Ready, steady, wait. (Are you sure you’re ready ?)

Am I alone in having a list of things that I know should be part of the routine of my life but which, seem to get continually overlooked? Things like turning my mattress, reviewing my energy suppliers and flossing my teeth. And doing a proper warm-up before swimming. Please tell me it’s not just me!

If I’m doing other sports a warm-up is one of those things you do almost without thinking about it. Thus if I’m going for a run, I’ll have a short jog first or at the gym, I’ll have a short light session on a machine at a low setting before getting into the main session as a matter of course. But this rarely happens when I go swimming and, from what I observe, I’m not alone.

Why not? Perhaps, because they don’t come out of the water drenched in sweat, no matter how far you have swum folks don’t realise how much energy and work they have spent and, even with a good technique, how much potential strain there has been on the muscles. The fact that swimming is a low impact sport probably exacerbates this potentially complacent view.

But one ignores a proper warm-up at your peril, particularly with advancing years. It will go a long way to prevent injuries, improve performance, reduce the level of muscle tension and increase the range of motion possible. All vital stuff.

But if the case for doing a warm-up is inescapable this leads to the inevitable question of what one should actually do. Is it sufficient just to swing the arms vigorously for a while, stretch out the shoulders and quads, roll the neck a few times before leaping into the water? Or should the warm-up be a more structured affair?

Photo by zibik on Unsplash

In order to answer that question it is important to differentiate between stretching and warming up. For some the terms are interchangeable but in reality they describe different activities and their functions are often very different. Care should be taken when stretching that the result is not more harm than good. Every body is different and there is no one size fits all ruling but as a general rule of thumb stretching should only be performed on muscles that are already warm. That is to say, they are best performed as part of a warm down at the end of a swim, not part of a warm-up at the start.

 

 

Photo by Alice Naar on Unsplash

Stretching can be broken down into several sub-categories. These include static stretches where a person holds a position for up to 30 seconds, passive stretches, where this is done by someone else, dynamic stretches, for example, controlled swinging of the arms and ballistic stretches, where the body is forced beyond the normal boundaries of operation. Other more complex types include active isolated stretches where the contraction of one muscle leads to the stretching of another, isometric stretching where a muscle is alternatively stretched and contracted and a combination of passive and isometric stretching known as proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. Of all these variations only the controlled dynamic stretches are really suitable to be included in a warm-up and even then they should be used very judiciously. Save everything else for later, and, even then, take care not to overdo it.

So if stretching is largely to be avoided, then what should be included. The best advice seems to be to simply do what you plan to do in the main set but to do it at a lower tempo and to take rests throughout. Thus, in a pool, one might do six to eight lengths swimming at something like 75% and resting for several breaths at the end of each 25m. If you want to swing your arms a bit or rotate the neck gently before you get in, well OK, if you must. However, those won’t be movements you are performing when swimming (I hope!) so is there really much point in getting the body ready to perform them?

The best warm-ups will consist of movements likely to be performed later simply performed at a lower intensity to prepare the body for what is to come. After the swim and during the warm down (also not to be forgotten) is the time to, carefully, include any stretching you want to include. At all times ensure you are operating within the boundaries of your limitations.

That way you can remain safe and healthy ready to floss those teeth and turn your mattress!

A look back at the Tokyo Olympics

So finally a line has been drawn beneath the delayed 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The closing ceremony was awash with the usual impressive pyrotechnics and entertainment ranging from the mind-numbingly dull, through the frankly bizarre to the jaw-droppingly spectacular and thus neatly encapsulated a Games which has been like no other. Or like any is likely to be again. The predictions of doom regarding the increased spread of Covid appear to have been largely unfounded and the result of the lack of spectators often resulted, not in an empty sterile environment, but a more intense atmosphere of sporting competition stripped bare of the usual razzmatazz which surrounds such events. And, was it just me, or did there seem to be a greater respect amongst athletes for the achievements of their rivals and a genuine joy in the success of others? Certainly one of the abiding images from Tokyo came at the end of the 200m women’s breaststroke final. Won by South African Tatjana Schoenmaker in a new World Record time of 2.18.95 she was embraced by compatriot Kaylene Corbett as well as Americans Lilly King and Annie Lazor whom she had beaten into the Silver and Bronze positions and the delight on the faces of all four women was beamed around the world.

The Tokyo Olympics saw its fair share of drama and determination, highs and heartaches many of which will live long in the memory. The aquatics centre was no exception to this rule with many outstanding performances. 880 athletes competed and 21 countries won at least one medal with the standout performance coming from the United States who brought home a total of thirty medals, eleven of them gold. The Australians took the second spot with nine golds amongst their twenty medals with the third most successful team being Great Britain and Northern Ireland with eight medals, half of them golds.

Established stars defended their records and their reputation for being at the very top of their game whilst rising stars emerged and are certain to dominate the sport for years to come. But there was still room for one or two shocks and heartwarming success stories.

Photo by Alex Smith on Unsplash

At 27 the US swimmer Kate Ledecky is hardly over the hill, indeed she is almost certain to feature prominently at the Paris Games in 2024, but compared to some of her youthful rivals she is becoming one of the more experienced performers in the pool. Tokyo represented a personal triumph for her as she won two golds, one of them in the new freestyle distance of 1,500m. These, added to the four she had already won at previous Games makes her the most decorated ever female Olympic swimmer.

However, 21-year-old Ariarne Titmus gave notice to the old guard that new talents were emerging as she beat Ledecky to gold in the 400m freestyle as she also bagged gold in the 200m event plus silver in the 800m and bronze as part of the 4x200m relay. Another 20-year-old Kaylee McKeown a backstroke specialist won gold in the 100m and 200m individual event as well as the 4x100m women and mixed relays.

Other notable Australian successes were recorded by near namesake Emma McKeon who added to the four medals she had won in Rio with a further seven in Japan. This matched the record for the number of medals won by a woman at a single games. Together these three formed the backbone of the Aussie dominance in the pool.

For the men, no-one came near the man constantly compared to Michael Phelps, the amazing Caeleb Dressel. With five golds he was a commanding presence whilst still remaining refreshingly modest and grounded during interviews. Undoubtedly his most impressive performance came whilst setting a new World Record of 49.45 in the 100m butterfly. At just 24 years old he still has plenty of time to overhaul Phelps’s record of 23 Olympic medals.

For the Brits, Adam Peaty, James Guy and Tom Dean all won two golds with Peaty and Guy also bringing home a silver medal. They were both winners of one of the new events for Tokyo, the mixed 100m relay along with Kathleen Dawson and Anna Hopkin.

Possibly the most unexpected victory however came in the 400m men’s freestyle event. Starting in lane 8, Tunisia’s Ahmed Hafnaoui was hardly known and certainly not one of the favourites for the title. But in a winning time of 3.43.36 he proved that dreams can indeed sometimes come true.

So as Japan’s rising sun becomes its setting sun we can reflect on some truly incredible performances, not only by those I have mentioned but by every athlete who has spent years training and toiling away from the spotlight for their brief moment to shine and to entertain us as they chase their target of glory. Roll on Paris, it’s going to be spectacular!

Practice really does make perfect

In 1979, Bob Geldof and The Boomtown Rats famously sang “I Don’t Like Mondays”. For me, Mondays were OK, it was Wednesdays I wasn’t keen on, starting as they did with double French. I never have really got to grips with the language, even though, ironically, one of the French teachers at my school was the sister of Bob Geldof. I do seem to remember learning “Où est la bibliothèque?” although, being unable to speak the language, even at that young age, the library seemed a rather odd destination to want to visit. Thanks to several foreign holidays I have now progressed to the stage of being able to ask some rudimentary questions in French although, sadly, I am completely unable to understand the answers (unless they are provided in perfectly unaccented English, which is usually the case).

My problem at school, of course, was that, between Wednesdays, French simply ceased to exist. I didn’t think about it, practice it or, indeed have any interest in it. Consequently, and unsurprisingly, I made very little progress with it. Had I put any time or effort into French between lessons I still may not have become fluent exactly but I most certainly would be a better French speaker than I am now.

Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash

The same principle of devoting time to practice between lessons holds true for those embarking on a programme of swimming instruction. If the only times that a student swims are during the lessons themselves, progress will undoubtedly be made, but a massive learning opportunity will be wasted. 

Instruction provided by a coach either one-to-one or in small groups is invaluable but, if one is learning a different way to move one’s body then it is unrealistic to expect that to come together in the relatively short period offered within a formal lesson.

The primary function of lessons is to provide information about a particular movement both regarding the physical movements required to perform it and also the rationale behind it to explain its importance. Having isolated a movement the coach will then attempt to provide ways in which the swimmer can replicate it. A variety of techniques will probably be used. These include performing a demonstration of the requirement themselves, taking the student through a series of drills or providing images or sensations which the swimmer can think about whilst swimming. Whatever methods are used, throughout it all the primary aim of the coach is not necessarily to perfect the movement then and there but to get the student to tune into how it looks or, even better, feels, when the task is mastered.

However, to do this, the student must spend time away from the lessons practising by themselves. This is when the magic happens! 

Coaches are often asked how much time should be left between lessons. There is no hard and fast rule, however, most would recommend that the student has at least two sessions by themselves to attempt to imprint the instructions from the previous lesson. Anything less and it is unrealistic to expect that enough time has been spent on a particular skill to come close to improving upon it. Equally, however, too much time between lessons can result in swimmers imprinting less than perfect movements or forgetting some of the finer points from the lesson. 

Before starting lessons, therefore, a swimmer needs to decide a realistic schedule for the amount of time they are going to be able to dedicate to practice to ensure that sufficient time can be devoted to this. This does not have to be a rigid structure and, as time goes on, it may well transpire that the timings can be adjusted depending on the rate of progress made. However, without sufficient practice, the impact and effectiveness of the lessons will undoubtedly be diminished.

Practice may not always make perfect but without any practice at all progress will be far slower.

 

Robbed of Olympic 100m glory ? The Lance Lawson story

These days technology seems to be taking over the role of referees and umpires in almost every sporting arena. Whilst not always providing conclusive results the tension and drama resulting from the instant analysis of the TV replay is common-place in football, rugby, tennis, cricket as well and several other sports. Whether we approve of the disruption or not it seems unlikely that the technology is going away any time soon. 

Life was not always so, and in the relatively recent past, we relied on somewhat cruder methods to decide on the big decisions. Swimming has never, fortunately, been particularly noted for controversy but that’s not to say that it hasn’t had its moments.

The other day I came across an interesting story from the 1960 Olympics held in Rome surrounding the Men’s 100m Freestyle final. It concerned the winner who never was and how the race had an impact forty years later on one of the greatest ever performances seen at the Olympics. You may already be familiar with it but, if not, the details are fascinating.

Photo by Bryan Turner on Unsplash

Going into the race the two hot favourites were an American, twenty year old Lance Larson and his Australian rival John Davitt. As predicted, the race was a thriller. At the turn, it was, in fact, the eventual Bronze medalist, the Brazilian Manuel dos Santos who held a slim lead but both Larson and Davitt powered down the second fifty touching virtually together at the finish. But who had won? Who had Gold and who had Silver?

The decision initially lay with the small army of timer-keepers stationed at the end wall. Each lane was allocated three judges who all timed the race with stop-watches. The judges in Davitt’s lane were unanimous; they all recorded a time of 55.2 seconds. However, there was disagreement in Larson’s lane. Two judges timed him at 55.0 seconds but one recorded a time of 55.1. The discrepancy became crucial.

Supposedly if two of the three times were the same, that became the official result, in which case the race would have been awarded to Lawson. However, in this instance, it was decided to reject all the stop-watch results as being unreliable and, because there was no overall agreement, regarding Lawson’s time the results from a second group of judges stationed at the side of the pool was invoked.

They were not concerned with the time at all. They merely had to decide on the order in which the swimmers had finished. Again, they worked in groups of three with three judges deciding who had come first, three deciding who had come second, and so on. 

The problem came when it emerged that the result was so tight these judges also could not conclusively separate the swimmers. Of the judges deciding who had won, two came out in favour of Davitt. The gold seemed to be going to the Australian. However, when the results of the officials deciding who had come second were analysed it showed that two of them also thought that Davitt had come second! In other words, of the six people adjudicating by this second method, three thought Davitt had won and three thought Lawson had. Stalemate.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay 

The final decision came down to the Head Judge, a German called Hans Runstromer. His decision seemed a little eccentric if not downright bizarre. Instead of reverting to the stop-watch results, Runstromer declared that both swimmers should be given the same finish time of 55.2 seconds but that Davitt alone should be awarded the Gold medal. This despite the fact that all three of the lane judges at the side of the pool had given Lawson a faster time than that and, of the twelve judges involved in adjudicating the race, nine of them had given the result to the American.

Appeals fell on deaf ears and Lawson had to settle for Silver. If you like, you can decide for yourself who you thought won by watching the excellent YouTube video “The Race That Changed Olympic Swimming” which tells the tale and shows the finish. However, it is impossible to be certain from the footage whether Lawson was robbed of his Gold or not. Besides, Davitt later claimed that he touched the wall first with the hand which was underwater which further complicates matters for those trying to decide. As Davitt later admitted the result was so close that not even the swimmers themselves can ever know for sure who had actually won.

And how does all this affect that later Olympic achievement? Well, one of the legacies of the race was to phase out the manual timers. By the next Olympic Games held in 1968, the banks of judges had been replaced by the far more reliable electronic touchpads which allowed far more accurate times to be recorded. In 1988 at the Beijing Olympics Michael Phelps was to be particularly grateful for this accuracy as he beat Mark Spitz’s record in winning no less than eight Gold medals. His seventh Gold in the 100m Butterfly was another nail-bitingly close finish as he beat Milorad Cavic of Serbia by the narrowest of margins. His time of 50.58 seconds was a new Olympic record. But his margin of victory? A mere one-hundredth of a second! 

It would have been interesting to hear the views of Lance Lawson on that!  

 

 

 

Getting into cold water swimming. And getting out again.

Covid 19 has severely limited the options for many wishing to be active as gyms and pools remain closed and look to stay that way for some time to come.  So for many the Great Outdoors has beckoned !  Let’s assume you’ve decided to join them (maintaining a respectful social-distance at all times of course) and that cold water swimming is for you. Great!  

Be safe !

We’ll assume that you have found a safe location and that you have supportive, experienced albeit socially distanced friends to accompany you. It is absolutely essential that you minimise the risks as far as possible (you’ll never eliminate them entirely), especially as medical services have more than enough to do at the moment without rescuing the likes of those mucking about unprepared in freezing rivers and lakes. At SwimMastery we like to encourage people to enjoy open water swimming and build skills for safely handling the wild natural conditions. 

Getting In

Still determined to go in ? OK, well it’s important to know how your body is going to react to the dramatic decrease in temperature. We could go into all sorts of medical jargon here but essentially it boils down to this. Your brain will divide up your body into two categories; first, those providing vital functions to keep you alive and second, everything else. The vital parts are things like the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver and the brain itself. Your brain will instruct the body to do all it can to protect these areas by circulating warm blood around them. Although you might be quite attached to the other bits (arms, legs, hands and feet etc) these are unfortunately regarded as expendable when the brain perceives the threat to life posed by the water. Thus blood circulation to these limbs is either reduced or stops altogether.

When you get in, your body will require a few moments to adjust to the temperature. If you stand on the shore, dipping in one toe at a time you’ll probably never pluck up the courage to get in. However, to take the “Geronimo” approach and leap with gay abandon from the jetty is equally ill-advised. The shock to the system could bring about all sorts of unpleasant consequences. A confident, determined yet slow approach is the only way to do it.

Photo by Tsunami Green on Unsplash

Whether you’re striding out into the lake or gingerly descending a ladder one of the first things you are likely to do is gasp at the cold and take a huge intake or air. (This is one of the reasons you shouldn’t be underwater at the time having jumped directly in). The next step is blindingly obvious but often more difficult to remember when you are actually in the water. Breathe out ! And in again. Get the breathing cycle under control as far as you are able. The reasons are obvious. The practice of doing so is sometimes more difficult if you aren’t used to it.

If you are standing waist deep in water, you might like to try splashing a little water on your face before you begin swimming. Again, this is to get the body used to what is to come. Normally it’s nice to swim with as few accoutrements as possible but some basic equipment is advisable. An inflatable tow float has multiple uses. In an emergency you could hold on to it for buoyancy, the highly visible material from which they are made can help you be easily located by others and finally the waterproof pocket can be used to hold valuables such as phones and car keys which you may want to keep with you, and other useful equipment such as a personal locator beacon. On windy days or in strong currents the float may begin to get ahead of you and interfere with your stroke. Nevertheless serious consideration should be given before discarding one.

Moving Around

Entering the water requires not only a degree of fortitude and courage but also common sense and preparation. Once you have managed it, however, you need to remain vigilant. Try to calm your stroke as much as possible. The temptation will be to swim rapidly to maintain what warmth you can. However, this can easily lead to hyper-ventilation and loss of buoyancy leading to panic and possible disaster. Try to remain calm and swim at your normal tempo. It may not be as easy as it sounds. If you normally swim freestyle you will no doubt return to this as a default. However, for the novice this may not be the best idea. Heads up breaststroke will not only keep the head above the water but will also remove many of the problems which may arise with breathing technique. Until you are used to the shock of the cold it’s always best to be as kind to yourself as possible.

Deciding how long to swim will depend on the individual and on the conditions. Some prefer to stay in for a set amount of time, others will come out once they feel they have had enough. Whilst the latter approach might seem to be the more sensible one, bear in mind that in such an alien environment, you may not be able to accurately judge exactly how you are feeling. You cannot base it merely on how long you stayed in last time because even slight decreases in water and air temperature can greatly change your body’s tolerance level. You might be feeling really exhilarated whilst in reality your core temperature is plummeting to dangerously low levels. It is likely to take several swims before you know the boundaries of your tolerances. it’s best to come out before you think you are ready rather than risk getting into trouble. As a general rule of thumb, you should exit the water before you lose feeling and control in your fingers and toes. 

Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

Getting Out

Whilst it may appear that getting into cold water is the most difficult bit, it should be remembered that getting out also needs to be carefully managed. A little preparation for this can make all the difference. The process of re-warming the body needs to start as quickly as possible. Towels need to be accessible immediately. Investment in a dry-robe is worth the money as these not only retain body warmth but also provide useful modesty cover whilst wet garments are disposed of. It is important to remember that your core temperature will continue to fall for up to twenty minutes after exiting the water – a process known as Afterdrop. A warm bath or shower might be tempting but in reality may not be advisable as this will stimulate the circulation too rapidly. Cold blood from the extremities will be pumped around the body into the heart causing a drop in blood pressure and possible dizziness or fainting. The continued cooling of the body may well result in slight cognitive and muscle impairment. Beware of driving home too soon after a swim.

The best method is to get as many layers on as possible and warm up slowly. Minimise evaporation from the skin. Don’t worry if you are shivering excessively. This is perfectly normal and will pass. Lay out your clothes in the order in which you will be putting them on and, if possible leave them so they can be slipped on with the minimum of fuss. A useful tip you could try is to take a hot water bottle inside a supermarket freezer bag. Wrap your base layers around the bottle before you go for your swim and they should be nice and toasty for when you return. Make sure you leave the freezer bag open though, you don’t want to be struggling to open it with freezing hands later. However, if you do need to warm your hands quickly, try placing them on the back of your neck. You have two large arteries there full of warm blood which you can use to your advantage.  

Think about where you will be getting changed too. You may not have the luxury of a changing room. As a substitute many people use a large plastic laundry bucket. Not only can you stand in this to keep off the muddy ground but it is also a useful way in which to carry home your wet stuff. Take a little gentle exercise to get your system functioning normally again but don’t over-do it. If you have a car by all means sit in it with the heater going. But don’t be tempted to drive straight away.

And the best bit about finishing a cold water swim is that you are well advised to have something to eat and drink. A completely guilt-free hot chocolate and slice of cake ! What could be better ?! In fact, in reality, a hot drink is unlikely to warm your body a great deal (think about the volume of liquid in a cup compared with the amount in your body !). You’d probably be better off simply holding it rather than drinking it. But where’s the fun in that ? Besides, now’s the time to maximise on that natural high that you will be feeling hopefully with friends who are in the same zone.

Those who partake in cold water swimming on a regular basis will tell you that it has enormous benefits for your health and general well-being and next time out we’ll delve just a little into some of the science which backs up these claims.  However, it must be approached carefully with good planning. Know your limits and push boundaries extremely cautiously and over a period of time. However, for those who are hardy enough to partake it’s an excellent way to extend the pleasures of swimming all year round.

Taking the plunge: why you should be cold water swimming

As restrictions of what most of us can and cannot do due to the Covid virus remain in place, many people are looking for new ways to get out and exercise. As a result, there has been a significant increase in the number of people taking up open water swimming. Whilst the joys of being out in the open air, communing with nature are obvious, unfortunately for many of us, particularly those of us in the UK, open water swimming at this time of year also means cold water swimming. And there the search for the enjoyment can seem somewhat more challenging !

In my experience, those committed to cold water dips seem to have an almost evangelical zeal when trying to persuade others. They cite boosts to the immune system, anti-inflammatory benefits, cleansing of the blood cells, improved skin, energy boosts, increased mental toughness with better mental health in general, shared social interaction and a massive rush of endorphins which, quite simply, is guaranteed to make you feel terrific afterwards. These are pretty impressive claims. Who wouldn’t want all that?!  But can they be proven ?

Well, it’s a very long list and we don’t have time to study each and every claim here.  However, it is an area of active scientific investigation and results show that there is a factual basis behind many if not all of them.

Some Facts

Let’s look at a couple of examples. The Biohacker summit promotes itself as “the focal point for learning faster, performing better, living longer, and enjoying more what you wake up for every day.” The 2020 event was addressed by biochemist Rhonda Patrick Phd, co-founder of FoundMyFitness.com a website dedicated to promoting good health.  She has studied the effects of cold on the human body.  She explained that when the body is immersed in cold water it increases the levels of norepinephrine which promotes greater focus and attention, increased vigilance and a better overall mood.  The drop in temperature changes the neural pathways and the body becomes more sensitive to the effect of the production of endorphins.  It is thought this may even lead to an increase in life expectancy.  Even extremely short periods of immersion can have a dramatic effect.  Just twenty seconds in water of 4.4 degrees raises the levels of norepinephrine by as much as 300%

Photo by Katie Barnes on Unsplash

The change in temperature also triggers another effect known as mitochondrial biogenesis. This process attempts to keep the body warm by producing more energy.  In adipose tissue (i.e. fat) this has the result of burning the fat stores and reducing weight.  In muscle tissue oxygen is used for energy which increases the aerobic capacity of the body and also aids recovery of damaged tissue (which is why sport-people often take ice-baths to recover after endurance events)

In a separate study reported by the BBC in the Autumn of 2020 Professor Giovanna Mallucci of Cambridge University announced the conclusions of a three year study using groups of cold water swimmers and tai chi students as a test group.  She had found that the swimmers were producing a protein linked to the linking of cells in the brain.  It is hoped that this work may be developed to help combat the onset of dementia.  

How Tough Do You Need To Be?

However, these benefits all come at a cost. One needs to prepare carefully for a cold water swim and follow a thoughtful adaptation process. Some mental toughness is required, but not as much as you think when you follow a good, gradual process of adaptation, one that does not cause unnecessary stress to your body or mind. The physical and psychological discomforts can be perceived in different ways – making them more or less unpleasant. Under guidance, one can have a relatively pleasant experience, even from the start. It is an incredibly subjective experience but one which needs planning the advice and expertise of others more familiar with coping with the conditions. 

In fact, if you want to add another benefit to cold water swimming with a group of friends it might be that it will increase your vocabulary. Because, in addition to all the lingo for the process of adapting, you’re going to hear all sorts of words coming out of the mouths of people you would never suspect of knowing such language – let alone using it !

What About The Workout?

It is important to notice one of the things missing from the list I have quoted as well. There are many benefits to cold water that I mentioned, but getting a big aerobic workout isn’t going to be one of them for quite a while. So if you’re looking to replace your hour long gym session with a cold water swim then you might have to think again.. Granted if you get to the stage where you are taking on Ice Mile challenges and the like there is definitely going to be an aerobic benefit. However, the vast majority won’t get to that stage. For a cold water swimmer ten minutes to a quarter of an hour is a pretty long swim. Many only manage a few minutes. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t swim, just that you should recognise that these are very different beasts.

So, you’ve girded your loins nicely, taken a deep breath (don’t stop doing that!) and decided to literally take the plunge. What now ? Rule one, particularly if you are starting out is to put safety first. So never go alone. Besides, you may well need someone who is able to support and encourage you.  Choose such people wisely.  Make sure they understand the process you are going through and know how to keep you safe.  Preferably choose someone who has done it before themselves.  There is a fine line between support and encouragement on the one hand and ill-informed badgering, bullying and peer pressure, (no matter how well intentioned), on the other. Make sure that line has not been crossed. Take things at your own speed. Sure, you’ll be out of your comfort zone, but make sure you aren’t too far out. Safety first.

Photo by Glenna Haug on Unsplash

It’s a good idea to have at least one person on the bank as well. They are far more likely to be able to see what’s going on if someone gets into difficulties. And make sure you have a plan for what to do if something does go wrong. There’s no point in waiting until someone is struggling before looking round to see if there is a life-ring on the shore. Humans are not aquatic animals and there is always a certain degree of danger when we enter water. But if the temperature is low that factor multiplies significantly. Recognise that things can go very wrong very quickly. Everyone – both those in the water and those out of it – needs to be even more vigilant of the state of those around them than normal. In an emergency it is important to know what to do and how to do it. Remember too that circumstances will be different. For example, it’s no good throwing someone a rope if their hands are too cold to grasp it. So make a plan. A realistic plan. And pray you’ll never have to use it. Safety first.

One of the advantages of having an experienced friend with you is that they are likely to know the best locations in which to swim safely. It is essential that you can get in and out of the water quickly and easily. Think about conditions underfoot, the slope of the ground and, if swimming in rivers, the height of the bank. Make sure too that the water is safe. Beware of obvious things like reeds and other objects hidden beneath the water but also remember when swimming in lakes and rivers that recent rain may well have washed significant amounts of chemicals into the water from nearby farmland. Regardless of the season, if the water quality is low, don’t go in. If swimming in the sea ensure that you know all there is to know about any currents which might take you unawares. Safety first.

There is little doubt that cold water swimming can bring enormous enjoyment and well-being. You rarely see someone who has just completed a swim in a freezing river, lake or coastline who isn’t grinning like a maniac. Undoubtedly it comes at a cost but you too could feel like that. If you think you’re brave enough, go for it ! Good luck !!

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