THE BIG FREEZE: Cold Water Swimming

So you’ve probably heard about it, seen someone do it or even been crazy enough to try it yourself. What is all this about cold water swimming? The concept has been around for as long as time itself as part of ancient tribal ceremonies and in extreme areas including the frozen tundra of Russia. Now it is heavily used in the sports and recovery/performance optimisation world too. I’m sure you have heard of the terms Ice baths, cryotherapy etc. Well for me I’ll take cold water swimming thank you…

It’s something that I started to play around with in 2016. Once a week I’d challenge myself to swim 10 – 20 minutes on a Sunday afternoon at Merewether Ocean Baths right through the midst of winter. Last year that got upgraded to 20 minutes 3-4 times each week. So the challenge for this year was to see if I could survive a longer duration in the cooler water. Could I stay in for 40 minutes, just me, a pair of goggles, speedos and a neoprene cap (my one vice against the cool water)? Well we are half way through July now and I firmly believe that the answer is yes. I can do it and to be honest I flat out love it! But why do it in the first place? Well that’s hopefully what I am about to explain: 

  1. Feel Alive– diving into the cold water is 100% complete body stimulation. Every single nerve cell, mitochondrial unit activates instantly. The shock like effect triggers a survival like response where the body becomes hyperalert and active right away. 
  2. Fire the Senses– is a similar vein this alertness sharpens every possible feeling and sensation. The touch of the cold water against every inch of your body is invigorating. Sinuses completely flush out by the icy salt water improving smell. Whenever I am done with a winter swim my eyes seem to become more electric. It feels like I see the world through a different shade. 
  3. Be Present– In this modern high tech world it has become ever easier to be more distracted. But you can’t take a smart phone into a cold pool!! Here it is just you, the water and a few friendly fishes. Even if you have a friend crazy enough to take a dip with you when you are submerged it’s you and the water. This forced concentration is a deliberate mindfulness practice. If I take one stroke at a time I’ll finish this lap. I want to stay in for “X” amount of time meaning I need to do “X” amount of laps. Being present on enjoying the swim and getting through each lap is insulating too. Focusing on what you are doing is the only way not to let the mind drift and starting thinking about how cold you are. 
  4. Good Fat– There are two main types of fat in the body: brown and white fat. White fat is the stuff most likely to cause cellulite and surround the important organs and tissues that can lead obesity related diseases like diabetes, bowel disease etc. Brown fat however, is awesome. It is insulating and is hormone producing. Exercise and diet can help with the conversion of white to brown fat, temperature extremes can speed up the process.
  5. Earthing– Getting back to nature is something very close to my heart. Working in Newcastle I am grateful to be so close to Newcastle Beach, the amazing ocean baths and to have Glenrock only a few Km’s away. We need time to reconnect to a power greater than us, to remind us how small we are and to recharge, reboot and fuel up from an even greater power source. The easiest way is full exposure to nature. No heavy shoes, no music, no phones just you and mother earth. I feel a pair of speedos is the closest legally I can get to being at one with nature.  
  6. Massive Metabolism boost– Whenever I jump into cold water especially for a prolonged period of time there is one guaranteed result. I’ll shiver for anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. This by itself will drive metabolism much higher than normal.
  7. Stress Reduction– When combining increased awareness, being present and earthing cold water swimming massively helps relieve any emotional stress. It forces any “baggage” to be left on the pool deck….
  8. Endorphin High– Lets face it, I love to do hard things. There is a sense of accomplishment of doing things that either a) others won’t, or b) others think is crazy. When everyone else is swimming in wetsuits or safely tucked into the office there’s a little extra rush of knowing that I’m out here and I can do this. 
  9. Immune Boosting– Salt Water therapy by itself is beneficial however, the added effect of the cold is almost medical in its restorative powers. Part as a result of the white to brown fat conversion, vitamin D exposure and metabolism upgrade and partly unknown. Either way, cold water swimming is certainly one of my favourite ways to stay healthy throughout the winter months.  
  10. It’s beautiful– Lets face it Newcastle is one beautiful city and these baths and beaches are holiday destinations that we are lucky enough to have on our doorstep. So why not? Step outside of your comfort zone and take a big dive into one of the best natural resources we have literally right outside the door. 

So there you go. There is always some method to the madness. If you are this far into the article and still not sure then I’m throwing down a challenge. Dive in- just do it. Take the big plunge and go for just one lap of the baths- you can always get out at the other end. I’ll leave you with a quote from Mark Twain, “twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than the ones you did.”