The Cold Shower Technique Has Nothing On This

winter-swimmingThis is a guest post from Dan Millington. He’s been taking cold showers to the next level. Any of you bold enough to try?

My friend and I both swam in an outdoor pool throughout the summer. Mainly because there were
less people, the pool was 50m long and as such better for open water swim training. However,
this innocent choice of pool has led onto something slightly more grueling.

I’m not entirely sure when it started but my friend and I decided that wetsuits were for the mentally weak – or North Sea oil rig divers. A challenge was laid down as the summer started to give way to colder climes: No wetsuits; if we’re free on the weekend then we swim; see how deep into autumn we can go. Unfortunately what we did not realise is that we had laid down some sort of macho challenge between us and with England now firmly in Winter’s grasp, neither of us is backing down. And I am glad.

At 13 degrees Celsius (editor’s note: that’s around 55F for us Yanks) in October we newbie non-wetsuit swimmers were starting to have second thoughts. Our time in the water had been forced under 20 minutes and we were starting to experience some awfully numb “parts” late in the sessions.

The water temp is now around half that. Last week it was 6.3 degrees. Funny enough, even though the temperature is constantly getting lower, it is actually getting easier; maybe because the first REALLY cold session comes as a shock.

We now know what to expect – brain freeze, numb hands and feet, frantic gasping and weirdly very painful eye sockets – but you know it will subside within 5 minutes as your body fights to retain heat. Making the leap and surviving the first few minutes is the biggest challenge. So why do we do it?

Remember that this originated as some stupid and macho challenge between mates, a childish aquatic version of seeing who can eat the hottest chilli. It has now become an incredible hangover cure (a slightly more dangerous endeavour), a test of mental strength, and a bond of camaraderie.

Tim Ferris mentions how cold exposure can help fat loss, and I would fully support this. After a 10-15 minutes swim in ice cold water your body seems to go into overdrive. A warm shower helps to thaw out numb hands and feet but the core takes far longer than that. The feeling of your body working hard to restore the status quo lasts for at least an hour afterwards. You feel refreshed and energised, in an “I nearly died” sort of way. I cannot place any significant medical evidence as to whether a cold swim every weekend has helped lower my body fat percentage because I also do a lot of other training. However purely going by feel, it definitely gives your whole body (and mind) a rather large kick up the arse. Only those that have done it will know the feeling that I am talking about.

As someone who works for Be A Better You I see people every day who are looking to motivate others to get fit. Many are very good at goading the more competitive clients into pushing out that last rep. However, I can speak from experience that when it comes to jumping into an outdoor pool in January nothing is more motivating than seeing a 65 year old woman run out of the changing rooms and jump in without hesitation. Apparently she is there every single day. She is full of life.

She is also not the only elderly person in the pool during the winter. Maybe they made them harder back then, but my friend and I are adamant to dispel this myth. As two young professionals we are on a crusade not only to carry on swimming outdoors, but also encourage others to challenge themselves physically and mentally in this sometimes grueling task.

If it were up to me, along with all of the standard kettle bells and circuits that personal trainers put their clients through I would also encourage my clients to “go cold” at least once a week. It would add another dimension to their training and for those looking to compete in endurance events such as a triathlon or marathon it would only serve to increase their mental strength!

photo by Dogfrog

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  1. Fair play to you for trying this out. I have been ocean swimming for years in winter in Europe. As you say its very cold when you jump in but you adapt quickly and just get on with it. I have heard a few people comment on the fat burning qualities of cold water swimming and often wondered if it were true.

    Keep it going


    • Thanks Jesse. I just came back from Bariloche in Argentina where they have alpine lakes. Everybody was scared of the water but because of the stuff I have been swimming in it was absolutely fine. Best place I have swam in my entire life. Crystal clear water, bright sunshine.

      Sea swimming is next level stuff. I imagine you have to be reasonably careful about how far you stray from the shore late in a session?

  2. Hi Dan, Just getting to this reply now. Hadn’t subscribed to blog so didn’t get a comment update. Yes, you really need to focus when swimming in the ocean, especially when its cold. Always have a point person with you on shore and make sure at least one other person knows where you are. Better safe than sorry. Your trip sounds like it was amazing. Something that will go on my wish list for sure. There is nothing better than swimming in crystal clear water. I swam a fair bit in Australia a few years back – off the barrier reef. Simply amazing stuff and highly recommended to one and all.



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