Top 10 things you need to know about Outdoor Winter Swimming from Thames Baths
As London residents, we love an outdoor swim in some of our favourite lidos and pools around this great city. We’ve enjoyed the chaos of Brockwell Lido on a summer’s day, the chilly temps of the Serpentine on an early Spring swim, and we’ve woken with the birds to swim lengths at Tooting. Nothing compares to swimming naturally though and one of our favourite experiences to date has been swimming out by Chiswick Bridge. The cold waters of the Thames reviving us and pushing us to swim natural, further and faster.
At this time of the year the water can be best described as “not warm”. Kings Cross Pond recently announced it will stay open all winter and that means temperatures below 8º.
To swim in these sorts of temperatures doesn’t just require a bit of bravado, it requires a careful and considered approach, but can still be immensely fun. We thought we’d help out a bit by writing our own top ten guide for winter swimming which we find useful everytime we dip our toes (slowly) in the water. Thanks to Oli at the Outdoor Swimming Society for help on crafting this, ultimately it’s not just about the water, its about what you do before and after too.
Number 1: Before you take the plunge, make sure you are healthy enough to do it. We like to have a regular check up each winter to make sure we are fit for purpose and ready to swim.
Number 2: A quick running jump might seem like the bravest thing to do but fortune favours the slow. That’s because your body can react in very different ways to the cold. The shock of hitting cold water can cause you to involuntary inhale water and as much as we like water it isn’t as good to inhale as air.
Number 3: Aclimatise your body over a matter of minutes. Just as jumping in can shock your body, sometimes your body can have a delayed response to the cold water. It’s best to take your time and move in slowly, giving you the freedom to move later on. (Plus blowing bubbles helps too apparently…although we are yet to try it)
Number 4: It’s good to know your time limits. So far at 12º Matt has managed a slightly average 1min and Chris a somewhat more impressive 5mins+. Trying to understand how long you should be in the water is tricky, so probably best to set yourself a time limit and err on the side of caution.
Number 5: No gear, no idea. What the right outdoor swimming gear is depends on time of year, but we prefer to wear a good wetsuit. (Click here to see the OSS guide to choosing a wetsuit for swimming) and a swimming cap – may we suggest the beautifully designed Thames Baths swimming caps supplied by Speedo. The swimming caps stop the heat escaping from your body and the Thames Baths ones are a great swimming fashion statement too.
Number 6: Stay close. Don’t swim out looking for the perfect spot to take a selfie. Stay close to the side as it can take seconds for your situation to change and being close to the shore or side will help you get out quickly, in fact…
Number 7: Swim together. It’s best to swim in cold water together. Firstly, there is a lot of camadarie with getting in the water and swimming, social scientists say experiences like this can enhance friendships so why not take a friend or enemy with you and see what happens. Secondly, it’s always good to keep an eye out for each other whatever your level.
Number 8: Layers. We’ve talked about gear in the pool, but what about after too. Its essential to have a few layers afterwards. Matt is prone to putting on thermal underwear, jeans, jumper, two pairs of socks, a fleece and a winter coat post-swim. Probably a good idea to pack a bag of warm gear, perhaps you could even use one of our marvelous Tote Bags to help with the load a little.
Number 9: Warm up your insides. Hot Chocolate. Coffee. Tea. Mulled Wine. Once you are out of the water it is good to get something warm inside you to warm from the inside out. Our personal preference is for an extra hot latte, but anything hot will do.