Master the winter waters in 10 (moderately easy) steps

Make open-water swimming a year-round activity with our essential tips


Check the calendars and you’ll find plenty of open-water venues and lidos are open throughout the winter (there’s always the sea too!), so armed with these tips you can make open-water swimming a year-round activity.


Here, seasoned open-water swimmer Lou Walker offers her essential tips for braving the chilly UK waters throughout the off season. And don’t forget to check out our directory of open-water swim venues here.

Double down

Triathlete putting on a swim hat

Two hats are better than one and silicone is warmer than latex. Consider a neoprene or insulated hat for extra warmth.

Consider your extremities

If you’re a cold feet/hands person, neoprene gloves or socks may help for training – but most races don’t allow them.

Diver in a dry suit (image: Joe Mabel)

Keep it wrapped 

Stay warm for as long as possible before you get in. Keep clothing on until the last minute.

Athletes preparing to race the Brutal 2014

Don’t panic

Stay calm before you get in. Anxiety can raise cold discomfort levels in non-wetsuit swimmers.

Chrissie Wellington on the beach

Acclimatise slowly 

Lower yourself in gradually off the side or, if you can walk in, do so slowly and splash your face with water to prepare your body for the temperature change.

Athlete walking into water

Read all about it 

Read about ‘cold shock response’ – it’ll help you understand what’s happening so you don’t panic. In brief, it’s normal to gasp when you first get in and normal to hyperventilate for a minute or so after that. Go with it and aim to stay calm until it passes.

Sean Conway coming out of the water

Breathe easy

Aim to steady your breathing as soon as you can as you might breathe more frequently for a while until you settle down. If you can’t steady your breathing, stay calm and swim head up breaststroke or backstroke before trying again.

Athlete swimming in open water


Above all, try to relax. Think calm, relaxed thoughts. Talk to yourself in a gentle rhythm. I get into bilateral breathing every three strokes ASAP. It calms me and stops me fighting the water.


What do you find helps get used to the cold water? Let us know in the comments!