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IISA GB's Top Tips for Staying Safe When Swimming Through Winter

The International Ice Swimming Association (IISA) was formed in 2009 with a vision to formalise swimming in icy water. IISA passion is swimming in icy waters in every location possible around our globe. In order to allow for that IISA has put in place a well considered set of rules to allow for maximum safety measures in this extreme sport and to regulate swim integrity in terms of distance, time, conditions and safety.

IISA introduced the Ice Mile as its ultimate achievement of swimming in ice waters. An Ice Mile is One Mile in water of 5C or less. The swim must be unassisted and with one pair of goggles, cap and standard swimming costume. The Ice Mile is the ultimate personal challenge that should be followed with all the safety and controls in place.

In 2014 IISA introduced the 1km Ice event. The event allows swimmers to compete in icy waters of 5C or less under IISA rules for 1000m. IISA is set out to keep world records with its vision to include Swimming as a category in the Winter Olympic Games and make it a globally recognised sport.’

Swimming through the winter is an exhilarating experience. There is a certain something about telling people you swim outdoors in December, January or February. The restrictions we experienced during the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 have encouraged more people to plan to swim later into the year if not all the way through the winter.

The important focus is how to stay safe. All the safe rules of open water swimming are relevant (e.g. know your entry / exit points and don’t swim alone) but there are extra considerations for Ice Swimming.

The International Ice Swimming Association GB (IISA GB) board have put together a few hints and tips based on their own personal experiences for a safe and fun winter of swimming.

  • It is not the best idea to start open water swimming during the winter months. Riding the temperature down following the summer season makes it less of a shock.
  • Know yourself; every swim is different even in the same lake at the same temperature. If you are not feeling great stop (preferably not in the middle of the lake). A swim cut short is not a failure it is a safe swim.

  • Eat right; swimming in cold water burns calories so it is ok to have a high energy food before swimming (a bowl of hot porridge is a good breakfast before ice swimming). Cake is a very popular and well-earned reward after your swim.

Cold Water Swimming EquipmentCold Water Swimming Essentials

  • Don’t rush; get your breathing right before you start.
  • Work up to doing distance; a distance you may consider short in the summer is considered endurance in the winter.

  • Pack more warm clothes (particularly layers) than you could imagine needing. Sartorial elegance does not come into winter swimming.  Hats are essential. Mitts are easier to get on than gloves. 

  • Beware the rule of thumb; many people will say that you can swim a certain distance or for a certain time in a certain temperature. Everyone is different, set your own limits based on how you feel and what the conditions are.
  • Having someone who knows you better than you know yourself to help support your swims and do what they tell you even if you don’t agree, they can see the bigger picture and they can help with your recovery
  • Enjoy yourself; cold water swimming can release lots of endorphins but if you are not enjoying it try something else.
  • Accept help; the important thing following a swim is to be warm and dry. If someone offers to help you with your recovery there is no need to be a hero.
  • Warm up gradually. Do not drive until you have rewarmed, and never go straight into a hot shower or bath as this can be seriously dangerous.

Stay safe and enjoy!

Blog written by IISA (GB) - You can contact them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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