Following the previous Ten Common Myths of Cold Water Swimming. There are quite a few myths, most probably better described as misunderstandings, about cold water and cold water swimming. A few are even true.
- 11. Fresh water feels colder than sea water at the same temperature.
This myth is usually confirmed by most experienced cold water swimmers. Most say “it’s because sea water is more dense”, which it is, without explaining why that makes a difference. Nonetheless, the difference is marked and I don’t know why either.
- 12. The water is always warmest at the surface.
This is a corollary of number ten in the previous list (water covered by ice is coldest). Water has a maximum density at 4 degrees Celsius. Therefore water at this temperature sinks to the bottom, and in the surface layer, the water temperature can be less or greater. As open water swimmers, we know that wind or boats can stir water, increasing the temperature in the surface layer by 1-2 degrees or sometimes dropping it. The reality is that surface sea water is usually a mix of perceptible temperatures whereas in lakes the coldest water is usually at the surface.
- 13. Walruses and polar bears live in the Arctic.
Wherever there’s cold water, there are cold water swimmers. These are colloquially known as polar bears or walruses in different parts of the globe. Or just winter swimmers.
- 14: Winter swimming in harder the further North one travels (aka Alaska, Siberia, Czech Republic).
Cold water is cold water. Water under a thick ice sheet in which people usually swim in holes, is typically about 4 degrees C. Air temperature plays a big factor, and some places with higher air temperature but also higher wind strengths (such as Ireland and the UK) and no ice cover, may be experientially just as cold (wind chill). Lough Dan for the 2013 Ice Mile where I completed my ice Mile was only 3.3 degrees. There was no snow or ice. The previous year was 1.3 degrees at the lake edge. What does change the further north one goes in certain areas is local cold water experience which is usually greater further north (or south in the southern hemisphere).
- 15. Once you are used to really cold water there’s no danger.
This is one of the myths I have most difficulty with as it’s perpetuated by very experienced swimmers. There is always danger with cold water swimming. The danger is moderated by the person’s experience, but is not or never completely absent.
- 16: Not everyone can do swim in cold water.
Mostly untrue. Most people, regardless of experience or body shape can do it, but there are contra-indications (people who shouldn’t for medical reasons). These include previous history or cardiac problem, some circulatory issues and other some other issues.
- 17: “I just can’t handle the cold“.
Except for people with aforementioned and some other medical contra-indications, I don’t personally believe that most people are special with respect to cold. By definition, everyone can’t be special. Cold is an adverse condition for humans, getting used to it hurts everyone and takes everyone time. And also by definition human have in general undergone adaptations which allowed us to populate the temperature ranges of the earth.
- 18. Cold water gives you a cold.
No. No, it really doesn’t. Not does getting caught in the rain. Blame your parents for this perpetuated nonsense. In fact as Point 6 in the first part illustrates, acclimatized swimmers are healthier with a boosted immune system. 100% of colds are caused by viruses.
19: You can swim in cold water as often as you like.
Russian and Czech cold water swimming experts, who have the longest experience with cold water swimming, say no more than one really cold swim per 24 hours, and preferably only every 2nd day. The Czech cold water swimming championships even preclude swimming more than once in 24 hours. What may be most important is the definition of cold and your experience. I don’t think I have ever done more than one swim in water of under ten degrees in one day, and certainly never under eight degrees.
- 20. Men are better at cold than women.
In general terms the opposite is true for two reasons. Women are better at cold water because: 1); they have a more even distribution of sub-cutaneous body fat, and 2); women’s core temperature is 0.25 degrees Celsius higher than men. One effect of this is that women seem to feel cold more easily because their hands and feet get colder more easily. This makes many think they suffer worse from cold, but without the actual experience of cold water, they never learn the reality.