Cold, my favourite subject. With so many ways to talk about it.
Every year I note changes in my adaptation and responses. The fun in this, is that I can treat myself like a long-term experiment and see what happens, it makes the cold swimming even more interesting, adds more personal value to it. My main criteria is that for the last five years I’ve never been out of the sea longer than two weeks. The hypothesis therefore (and import of that) is that I never lose my hardening, the ability to swim in cold water. (It wouldn’t even be that long if I lived a bit closer to the sea). Last year I noticed a huge change in initial cold response to very cold water, where my cold shock largely disappeared with reduction in gasping and heart rate increase and pre-cold tension.
So this year, as we are within weeks of the normal coldest sea temperatures of the year, what I’ve observed is how one of the best recognised symptoms of cold for cold waters swimmers, the Claw, is now longer appearing during the times I am currently swimming. I have extended my cold swimming times from last year and at forty plus minutes in six degrees Celsius, my fingers are still closed and my hand is under control.
Above, we see again peripheral vaso-constriction in the hands, where there is no blood flow in the fingers. As often mentioned before, peripheral vaso-constriction is the body’s response to cold, where blood flow is concentrated in the core to retain essential body heat for survival. In more cold-adapted swimmers (and others) peripheral vaso-constriction seems to occur even more quickly.
Therefore I have to admit, I don’t really understand why my hand isn’t Clawing recently. I’ve certainly been getting cold. So for now I just put it down to another adaptation and if anyone has any thoughts on this I’d love to hear them. It does help to understand also that there no muscles in the fingers. Yes, no muscles, your fingers are operated by muscles running through the Carpal Canal or Tunnel, which connect via tendons to the bones. It’s the flexion of the muscles in your wrist and forearm pulling on the tendons that moves the fingers, but there are no actual muscles in your fingers so the fingers get cold easily, as there is therefore less blood flow.
I am NOT saying my Claw is gone altogether, just for these shorter, colder times. I have no doubt that longer swims in warmer waters, doing two hours in ten or eleven degrees will see the return of the Claw, as deep winter is not the problem for us, but spring, when temperatures are slightly elevated but swim times must be much longer.
Edit: I should explain: As muscles get colder they contract. This is what pulls the tendons in the fingers apart. The swimmer’s ability to pull is compromised. It affects also the arms and legs so the whole stroke becomes shorter and less effective.
I should also add, the extent of the Claw is determined by your ability to close or touch fingers. A mini Claw will leave you unable to close your small and ring fingers, a full Claw will mean you are unable to touch your thumb and small finger. Unless you have a lot of cold water experience and safety cover, you should not be swimming with full Claw.
- The Claw. (loneswimmer.com)
- Extreme Cold Adaptation in Humans (Part 1 of 5)( loneswimmer.com)
- Winter. It’s almost here. I hate it, I like it, I hate it, I like it. (loneswimmer.com)
- Come with me on this cold water swim (loneswimmer.com)
- Is the water too cold to swim? (loneswimmer.com)