Getting Into Wild Swimming
From year round swimmers, to those that are enjoying a quick dip, there’s been a sharp rise in the number of people taking to open water swimming. Whether it’s wading out into the ocean, a river, or a lake, the frigid waters of the UK are delivering a wide range of benefits that are improving physical and mental well being.
For many, the cold winter waters are a way to aid recovery from intense workouts or long distance running, but the exposure to cold temperatures helps stimulate the central nervous system, which can reduce inflammation and improve circulation. Whether it’s to help with a bad back, or building mental strength and resilience, cold water immersion is being embraced by even the most unlikely of candidates.
However, entering a cold body of water is an activity not to be taken lightly. As well as currents, tides and under water obstacles that need to be considered, there's also a very real threat of too much cold exposure.
One step at a time
You need to approach cold water one step at a time. This could be done by swimming in the sea each week during the summer, and acclimatising as the temperature drops into winter. Alternatively, you might consider a short cold burst at the end of your shower, slowly increasing the duration until you are doing two minute cold showers.
One of the great benefits of cold water swimming is that you are forced to be very present. You need to maintain that mindfulness to understand your limits, when to get out and get warm. It might be one or two minutes to start with but you may eventually build up to ten minutes or more. The fluctuation of seasonal air and water temperatures will keep you on your toes here, as will the presence of wind chill.
Obviously during COVID lockdowns buddying-up for cold water swimming is fraught with rules and restrictions, but because it's classed as exercise you can meet with one other person providing you social distance. For safety you should never head into cold water alone, having a partner to help if you run into trouble is a necessity, especially when first starting out.
From Hampstead Heath Ponds, to Cornish beaches, you’ll find thriving communities of sea dippers and pond swimmers all over the country, a great way of seeking support and entering cold water safely.
One of the most important things to consider when wild swimming is having all the things on hand to get warmed up both quickly and efficiently. It goes without saying that a thermos or hot tea, coffee, bone broth or soup should be on hand along with drying robes and towels. Hot water bottles are another pro tip for getting that restorative warmth, but what a lot of people overlook is quick easy layers.
When you're cold and clammy, a pair of jeans just isn’t the easiest of items to chuck on. Base layers come in essential here, sliding on easily as well as wicking moisture away from your skin. On top of this you want items like jogging bottoms and sweatshirts, as well as wooly hats and gloves. You’ll be surprised how quickly you are able to warm up with the right kit.
So whether you’re interested in swimming wild waterways and immersing yourself in nature, or harnessing the powerful effects of the cold a la Wim Hof, venture out responsibly.