Cold water shock

Updated: Aug 21, 2019


Acclimatise slowly before swimming.

Cold Water Shock!

One of the biggest risks of open water swimming is hypothermia and no swimmer, regardless of how strong or experienced they are, is immune to hypothermia. Sometimes the more confident pool swimmers are in too much of a rush and thinking the acclimatisation process is slow, boring and only for weak swimmers. Well they are wrong!


It’s really distressing for me as an open water coach seeing swimmers in difficulty and who are clearly extremely anxious on their first open water swim. Today I saw a swimmer being rescued from the lake suffering from anxiety and cold water shock; her face was totally white and she was not responsive at all. This not a nice sight to see for anyone or for a swimmer to experience. The poor swimmer who was rescued will now have that horrible feeling hanging over her head every time she swims in cold water.


Cold water swimming is serious!!!


What is cold water shock?

The involuntary, sharp intakes of breath experienced when first getting into cold water. Wearing a wetsuit doesn’t remove the cold shock response.


This blog isn’t about scaring any swimmer but it’s about making you aware and to be careful. Take it slowly by acclimatising at the start of your swim. Splash the cold water onto your face while wading into the water, exhaling and inhaling slowly.


Swimmers say they can swim 10km or 1 mile in the pool with no problems but in the lake, they can barely manage half a mile before feeling out of breath. The feeling of being out of breath when you first start swimming in the open water is pretty normal. Add cold water and the lake quickly takes your strength away too. Your body works hard to recover heat that has been lost, so the respiratory system works harder, so you become tired quickly. On the good side is the body develops a tolerance for staying in the cold water longer. Shorter distances and shorter periods of time in the water are key for building yourself up before graduating to longer swims.


Hypothermia happens quickly.

You may experience dizziness when getting out of the water after a cold water swim. Using earplugs will also help with protecting the balance nerves in the ears. A wetsuit can really lift the body higher in the water, which could also affect your leg kicking where you maybe can’t kick too much or your feet are airing. Not using the legs for kicking while swimming will also make you feel dizzy when exiting the water. Do a power kick for 25m to get the bloody circulation flowing to the legs and feet.


It’s a good idea to get in touch with an experienced open water coach and have a good introduction session to the open water.

Pool2lake are passionate about pool swimmers having a positive transition to the open water. Pool2lake offer introduction and refresher sessions.


Be safe & have a positive first open water experience.

Enjoy the open water but please be careful. Be Safe!!!


Pool2lake cares.

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