The utility or otherwise of cold showers in cold water swimming preparation

loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Mem​ber
edited April 2014 in Beginner Questions
Given the deviation, this discussion was created from comments split from: Cold Water Adaptation and Pool Swimming at the same time.

loneswimmer.com

Comments

  • JimBoucherJimBoucher Senior Member
    As Tortuga says, its useful to know what you mean by cold water.

    If you mean the 14-16C range that would be expected on longer (marathon?) swims then, from my own experience, the two - OW and indoor - training regimes can happily sit together, at least until you get to the point where the open water has warmed up so that you can knock out the big kilometres in OW.

    Even for the crazier shorter distance (<5-6C) swims you can do your acclimatisation and indoor stuff in parallel, but I find that I get (even) lazier with my pool training as the water just feels too damned warm and any excuse not to train is grabbed.

    I won't laugh at Swimmer25K and his/her cold showers but I really fail to see the benefit of such a regime. Being doused in cold water rather then swimming in it seem to me to be two totally different scenarios. Maybe for some it toughens the mind, but for me a shower that's not hot is plain daft and I like my creature comforts too much.

    Thinking of the poor old newbie, they get all sorts of info fired at them and I am sure there are hundreds who have stood, spartanesque, in their cold showers each day, religiously following some old sea-dog's advice. In my experience the cold shower advice is one you can safely disregard - but hey, its a free world. The trick is not to load your head up with all manner of irrelevant stuff to worry about - happy training.
  • SalishSeaSalishSea Nanaimo, BC CanadaMember
    The lake is around 10c +/- where I am currently doing most of my ows. The ocean is around 7c right now. I am looking to do 10-15 km in the ocean this summer where the temp will be around 12c - though last year it got up to 14c!
  • JimBoucherJimBoucher Senior Member
    I think I'd still be focussed on technique and fitness in the pool to ensure I was going to be able to swim the 10-15km as fast as I could.

    Speaking as a sample of one, I'd even leave the lake to warm up a bit towards 12C, especially if you're in "skins", but, based only on the fact your question is in "Beginner Questions" I'd be looking to get a 6-7-8km swim under my belt in OW long before the bigger stuff.

    Good luck!
  • JimBoucherJimBoucher Senior Member
    Niek, I'm sure it can do for some, but as the original poster is already regularly swimming in 10C, for an impressive time too, that should be more than enough acclimatisation to counteract any cold(ish) shock you might get when entering 12-13C water.
  • swimmer25kswimmer25k Charter Member

    Niek, I'm sure it can do for some, but as the original poster is already regularly swimming in 10C, for an impressive time too, that should be more than enough acclimatisation to counteract any cold(ish) shock you might get when entering 12-13C water.

    Jim,

    Sorry, but I don't regularly take thermometers into the shower with me. My point is that a just turned on shower is generally colder than the water that most of us swim in, and I've used it to train the brain to overcome the sense of the shocking cold. In some cases, that's the only cold water in town. It's just a training tool. There's no substitute for actually training in the real conditions. Duh.

    It's worked for me for a long time.

    I've also filled bathtubs with ice to sit in for a good while. Tough to do when you're not swimming and generating any heat. Sounds silly, but don't knock it until you've tried it. I learned that from Coach Sam Freas. Sam was Shelly Taylor Smith's college coach at Arkansas. Ever hear of them?

    You stated that you failed to see the benefit of the regime, but guess what? It works. It worked for me and those that told me about it. You also don't like the way I taper either, but guess again. Its worked for me and those I've coached. Maybe you should not be so short sighted.

    The purpose of this and any other forum are to share ideas. What works for me may not work for you and even seem ridiculous. Many of those I've coached have done things very differently than me, but that's ok because we're all different. And as there coach, I'd have to adopt to their style to help ensure their own success.

    If you're still not convinced, check out my resume as a swimmer (especially in the cold), and as a coach. I think I've done ok so far.

    Chris

  • MandaiMandai Charter Member
    Living and training in Dubai where sea temps are often hoovering around/above 30 degree Celsius, the good advice by swimmer25k is the only viable method for me to "prepare" for my EC attempt in July 2015 (in addition to cold water swim camps), unless the good forum memebers have addtl. advice . As much as I know that I'm walking on a very, very thin rope in respect of cold water acclimatisation, there is no easy escape from the heat here. Whilst the sea temp drops to around 20C during "winter" time, it shoots up in April and by July it's 30C+.
    Tobias
  • JimBoucherJimBoucher Senior Member
    Chris,

    I fully take your pooint about the forum being a place to share ideas and to say what works and doesn't for each of us as individuals.

    I dont make a big song and dance about those whom I have helped in their Channel preparations other than to make an observation that many newbies come to Dover with their heads full of ideas about what they have to do - kit, diet, weekly meterage and other stuff - having read and "researched" a load of stuff thats out on the web. Having once been a newbie I know how desperate people are for the next bit if good info.

    I have tried to preface my posts, or put them in context of just one person's view on what has worked for them (ie me). As I keep saying, its a free world, but when posts come across as implying "you should" or "the only way to xyz is.." then we must, as old hands, be careful on how we present it to the newbies. If any of my posts suggest the "only way is the Jim way" then that's just plain bad posting by yours truly.
  • swimmer25kswimmer25k Charter Member

    Chris,

    I fully take your pooint about the forum being a place to share ideas and to say what works and doesn't for each of us as individuals.

    I dont make a big song and dance about those whom I have helped in their Channel preparations other than to make an observation that many newbies come to Dover with their heads full of ideas about what they have to do - kit, diet, weekly meterage and other stuff - having read and "researched" a load of stuff thats out on the web. Having once been a newbie I know how desperate people are for the next bit if good info.

    I have tried to preface my posts, or put them in context of just one person's view on what has worked for them (ie me). As I keep saying, its a free world, but when posts come across as implying "you should" or "the only way to xyz is.." then we must, as old hands, be careful on how we present it to the newbies. If any of my posts suggest the "only way is the Jim way" then that's just plain bad posting by yours truly.

    Jim,
    I haven't at all said that my way is the only way. It is just how I do things because they've worked for me. Btw, they're not original ideas either. Passed on to me by those who've been there before me. You're the one dismissing my suggestions. Instead of being the consumate critic, why don't you offer something positive about how you've been successful?

    Where I'm from, the ocean rarely gets under 70F and by swim season in the summer it can be in the mid-80s. Key West has areas where it can be over 90. Many of us don't have access to cold water, so we make due with what we've got.

  • JimBoucherJimBoucher Senior Member
    edited April 2014
    Chris I'll leave you to your cold showers. If, like others, you are in a hot climate with no real access to cold water then you gotta improvise as best you can, no problem with that. But the original poster(OP)'s question was about whether pool training alongside cold water sessions would negate the benefit of the cold stuff.

    Just to be clear for our OP, I certainly dont think the pool stuff will cause a problem and if anything, hanging on to more pool stuff, gaining strength and speed is probably better in the short term than beating onself up over trying to achieve longer and longer distances in water thats some way below what will be encountered on the big day. The great thing, though is that SalishSea is getting regular colder water experience and that's what makes me say there is no need for dousing themself in the cold shower.

    As for what I, the "consummate critic" might suggest by way of alternative, it kind of comes down to keeping things simple as a newbie and working out what is good for you alone rather than having your head filled full of relatively superfluous stuff. I have trained amongst, and watched even more, swimmers down on Dover beach and marvelled at the simplicity of how we/they build from gibbering wrecks in early May 10C to accomplished marathoners achieving the Blue Riband of swims some 2-3 months later.

    By the way, simplicity of approach doesnt negate total rigour or meticulousness in preparation.

    So whether its feeds, kit, feeding bottles, anti-chaffing approaches, messages and whiteboards on the swim, GPS and tracking, I'd always advise starting simply and trying to make simple things work for you, before you start jumping around after the latest ideas and theories. An awfully big quiet unspoken majority make their marathon swims with quite simple tried and tested (BY THEM) approaches, and I'd always like to be able to point a newbie at that weight of opinion too.
  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited April 2014

    An awfully big quiet unspoken majority make their marathon swims with quite simple tried and tested (BY THEM) approaches, and I'd always like to be able to point a newbie at that weight of opinion too.

    Jim, a few times now (here, FB, CS&PF chat group) I've heard you invoke the "majority" ("vast majority," "awfully big quiet unspoken majority") to support your claims, as if you've conducted a survey or something.

    e.g., from the chat group, you argued against the use of channel grease: "take my word and the word of the huge, but hugely silent majority, that deftly applied vaseline, courtesy of a shingle stomper, is likely to be fine for 99.99% of us for as long as we swim."

    "99.99%" - wow! Two decimal places, even!

    Jim, how do you manage to be so finely attuned to what the "majority" of marathon swimmers think? I'm genuinely curious to know.
  • JimBoucherJimBoucher Senior Member
    Talk, watch, listen, extrapolate, make a guesstimate. I'd leave a full survey to those with more time on their hands.

    There are plenty of experienced people over here in UK who have watched many many more swimmers than I have and they, too, have very similar views on the simplicity of marathon swimming.

    Remember too that we'd instinctively include relayers in the analysis too whereas others might rule them out as "marathon swimmers".

    Oh and lest you too, Evmo, go and confuse newbies too, it isnt the CS&PF chat group, its just a Channel chat group. Open to all Channel-minded people :-)
  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited April 2014
    "plenty of experienced people"... "similar views" ... Doesn't mean anything to me, Jim. Your views are your own, not the imagined majority's.

    In general: Do what works. Full stop.
  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited April 2014
    You're right, Niek. Perhaps my tone distracted from my substantive points, which were:

    1. Argumentum ad populum is an empty debating tactic. Maybe it's cool on the CS&PF group (moderated by CS&PF president Nick Adams), but not here.

    2. If cold water showers work for Chris, they work for Chris. If Jim thinks they're useless, he's free to not take cold showers. I'm glad Chris mentioned them, as perhaps they'll be useful for others, especially those in tropical locations such as Florida.
  • JimBoucherJimBoucher Senior Member
    Evmo,

    1. Its not an appeal "to the people" to use the translation of the Latin. Its an observation from discussions with many. You'll have seen the observations and posts of "several" on FB from your many sorties into it.

    2. This MSF forum isnt a Santa Barbara Channel forum because of your moderation any more than the Channel Chat Group is CS&PF because of its moderator is it?

    3. I've already conceded the point re cold showers if, as Chris and others say, its a last resort in warm climes. For someone with ready access to cold water - as the OP has - its not something I see as necessary.

    Given Niek's astute observation, I think I'll leave it there thank you. :-)
  • ForeverSwimForeverSwim Pittsburgh, PennsylvaniaCharter Member
    edited April 2014
    Guide To Surviving Cold Water
    1. Swim in cold water. Add SOME extra fat (+10 lbs)
    2. If you don't have cold water, take cold showers.
    3. Sit in ice tubs, frozen lakes or ice baths to understand how the body reacts to cold.
    4. Wear shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops year 'round.
    5. If you don't have cold water, and want to swim a cold body of water, arrive AT LEAST 1-2 weeks ahead of time to acclimate. Swim, then float as long as possible, twice/day prior to your attempt to acclimate.

    I live in a part of the world that is 26-37C (80-100F) for 6+ months/year. I swim in a pool year round that is 27C+ (82F), and have zero access to saltwater.

    Believe in yourself and anything is possible.

    www.darren-miller.com Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania U.S.A.

  • ColmBreathnachColmBreathnach Charter Member
    Have to agree with @ForeverSwim, but I would be inclined to add more weight ( have you ever seen a skinny walrus?) I've found it not affect my speed no matter how much weight I've put on. I'm gone beyond how it looks at this stage.
    I can't do cold baths though, I need to keep moving.
    I was however instrumental in getting a cold shower in the pool dressing room. I use this after every session. If for no other reason than I like to think it will keep me acclimatised.
    It does take about two weeks to get "into the zone". We do a "12 swims of Christmas" here (Ireland) in water of about 6-7C (43-44F). For the first few swims, those who don't swim year round are like a bunch of schoolgirls getting in. But by the 6th of Jan, they get in like pro's.
  • I'm with @ForeverSwim in regards to gaining small reasonable amounts of fat. This year was my first season of winter swimming for which I gained 1 stone of weight, making me 13.5 stone. This was more than enough and I coped perfectly well in waters reaching the low 7 celcius. In fact this year I am aiming to reduce my weight to 11.5 during summer then raise it to 12.5 for winter as a personal experiment to see how much effect my body weight is having.
    In terms of cold showers I feel they help great amounts in readying the body for the shock response. I know I kept my habituation by showering in cold water when I was out of the sea for nearly 1 year.
  • ForeverSwimForeverSwim Pittsburgh, PennsylvaniaCharter Member
    edited April 2014
    Over the years, my body has been able to adapt to the cold weighing less and less, even with my time in the sea being very limited. There was no way I could add the 'necessary size' that most North Channel swimmers did, as my body was unwilling due to the hot water and air temp with one of the hottest summers on record in Pittsburgh. I was simply dying in the heat. We can analyze cold water acclimatization many different ways, but the reality is that swimmers, especially new to the sport, put too much emphasis on something that there isn't any real secret to.

    Make yourself cold, for as long as you can handle. That's the secret. Oh, and train like a beast. If you aren't training enough for the swim you want, then don't do it, as you don't deserve it. Give it the respect it requires - everything you got.

    www.darren-miller.com Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania U.S.A.

  • ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Member
    edited April 2014

    Make yourself cold, for as long as you can handle. That's the secret. Oh, and train like a beast. If you aren't training enough for the swim you want, then don't do it, as you don't deserve it. Give it the respect it requires - everything you got. "

    @Foreverswim just nailed it. Everyone wants a magic trick or secret to make cold easier. Guess what, acclimating to cold sucks. It hurts. It takes time. Whatever it takes for you to mentally be ready for it, because it is mostly a mental game, you need to do it. Nothing is better than training.
  • ForeverSwimForeverSwim Pittsburgh, PennsylvaniaCharter Member
    ...and since @ssthomas is tougher than 99.9% of swimmers out there (maybe 100%) I suggest you take her advice.

    www.darren-miller.com Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania U.S.A.

  • minnominno Member
    Hi :)

    nOOb here, wouldn't a cold bath make a lot more sense than a cold shower?

    I assumed that the main part of the shock one feels when entering cold water is caused by the mammalian dive reflex which is triggered when the the nerves that run just beneath one's eyes are immersed in cold water, I've found that the shock is less if I keep my face out of the water for the first few minutes, could just be all in my mind though I suppose.

    minno
  • gregocgregoc Charter Member
    minno said:

    wouldn't a cold bath make a lot more sense than a cold shower?

    Yes, and a bath full of ice is even better, but the idea is that while you go about your ordinary morning routine you take a cold shower instead of a warm shower. If you take the time to take a cold bath or an ice bath that is even better.
  • Hello everyone,
    In about a month I will be swimming in my first open water race--2.4 miles in Portland Maine--not a marathon swim but it's a start! The water temperature is projected to be around 60 degrees F, and wet suits are highly recommended, although there is a waiver I can sign. I really want to do this swim without a wet suit, but I also don't want to make a reckless decision that could put myself and others in danger (ie if I have to be pulled out for hypothermia). When I talk to friends and family about this they think I'm crazy so I wanted to get some advice from people who are informed and experienced in this area--all of you!

    Some more background: I just moved from Maine to Pennsylvania, and I will not have access to cold open water until 2 days before the race. I plan to take cold showers until then but wondering if this will be enough to prepare me. Of course I am swimming regularly in a pool and I feel comfortable with the race distance. I did manage to do a few short ocean swims (each between 10 and 20 min, not including wading time) back in May when the water temp was probably between 48 and 52 degrees F, to see how my body would react to the cold water. During these swims I did not "feel" cold, but after getting out I would shiver for probably 30 min or so. Recently I swam for about an hour in a 65 degF lake. I did feel a bit cold near the end of that swim but after getting out I only had mild shivering for maybe 5-10 min.

    I am relatively lean with not much "bioprene" (female 25 yrs old 5'4" 130lbs, relatively muscular). Thought about trying to add some extra pounds but now that I'm only a month out it doesn't seem healthy or worth it (but happy to hear your thoughts on this too).

    So, given all this, do you think it would be wise for me to attempt this swim without a wet suit? Also, any additional tips for recognizing hypothermia during the race? (for me or to tell my kayaker)? I have heard of counting up to 10 and down repeatedly, putting thumb and forefinger together to check for manual dexterity, telling kayaker to watch for stroke count drop, talking to kayaker periodically and having them ask relatively complex questions.

    I apologize for the long post. Just trying to be smart and safe about this! Thank you in advance for your helpful advice!
  • ColmBreathnachColmBreathnach Charter Member
    This question is almost impossible to answer as everyone reacts differently to cold. I'm not saying you should or shouldn't do a particular swim, that has to be your decision and your decision alone.
    Here are some talking points that may help:

    1. Why are you asking the question? Why don't you know the answer already?
    2. How long will the swim take and how long have you swam at that temp before? i.e How big a step is this for you?
    3. Do you think 60F is cold? All temperatures are relative. Here (Ireland) 60F is regarded as balmy. You're the only one who can determine if that is hot or cold for you. Don't worry too much about shivering after a swim, aka afterdrop. That happens to almost everyone.
    4. Generally speaking, lean is not good for cold water. Have you ever seen a skinny walrus? Fat is an insulator and it works but you don't need to be lean to be fit.
    5. You are to be commended on your approach to event safety. I'm not saying you will, but if someone is almost certainly going to need to be rescued, then that rescue is going to reduce support cover for the others who may also need it when their rescue is avoidable. All swims are a calculated risk. What can you do to reduce the risk? Will you have your own kayak? What about land support etc?
    6. Everyone is inexperienced at the start. There no harm or shame in that. By asking questions and by practice we fill in the gaps in our knowledge and consequently developing into an ow swimmer should be a gradual process, small steps in temp and distance.
    7. Finally, I like to think there are two types of people, astronomers and astronauts. Astronomers sit behind a telescope and look out into space, but astronauts strap themselves on top of a rocket and actually get out there. We are mostly astronomers but we need to be astronauts every once in awhile.
  • @ColmBreathnach Thank you for your quick and thorough reply! In response to some of your questions:
    - I don't know the answer already because I have not been able to train at the proper temp. Just a few times at ~50F and 60+min in a lake at 65F. My plan was to slowly increase my swim times in the ocean throughout the spring, but then I moved to PA unexpectedly.
    - I expect the swim will take me between 1hr5min and 1hr15min.
    - I don't know if 60F is "cold". My swims at ~50F felt cold on my skin (pain then numbness in hands and feet), and I could see my arms were bright red, but I never felt cold on the inside while in the water. 65F felt pretty warm at first--no pain, no bright red skin, but after an hour I felt a little chilled. I guess there is no good way to extrapolate these numbers to "calculate" if I will be ok for over an hour at 60F, and that it may be different depending on the day and how much I eat for breakfast, etc...?
    -yes I will have my own kayaker and there will be motor boats with lifeguards and coast guard. There will be plenty of people on land at the start and finish (race is from an island to mainland), with quick access to emergency medical care if needed.
    - Are there any specific foods you eat when you're trying to put on weight for a swim? Do you increase the proportion of fatty foods or try to keep the same balance but just increase the volume of food? Is 4 weeks enough time to gain 10lbs and is 10lbs enough?

    Of course I understand if there are no hard-and-fast rules for all of this, and I definitely appreciate your advice!!
  • Cole_GCole_G PhiladelphiaMember
    @delfreddy, I may not be quite as experienced as the rest of these swimmers here but I had a recent experience with a cold 1 mile race where I was debating whether or not I should wear a wetsuit. Like you, I am lacking in the bioprene department (5'11" 170 lbs) and hadn't had much experience with cold water. So here are some things I would suggest based on my experience.

    1) Read up on cold water. @loneswimmer has published a lotof great articles and anything from his cold water index will be immensely helpful (http://loneswimmer.com/cold-water-swimming-articles-index/).

    In particular read these articles on hypothermia:
    http://loneswimmer.com/2012/05/28/understanding-hypothermia-in-swimmers-mild-hypothermia/
    http://loneswimmer.com/2012/05/30/understanding-hypothermia-in-swimmers-moderate-severe-hypothermia/
    http://loneswimmer.com/2012/05/31/diagnosing-and-addressing-moderate-hypothermia-in-swimmers/

    These articles will help you better understand what you have already felt in practice swims, and what you will feel if you choose to go without a wetsuit.

    2) Really ask yourself what you want to get out of this swim. Is this about completing your first open water race? Or is this about trying to get better at cold water swimming? Would you rather wear a wetsuit and get through it relatively easy and fast? Or would you rather go without a wetsuit and possibly suffer from the cold water (and maybe not even finish)?

    In my own case I decided I wanted to push my limits and see what I could do without a wetsuit. I knew that 54 F would be mighty cold for me and that I might not finish. But I was ok with that because I would rather fail without a wetsuit than succeed with it. But less than 1 year ago I made the opposite decision because I didn't feel quite ready yet.

    3) Keep in mind that wetsuits are not the devil. You will not be shunned for choosing to use one. In a way wetsuits are the training wheels of open water. They can be used when you're starting out to get your confidence up until you are ready to race just you against the water.

    I hope this helps :)
  • @Cole_G, thanks so much for sharing your experience, and also for the articles. Wonderful to see that people on this forum are so responsive! Thanks again! :)
  • SalishSeaSalishSea Nanaimo, BC CanadaMember

    So over the winter I have done a cold shower experiment. I would start with a warm shower and slowly drop the temp in over the course of the shower until it was on full cold. After doing this for 5 months now I am able to start my showers a lot colder and stay at full cold for longer. P.S. Never shave in a cold shower.

    I have over this same time been ramping up my pool milage and even hit the hot tub once a week or so. I have also lost 7kg over the winter too.

    So how does this relate. The lake I swim in is currently at 9C and I am able to swim in it for at least twice as long as this time last year (longer when the sun is out); despite having less body fat. So my personal conclusion is that the cold showers work.

    The biggest downside is my wife won't shower with me anymore. :(

    swimmer25k
  • msathletemsathlete Victoria, British Colubia, CanadaGuest

    @SalishSea, what lake are you swimming in? It's been pretty mild on the island this winter. Thetis is 12c right now. I haven't checked the straight lately. I imagine it is around 10c.

    I always do what I can to get ready for cold water. I have been jacket less for the past month, don't wear socks and sleep with my window open. I love cold showers. I think the help with cold water training, but even better is they at a fantastic way to recover after a long swim. Glad to hear they helped you.

    Let me know when you're headed down island. Would love to meet up for a swim.

    SalishSea
  • andissandiss Senior Member

    Surfing in cold water with a thinner wetsuit def helps with getting used to cold exposure - you usually end up spending more time in the water 1.5 - 3h

    if It's 7-9C and I don't wear gloves I will loose the function of some of my fingers in one hand due to sitting around waiting for set waves.

    Here's some norwegians that must have got adpated fairly quickly

  • phodgeszohophodgeszoho UKSenior Member

    If, as some people seem to say, cold water adaptation is mostly psychological then surely the "what ever works for you" is more applicable here then with other swimming related topics. i.e. if you believe cold water showers make you better prepared then by definition they probably do.

    On a personal note I would like to state that I will never willingly have a cold shower and as my wife and daughters can testify I am not pleasant to be around when they have used up all my hot water. ;-)

    gnome4766NoelFigartSalishSea
  • SalishSeaSalishSea Nanaimo, BC CanadaMember

    @msathlete I am down in Victoria every couple of months we will try to set something up. Are there many other OWS down there? As for which lakes. Brannen Lake until the power boats come back and Westwood Lake here in Nanaimo.

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