Coldwater swimming - Good for the body and soul

photo of Liz Barker
Liz Barker
May 6, 2021
contributing author:
Cold Water Swimming | Fit for Living

A chilly spring means the water is colder than usual this year. Perfect for a cold water swim. Social media is full of people claiming that regular cold dips have transformed their health and well-being. There are also now more scientific studies behind it which demonstrate its many benefits. Wim Hof is well known for his cold water exposure. I trained with him a few years ago and have used cold water therapy ever since but have also loved cold water swimming before I ever discovered The Wim Hof Method. For me taking a dip in cold water is like pressing reset on my Mac. My brain switches off my body feels reborn and I am high as a kite after! So what are the real benefits?

The benefits:

Reduces muscle soreness - it’s such a great recovery aid as an athlete and means I can train harder and feel looser. When you sit in cold water, your blood vessels constrict; when you get out, they open back up. This process helps flush away metabolic waste post-workout so you can get back in the gym and train harder.

Burns calories - When your body is exposed to cold, it requires more heat i.e. energy to warm you up.

Natural high and good vibes

Coldwater causes your nerve endings to stand up and your heart starts racing. Endorphins release and you get a natural high. It also reduces stress levels and long term has shown to help reduce depression

Boosts your immune system - Cold water helps flush your circulation pushing blood through your arteries, capillaries, and veins as well as flushing away any impurities.

Improve your libido - Apparently, it increases your libido (once warmed up!!). Sex hormones (testosterone in men and oestrogen in women) have been shown to increase during submersion in cold water. This translates to increased libido and a potentially happier sex life?!

Makes you mentally strong- Getting into cold water steps you outside your comfort zone pretty quickly no matter if you are a regular or if it is your first time; you get a sense of personal achievement.

Tempted yet? Here are some tips.

1. Acclimatise - For a few weeks before your swim, take cold showers or baths to familiarise yourself with the sensation. The first splashdown into cold water can be a physical and psychological shock but if your body is acclimatised you won’t get such a sudden increase in heart rate and adrenalin, which can cause you to hyperventilate in the water.

2. Warm up: Warming up will get lots of warm blood flowing around your body and bring up your heart rate slowly, reducing the impact of the unavoidable shock you’ll experience entering cold water. Try a few rounds of squats and push-ups or go for a jog before you swim anything to get your heart rate up and blood pumping.

3. Get in slowly: When you first get into the cold water it will be a shocking moment. Your body’s natural response will be an involuntary gasp and letting off a few f-bombs most likely. You’ll experience some initial shortness of breath so never jump or dive in. Keep your head up to start. Go slow but don't hesitate as you will lose energy so go slow and keep moving.

When you enter the water focus on your breathe and try to breathe slowly. By slowing and calming your breathing your heart rate will also begin to slow down and you will start to relax. After 30seconds to 1 min  it gets easier as you settle into it and you will feel relaxed.

4. Consider a tow float: It can act as a float if you are in deep water and suddenly develop cramp and it keeps you more visible in the water.

5. Build up slowly and know your limits : Cold water draws heat away from your body 25 times faster than cold air of the same temperature. As your body tries to recover that heat, it forces your heart and respiratory system to work harder, causing you to tire more quickly.

Don’t push yourself too hard by trying to swim for the same distance or duration that you can in the pool. Begin with short, cold water swims of just a few minutes and increase the length or duration slowly.

One of the biggest risks for outdoor swimmers is hypothermia and no swimmer, regardless of how strong or experienced they are, is immune, so know the signs.

Initially, you’ll feel cold but within a minute or two of swimming, this should abate. However, if you start to feel colder as you swim, if your muscles feel fatigued or stiff, you feel confused, your breathing is affected or if you feel shivery and unusually tired, get out immediately. Learn to spot the signs in others too. Pale skin, drowsiness or slurred speech are not good signs!

Symptoms can develop quickly so swim close to the shoreline and with friends. Have your towel and dry clothes to change back into nearby.

The After Drop! How to warm up after!

After drop is when your body temperature continues to drop even after you get out of cold water and into a warmer environment. It means you feel colder for up to 40mins after you get out. Here are some tips to help you warm up after your dip but know that it can take some time to warm properly.

  1. Dry yourself ASAP
  2. Layer up: in thermals, wool jumpers, insulated jackets, hats ad gloves etc. My favourite go to is my dry robe!
  3. Sip a warm drink.
  4. Eat something to help raise your body temperature.
  5. Sit in a warm environment or if you feel okay, walk around to generate body heat.
  6. Hot baths and showers can cause problems they may make affect blood pressure and make you feel faint and unwell. Try a warm shower but I always prefer to warm up naturally.

Swim spots!

For the best wild swim spots check out but if you are in the City and don't have easy access to these your local lido will do!

Enjoy - it's addictive! Feel free to share your experience with me or if you are local to London or Cornwall get in touch we organise regular Fit for Living group swims.