In this guest blog, Beth Herman-Davis (@inspire.transform) shares her tips for open water swimming.

Beth is a lifelong swimmer and is certain that once upon a time she was indeed a mermaid. Based in Boston, Massachusetts, she is also a triathlete, nutrition coach, personal trainer and blogger. She shares nutrition and fitness tips, pretty pictures of healthy homemade food, Boston sunsets, and her most favorite home workouts with her training partner, Scout.

Like many of you I lost access to my home pool with the arrival of COVID-19. I’m a triathlete and personal trainer — so thankfully I already have a dryland training routine in place. For the first few weeks of quarantine that was an adequate substitute, but I was definitely missing the water. 

Related: What Swimmers Should Know About the Coronavirus

I’m a long-time open water swimmer (OWS) and former competitive swimmer, so I’m very comfortable in the water. It’s my jam. As a side note, in the last year or so I’ve developed Ranauld’s disease, which is something one has to consider when open water swimming in colder water temps. 

I normally begin my OWS season around May 25 with a wetsuit and 2 silicone caps, as that feels comfortable with water temps around 62°-64° Fahrenheit. I started a little earlier this year, due to quarantine. The 3 swims I’ve done since April 25 have been in water temps between 52°-56°. It’s striking how much a drop of 10° in the water makes such a difference in how the water feels on your face and body. 

Read on for some of my favorite OWS tips and tricks! 

Related: Swimming: An Old Friend I Dearly Miss

The Gear

If you’re serious about open water swim training, I recommend the following gear:

  • Anti-chafing balm
  • Bathing suit
  • Wetsuit
  • Neoprene gloves
  • Swim socks
  • Thermal cap & silicone cap
  • Ear plugs
  • Goggles
  • Swim buoy 

Related: 6 Tips for Beginner Open Water Swimmers

Suiting Up

Beth Herman Davis open water

With all that equipment, it can be tough to know where to start when it’s time to get ready for a swim! First I put on anti-chafing balm around my neck area, and then I put on the swim socks, ear plugs, swim caps, and goggles. Next, I pull my wetsuit to my mid section, put on the neoprene gloves, and pull up the wetsuit to cover the remainder of my body. My trusty partner zips me up, and I attach the buoy to my waist and my Garmin to my wrist. 

I use my Garmin to keep track of time so I remain cognizant of how long I’ve been in the water. It’s also critical to listen to your body’s signals and know when it’s time to get out, especially if you’re swimming in cold water. 

One note: Ear plugs are crucial. These little plugs will make all the difference with the quality of your swim and how you feel after. I went without them the first time, and won’t do that again. 

Related: Hitting the Open Water with MySwimPro

Diving In

When I’m ready to start my swim, I enter the water slowly and acclimate, which is generally not my mode. I find I need to get my body used to the water before putting my face and head in. Once I get my face and head wet, I float a bit, do some breaststroke, and when I feel situated, I start swimming freestyle.

A few things I found challenging on the first swim were sighting and the sting to my face, as well as the post-swim headache, which did not occur when I wore ear plugs during future swims. The 2nd & 3rd swims were much more successful (and joyful) as I was comfortable in the water and knew what to expect. 

Baby Swims

Normally when I OWS, I’m quite comfortable swimming 3000 yards and beyond. But because these water temps are new to me, I’ve been quite cautious and done what I call baby swims. Swim #1 was about 550 yards, swim #2 was around 660 yards, and swim #3 was around 810 yards. I’ve also been hugging the shoreline much tighter than I normally do so I’m able to touch the ground if need be. When I’m done swimming, I exit the water just as slowly as I entered. 

Post-swim, I take everything off, and do not take a hot shower, as this is what experts advise. I simply towel off and get dressed, hydrate, eat a piece of fruit, and smile because I was just swimming again!

Have you tried open water swimming while your pool is closed? Tell us in the comments! Follow Beth’s journey on Instagram at @inspire.transform. Next time you hit the pool, lake or ocean, try tracking your open water swim with MySwimPro on your Apple Watch!

10 thoughts on “3 Tips for Cold Open Water Swimming

  1. Any suggestions for neoprene socks and gloves? I’ve had some Blue Seventy ‘socks’ for years because, as a triathlete, I found having my feet covered made my water to T1 exit much less stressful. However, they’ve worn out and, with our lake water temps here in Montana still hovering in the low to mid-50’s, I need a new pair. I’ve never had gloves so am open to suggestions for those as well. Thanks!

  2. I swam in Flathead lake in Montana this week ( no wetsuit or anything)… the water was very cold but it hurt my hands & face terribly! Any suggestions for me

    1. Hi Nancy,

      Try purchasing some neoprene gloves and a neoprene cap to help keep your hands and face warm! Zone3 has some great options.

  3. I use Xcel 5mm surf booties that have tread so I can walk in/out of water comfortably over rocks and shells. I don’t notice them while swimming
    and my feet are the warmest part of my body! Any ideas on hoods? I swim with a cap with a neoprene thermal cap over it but water can get to around 48 and I looking to avoid that OMG shocked face/neck feeling.

  4. I use Xcel 5mm surf booties that have tread so I can walk into/out of water with less worry about rocks or shells. I don’t notice them while swimming
    and my feet are the warmest part of my body! Any ideas on hoods? I swim with a cap with a neoprene thermal cap over it but water can get to around 48 and I want to avoid that OMG shocked face feeling at least on my neck and part of my face.

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