Warming up after a cold water swim

JanetJanet NYCMember
edited March 2012 in General Discussion
What are your tried -and-true ways of warming up after swimming in cold water? I've settled on dressing quickly and warmly, then jogging or playing on the beach. I also sometimes use hot drinks or soup, hot snapz, warming up in saunas or vehicles with the heat cranked up, lying in the sun if it's sufficiently strong, and hot tubs (I really enjoy that last one if I haven't gotten too chilled--otherwise they're too hot). What about you?


  • IronMikeIronMike Bishkek, KyrgyzstanCharter Member
    Have little experience, but if a sauna isn't available, then layers of clothing that I can slowly take off as I get warmer.
  • jcmalickjcmalick Charter Member
    If really cold, i.e. Stage 2 Hypothermia, the best thing is getting rid of the cold swimsuit first and foremost (I know that was implied above), multiple layers especially blankets or sleeping bags, and heating bags under critical areas such as the arm pits and crotch. Also, a really warm skiing hat and socks help the process. Warm beverages also help (not scolding hot) such as hot chocolate, tea, or warm water with maple syrup (Nuala is to thank for that suggestion before a really cold swim but it can work in the recovery stage as well). If the water temperature is slightly warmer, such as in the upper 40s and lower 50s, dressing quickly in layers or running around the beach would work just fine! Depends on your levelness of craziness is what it all boils down to!
  • mmeadmmead Charter Member
    I really think that the best way to warm up is to keep moving, so if the walk/jog is working for you I would say stick with it.

    However, I find that mentally, all I really want is a really long, gradually warmer shower. I don't think its the healthiest or most ecologically responsible choice, but in some situations it's all I can muster (think cold water training in November in Northern Indiana, that walk/jog isn't going to happen!) Of course warm liquids and dry clothes helps, and I find this method most effective when I take the time to blow-dry my hair.

    After my Catalina Swim I felt so close to death that I hijacked my support kayak, leaving the paddler to swim back fully clothed, and didn't even think to leave him my goggles. Once back on board I was thrown into a bunk with my hubby and an angel named Lynn Kubasek gave me warm water bottles for under my armpits and between my thighs. Within a few minutes I was fast asleep and I woke up an hour later toasty warm. Best trick ever!
  • Lots of layers, especially around the core & head.

    But my main advice is to use loose-fitting clothes which are easy to put on when the hands are numb (and the brain's muddled by mild hypothermia!).

    After a few uncomfortable experiences last winter, I've learned to have a few 'redundancies' on hand - e.g. extra clothes, blankets, food and warm drink, car heater - just in case.

  • ssthomasssthomas Charter Member
    I learned the hard way last year after a 2 hour swim in 51 degree water that you have to warm up slowly, from the inside out, first. I jumped out of a cold lake and into a warm shower, and nearly passed out in the locker room. I really caution people of the dangers of going from too cold to a sauna or hot tub too fast.

    My advice/best practices are:
    1. Get the swim suit off as fast as possible.
    2. Start adding layers, starting with the head and feet. Ski hats, gloves, and socks are the best.
    3. Once you're all layered up, hot beverages feel pretty nice (I never leave home without a thermos of hot tea with lots of sugar in it!).
    4. Then, I have to keep moving- walking, jumping, etc to get the blood moving faster from my core to my fingers and toes.
    5. Finally, blast the heat in the car all the way home! Sensation does come back to your toes eventually. :-)

    Stay safe out there!
  • jenschumacherjenschumacher Charter Member
    I second all of the above, but also add an intermediate step when the air temperature allows. I have some empty milk gallons I fill with warm water and stuff in one of those insulated grocery bags. This keeps them warm for a few hours (well, feels warm to one who has been submerged in frigid water!). I would not suggest this on an extremely cold swim (sub 48F) or when the air temperature is extremely cold (in socal neither are a problem) because in those situations the #1 priority is cold suit off asap, but in less cold conditions it is a nice luxury to have in lieu of showers/sauna.
  • jenschumacherjenschumacher Charter Member
    Oh, and to go with that, bring a container to stand in while you use the warm water - helps the feet warm up and allows you to get more use out of the precious water!
  • loneswimmerloneswimmer Admin
    edited March 2012
    Sub 45f (7C):

    * Get to clothes/car as soon as possible and get dressed in shortest time. Practice makes this quicker. If someone tries to convert you to a religion at this stage, your lack of co-ordination and muscular control makes it acceptable explicable that you accidentally punched them. (That's what I'll do next time it happens, anyway).

    * Don't vigourously dry yourself. Using merino wool underlayers means you don't have be as concerned about getting 100% dry. Use multiple layers.

    * Dress torso first, then hat, then lower body.

    * Stumble into car with heater on full. Promise yourself that next time you'll go for a walk to rewarm because you know better.

    * Spill half your hot chocolate over yourself and car seat. Drink other half & repeat.

    * Once you've recovered enough co-ordination to drive safely, off you go.

    * Stop on road to rifle through glove compartment looking for more food. That half-eaten/half-dirty chocolate bar seems pretty good by now. Oh, look, a black banana under the seat.

    * Stop in supermarket on way home to buy more food. Nearly pass out in freezer aisle. Ignore other customers looking oddly at you in your multiple layers on a sunny warm day. Ignore the Security Guard following you because he thinks the multiple layers are a cover for shoplifting. Wear headphones so you don't have to listen to your own chattering jaws. Avoid conversations with checkout assistance if you don't want odd looks.

    * When you get home, if it's two hours since you left the water, then it's finally ok to have a warm shower. Don't scald yourself in the normally acceptable warm water. Oh great, time to eat again.
  • lecumminslecummins Charter Member

    Sub 45f (7C):

    * Stop in supermarket on way home to buy more food. Nearly pass out in freezer aisle. Ignore other customers looking oddly at you in your multiple layers on a sunny warm day.

    Or, alternatively, ignore other customers looking oddly at you because you are wearing shorts and a t-shirt as you are shivering in the freezer aisle.

    (And be prepared to run away quickly when the people in the white coats appear...)
  • ChickenOSeaChickenOSea Charter Member
    Push bride out of way as you run to the handicapped stall in the Navy Pier toilets while wearing only a wet suit and towel
  • Ignore other customers looking oddly at you in your multiple layers on a sunny warm day.

    Setting aside the fact that my idea of really cold is ~15-20 degrees f warmer than yours, I've had a somewhat similar experience! I decided it would be a good idea to do my MIMS qualifier in the morning and then come back to campus for class that afternoon. What ended up happening was me taking an exam (disclaimer: was taking the class pass/fail) shivering, in a parka, Uggs, and 3 layers of sweatpants on an 80 degree day. I'm pretty sure my ensemble and chattering teeth were super distracting to everyone else because the mean on that test was surprisingly low :)
  • Great advice here. I do get confused by people looking at me once I've got out of a swim & bundled myself up... asking "are you cold?" Surely the answer is pretty obvious. It's all good.

    Dan Graham - Gone Swimming Ltd. web | facebook | twitter

  • DearladylalaDearladylala Member
    edited September 2013
    Hi, I'm new here and am only out of my wetsuit for 4 months. (I want to stay out of it but I think I may have to pull it back out by November the way things are going, feeling like a failure!)I am having problems warming up after a swim- I follow all sensible methods, dousing in warm water, dressing quickly in layers (and spilling warm milky tea everywhere) I have Raynaulds and go very yellow on hands & feet. I get home and have a shower- normally I end up falling asleep soon after I am dried- but 4/5 hours later I am still cold!

    Lady in petrol station asked me what was wrong with me today- pink ski jacket, blue fleecy pants, brown uggs,red hat etc...lovely and sunny outside- not sure if she meant my colour coordination or the amount of clothing...

    This happens regardless of sea temps - 11 deg-23 deg. Should I just force myself to go for a walk after I'm temp warmed up post shower?

  • malinakamalinaka Seattle, WACharter Member
    There is a reason I'm trying to build a community of swimmers in Seattle, and it isn't because I think swimming is oh-so-great-you-must-do-it. It is purely so I have friends to shiver with after.

    We've dropped a degree from the annual high of 56 and I was in and out today for 3.5hrs totaling 8k (5+2+1). The key is...FOOD. Calories before, calories during, calories after, more calories after. Since you warm up from the inside, you must stay well fed or you'll never warm. The shivering after my 5k + 30min wait was worse than after my 2k + 13min wait or after the 1k because I started the 5k undernourished (and then was so hungry between sets I managed to get a free hot dog after eating everything in my swim bag, caps excepted).

    So, food. Food and sun. Food, and sun, and Intense Dark Mocha with whipped cream from Tully's (sponsor me, Tully's!).

    I don't wear a wetsuit; it gives the ocean a sporting chance.

  • FFEW- Food =Fuel = Energy= Warmth.
    Just got to this thread, while trying to ignore the DN one...and I spit out my tea!! laughing.
    Burgers and beer... or burgers and fries..my go to food.
    Seriously.. all very spot on.
    If you are transitioning out of a wetsuit... shorten your swim by 5-10 min.. get OUT of the wetsuit and take a quick swim sans WS after wards. You'll be warmed up from swimming and it reduces the "gasp" reflex".. oh and it feels sooo much better.

    I love swimming www.suziedodsswimcoaching.com

  • I just picked up warm patches to stick on my main arteries for after my EC attempt. I Figure it is less cumbersome than toting around hot water bottles and preparing hot water and chancing that my crew burn their fingers pouring it into a small openings in a rocking boat etc. I sure hope that the weather Gods will let me use them.

    Sisu: a Finnish term meaning strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.

  • Thank you guys for your input- So fooood fooood food! Ok. Have managed to swim for over 2 and a half hours in togs in a lake at approx 19deg (Lisa might correct me on the temp that day). Normal pootle is about 45-6o mins in Sandycove- 60 mins at 15 deg and about 18 mins at 11.6 deg. I have just been having tea and biccies afterwards but will start eating more before and after and see how I get on! Shall get more of those handwarmers for the autumn.... There are just too many nice togs to wear- would be a shame to hide them under wetsuit!
  • If exercising to warm up, I found it better to try to keep the heart rate lower than when swimming. I believe it might be bad to run, if running puffs you out more than swimming. You don't want the icy blood being pumped too fast around the body and back into the heart, you want warm blood being returned.
  • Drink something hot while you are in a hot shower. That is the BEST. Only don't do it if you are trying really hard to adjust to the cold temperatures, hot water will make it harder to adjust in the long run. But it can be such a nice treat. :)
  • Drink something hot while you are in a hot shower.

    Woh! Whoah! Don't do this! The hot drink is fine, the hot shower is not.

    Depending on how much core temperature you've dropped and the cold blood in your exterior, a hot shower too soon after exiting, or even a not-as-cold shower, is a great way to get severe Afterdrop and even faint and fall over causing injury. And I've seen it happen, to someone wearing a wetsuit ... in balmy 16C because they weren't careful or acclimated. (I was not happy with the swim organisers for allowing it).

    Slow and steady is the way. A sauna will work well if you are sitting down and stay there also.
  • @Loneswimmer, you know I got into trouble in Cork with my roomies for not setting the water heater timer to match our return form the morning swim!!!!

    Sisu: a Finnish term meaning strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.

  • SharkoSharko Sonoma County, CAMember
    edited September 2013
    Acclimation extending time in water is important...When you get out and are not near a shower or sauna then gallon water containers filled with warm water seems to help...both to pour over your head and also to hug on your core...we use these for our Bay To Breakers Swim that ends at Ocean Beach....to help not get as cold in the first place is eat warm steel cut oats before a cold water swim...heat will last quite a while.

    "I never met a shark I didn't like"

  • @Dawn_Treader, on a proper Cork visit, you must only shower with jellyfish tendrils and gravel and dry off with sandpaper. @Ned must be getting soft. :-0
  • @loneswimmer...not immediately after, like 4 hours after. I wrote out my whole deal then I thought it was too long so then I included the best part.
    This is after 58-60 degrees, 3-4 hours. Not a ton of bioprene so I get cold.
    1. Cold water rinse.
    2. Warm clothes, hat, drink.
    3. Food.
    4. Usually have a deep down chill a few hours later, but otherwise feel okay. Odd walking around in winter gear in warm weather. To fix THAT feeling, hot drink and hot water together fixes it. I usually gradually increase the temperature. If I'm trying to acclimate, I just deal with the deep chill feel. If I'm not, I treat myself to the cozy feeling after.

    I never feel the least bit faint doing this so far after...but maybe I should have been more clear. :) I originally responded after a long day teaching!
  • My understand was that you shouldn't do anything vigorous (jogging, rubbing extremities to "get the blood going") when you have hypothermia. Doing so would increase circulation before the body was ready, and flood your core with cooler blood, and make afterdrop more severe.
  • Craig Lenning probably the top ice swimmer in the USA and participant in the Bering Strait Relay, informed us of the Russian method of treating Hypothermia. It is rather contrarian to the treatments mentioned here, apparently step one is to strip the person down and rub snow on them. Maybe Craig @uss_lenning will chime in on that one.
  • NiekNiek Heiloo, NetherlandsMember
    Rubbing yourself with snow is a good way to dry off.
    Snow absorbs the water excellent. It's hydrophilic.
    If you ever fall into an ice hole and get out the best thing you can do is start rolling in snow. Rolling naked is even better.

    http://openwaterswimming.eu - Cold, wind, waves, sunburn, currents, jellyfish and flotsam! Hop in and join the fun!

  • Big hugs, with a fellow swimmer, so long as you know beforehand that they are up for it too! ;)
  • Jbetley said:

    Big hugs, with a fellow swimmer, so long as you know beforehand that they are up for it too! ;)

    If you're wearing the rat thong, you could try hugging a cop. I understand that beatings increase blood flow. ;)
  • You can think of getting dressed after a cold swim as a race to get your shoes on. Get dressed from the top down and you have to get your shoes on before the shakes arrive. Keep the chat until you're dressed.

    Actually, I've given up with shoes now. Flip flops are the future. No messing with socks and not really any colder for some reason.

    Hypothermia is different. If you're hypothermic, you need help while dressing and during recovery. People need to know the difference between "normal" cold and hypothermia.

    @Dawn_Treader, if I had known this, I would have disconnected the heater. Surely you didn't need warm showers during that spa week?
  • Colm, weren't you the one who got upset when we came home to cold water?

    Sisu: a Finnish term meaning strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.

  • If you want to avoid getting afterdrop, could you consider clothing your head and core with the usual layers, while leaving the legs and arms 'less clothed' like wearing shorts or something? Thus the extremities would warm more slowly, and not induce afterdrop? Or am I missing something?
  • dc_in_sfdc_in_sf San FranciscoMember
    Jbetley said:

    If you want to avoid getting afterdrop, could you consider clothing your head and core with the usual layers, while leaving the legs and arms 'less clothed' like wearing shorts or something? Thus the extremities would warm more slowly, and not induce afterdrop? Or am I missing something?

    Once blood flow returns to your extremities you are going to hit the after drop, you'd have to prevent that blood flow to avoid it afaik, and short of tourniquets I'm not sure there is anyway to do that.

    http://notdrowningswimming.com - open water adventures of a very ordinary swimmer

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