Here are some tips to help you feel more confident and comfortable in the open water.
Start with a beginner session
Look for a dedicated outdoor facility such as Shepperton open water swimming lake, where coaching is available for beginners and comfort and safety are a priority at all times. All newcomers need to complete an induction to make sure that they understand the rules and are capable of swimming in an outdoor environment.
If you are not having a coaching session, make sure that you don’t swim alone and there are lifeguards on duty at the location.
Wear a wetsuit
While it’s not strictly necessary to wear a wetsuit, it’s highly recommended, especially for your first open water swim. The water will be significantly colder than even an unheated indoor pool and a wetsuit will provide some insulation against the thermal shock. Wetsuits also provide extra buoyancy for support and safety and make swimming easier
A wetsuit may feel uncomfortable and constricting before you get into the water, but remember that it will loosen up once you start to swim or move around in the water.
If it’s too loose it will let in water, which feels unpleasant and will make swimming difficult. It should fit snugly with no bunching around the arms or tops of the legs, or any air pockets or creases. However you should be able to move your arms freely above your head, so if it’s too restrictive you may need to go up a size.
Enter the water gradually
Do not jump or dive into the water, but get in gradually to allow your body time to adjust to the temperature change. Splash water on your face before putting your head in. Practise your breathing to get used to the cold and to help keep you calm.
Stick to short distances
Do not push yourself too hard at first, but just set a small manageable goal without venturing too far from the edge of the water. As you grow in confidence, you will be able to build up to longer distances.