You've heard that cold water swimming does wonders for your mental health and wellbeing, and you're impatient to get started. So, how do you take your first dip in cold water?
Here are our top five tips for getting into cold water safely.
1. Start slowly
Water temperatures in the UK in winter (November to April) can drop as low as one or two degrees centigrade. That's colder than inside your fridge. Given that your body temperature is just below 37 degrees and it feels cold getting into the average swimming pool at around 28 degrees, most of us aren't able to throw ourselves into outdoor swim spots without acclimatising first.
Acclimatising is where you get used to cold water by slowly, gently and progressively dipping in colder and colder water. The idea is that you start when the water is above 15C in the summer or early autumn and then you dip once or twice a week as the temperature drops.
If you didn't swim when it was warmer and you're still desperate to start now, then you'll need to take it really slowly. Start by walking in slowly focussing on your breathing and then getting straight out. Once you've done a few micro-dips, you can aim for a couple of minutes, but still keep your dips brief.
2. Have the Right Kit
The right kit for winter swimming is very different to what's in your pool swimming kit bag. Ditch your goggles, hairbrush and locker token, and pack for warmth - for during and after your swim.
First up you'll need a good quality, lined or bonded fabric swimsuit. The D&B Signature and Essential Swimsuits are made of bonded fabric (which behaves more like a neoprene) offering additional layers in cold water. We also recommend the Long Sleeve Swimsuit and Swim Shorts to keep your arms and thighs warm.
A snug-fitting wetsuit it's a great idea if you've never dipped in cold water. Make sure it fits tightly otherwise cold water will flood in and leave you feeling colder. Hands and feet really suffer in cold water as your warm blood moves to your core. So a good pair of neoprene gloves and booties will make a big difference.
But it's the post-swim kit that makes the biggest difference. The key is getting dressed quickly and warmly. We recommend an oversized towel or robe, lots of warm comfortable layers (jogging bottoms, not jeans!), gloves, socks and a bobble hat.
Finally, pack a flask of hot tea or coffee to help warm you from the inside out and something sweet or sugary to eat.
3. Go with friends
Most outdoor swim spots don't have a lifeguard on duty, especially in the winter. Therefore, wild swimming alone can be very dangerous - even for seasoned cold water swimmers. So, it's a good idea to swim with friends, or at least have someone on the side or beach to make sure you're warming up well afterward - the bonus being warm hands to help you get dressed!
Alternatively, we highly recommend taking a dip with a professional guide or coach, such as The Dip Advisor, joining a social group like Mental Health Swims or the Bluetits or going along to a lido that has lifeguards and inside spaces to get warm.
4. Listen to your body
Even seasoned cold water swimmers can have dips where their bodies don't behave like they usually do. Learning to listen to how your body feels in the cold water and respond accordingly is one of the single most important skills you can learn.
The key is getting out while you still feel comfortable. If you're feeling cold or shaky in the water, you've probably stayed in too long. Then, it's really important to get out and get warm fast or you'll be in real danger of getting hypothermic. Your body actually cools for a while after you get out - called the afterdrop.
Remember, things like being tired, stressed, hungover, hungry, thirsty or under-the-weather will make it harder to cope with cold.
5. Swim your own swim
Every single cold water swimmer is different. So is every day and every swim - that's part of what makes it so exciting and rewarding. You need to adapt your swim for how you feel, your experience, the weather and your location.
Think about what will impact your swim: wind chill, air temperature, how you feel. Pay attention to where you swim: entry and exit points, tides, currents, water quality (eg. a river isn't safe after heavy rain). And think about your experience - you might be less experienced or acclimatised to cold water than someone else. Don't aim for a time or distance, just feel your way in and out of the water.
Remember: you only have to stay in for one or two minutes to get the full benefits for your mind, body and soul.
When practiced safely, outdoor swimming is one of the most fun activities on the planet - a brilliant workout and a refreshing reset for the mind and the body. But like all extreme sports, it's important to take some time beforehand to make sure you are prepared - with the right kit, information, company and expectations - and you'll have a fantastic time.