Most of the country would agree, it’s been a weird winter. Just when we think the cold weather is gone and things are warming up, another blast of cold weather makes its way into the forecast.

A colder winter means that rivers, lakes, and even ocean water will not warm up as quickly as they might have in previous years. With early season races fast approaching, you’ll want to be prepared for much cooler swims.

Everyone has a different experience of what ‘cold’ water is based on how fit they are, how much body fat they carry, and how they react to cold. Take a look at our cold water scale to give you an idea of what different water temperatures will feel like.

Cold Water Scale
1. Have the right wetsuit. Beyond the benefits that you get for a faster swim with a long-sleeved wetsuit, having more of your body covered will keep your body heat more contained. Make sure the wetsuit fits properly (see our article on how to find the right fit) or you’ll be cold and miserable in your wetsuit

2. Cover your head. Most of the heat in our body escapes through our head so add a second swim cap or in really cold water a neoprene swim cap which usually also covers your ears will be helpful. 

3. Wear earplugs. By not allowing the cold water to get into your ears, you’ll feel warmer in long swims

4. Practice in cold water. People really dread getting in the water and put off any cold water practice for a race. If at all possible, practice in cold water before your race. Often the body has a psychological reaction to the cold water because it gives you that ‘take your breath away’ feeling. Even good swimmers will start to panic in that situation. If you’re mentally prepared for it before race day, you’ll be able to handle the anxiety that comes up when you hit the water for your race.

5. Go ahead and get in. On a similar note make sure you get in the water 2-3 minutes before the swim start at a cold race. Get all the way in and put your head under water. You’ll get any constriction of your lungs out of the way before you start the swim. Only the first moments are a shock to the system and then you settle into it.

6. Prepare to get warmed up in transition. It can feel really awful to go from a cold water swim to the first few miles on the bike. You can do a few things to help you warm up in transition. A great tip is to use the disposable hand warmers. You can stick them in your shoes to make them nice and warm (be sure to remove them before you start riding) or even in your T1 bag in a long-course race. (They typically stay warm for over 24 hours). Warm arm warmers for the first part of the bike rather than a jacket so you can more easily take them off when you get warm.

With a little preparation, you will be able to master cold water swimming and have a great race day despite the cooler temperatures.


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