COLD WATER swimming is a hugely effective and fun way to recover from many different kinds of sports. It is useful for anyone, regardless of your ability level or whether you lift weights, climb mountains, box, run marathons or play football, tennis, rugby, squash or any other activity.
It is an exceptionally useful tool for recovery because it helps to reduce swelling, clear lactate and relieve aches and pains. It can lessen or eliminate DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and speed up recovery times in order to get you back to training at 100% much quicker than usual.
For sports such as swim runs, triathlons and Crossfit, where swimming is often a part of many of your workouts, using cold water swimming as both training and recovery is a great way to kill two birds with one stone.
Introduce lighter and more relaxed cold water swimming sessions with a focus on recovery over intensity and distance. Make sure not to wear a wetsuit, as this would limit the positive effects of the cold water on your body. Keep thesesessions fun and relaxed. Their purpose is to replenish - not demolish - your body.
Check out the benefits of swimming in cold water for your physical and mental recovery.
Clearing Lactate from your Muscles
Cold water swimming is a great way to clear lactate from your muscles. When we exercise we produce metabolic by-products. Lactate is the most common. When by-products accumulate they significantly impact the contractile function on the muscle tissue, dramatically decreasing performance. When we stop exercising these metabolites can sometimes remain in the muscle. It is important that we try and flush them out fully.
You have probably used an ice pack before in order to help heal a previous injury or swelling. But immersion in cold water generally produces a greater and longer lasting change in deep tissues and is a more efficient means of cooling larger muscle groups and surface areas simultaneously.
Exposure to cold water will stimulate the release of endorphins, lower blood pressure and help to combat anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses. If you are working your way through a gruelling strength cycle in the gym or are in the middle of training for a marathon and putting in some serious running time, it can be exhausting, both physically and psychologically.
Cold water swimming will not only help your body and muscles to recover, but the additional endorphin rush from the cold will help to make you feel good and put you in positive frame of mind. When you go back into your next session then you will feel primed and ready to push hard and continue with your training.
For me personally, a wild swim or a cold shower feels like a ritualistic reset button. No matter how bad I feel, beat up from training or just having a bad day emotionally, whenever I emerge from the water, I always feel better. Try it for yourself and see if it works for you.
If you aren’t able to make it to the nearest river, lake, sea or outdoor swimming spot, but would still like to improve your recovery after exercise, try taking hot/cold contrast showers.
Our blood vessels constrict in the cold and dilate in the heat. Alternating between hot and cold acts as a pump to flushblood through the muscles, this promoting clearance.
The effects will not be as extensive as wild swimming in cold water, but they will still be effective.
So whether you get your exercise requirements from a few relaxed bike rides each week, or you are an elite athlete training for your next powerlifting meet, cold water swimming is a great way to improve your physical and mental recovery for your body, mind and general wellbeing.
In our first book “Swim Wild”, written by youngest brother Jack with contributions from Calum and myself, we go into much more detail about the positive effects of outdoor swimming and how they can impact your life physically, emotionally and spiritually. Check it out if you would like to learn more.
Big brother Robbie (31) is the eldest of the trio. He was the proverbial canary in the cage, sent down to test the gloomy caverns of adulthood before the other two. An artist and writer, some of his swim-inspired VARC paintings were recently shown at a solo exhibiton at the Kendal Arts Centre. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of BOXROX Magazine, the world’s most widely read magazine for fans of functional fitness and Crossfit with 2.5 million monthly page-views from over 150 countries.