What does Water Temperature Really Mean?
It's one thing to hear that the water temperature is 65 degrees, but it can be quite another to put your feet into it and really feel how cold it is! It can be hard to understand just what exactly water temperature means without firsthand experience.
Fortunately, we're here to help! We have looked at several different water temperature ranges and have put together the following guide to help you understand what you're getting into when you go for a cold water swim.
Note: The descriptions provided below are what will happen if you jump into the water, unprotected and without any training. If you practice swimming in water of increasingly colder temperatures, you will find it all the more bearable because of it.
Above 77 Degrees
If you've ever stepped into a pool and the water didn't feel cold on your feet, you probably stepped into water where the temperature was over 77 degrees. This is actually the temperature they use for the pools the Olympic Athletes compete in! They do this to keep the athletes at their best. Cold water can affect your breathing and be a shock to the system, so when you are swimming competitively, you definitely want the water to be as warm as possible.
77 Degrees - 70 Degrees
This is likely the range most of the water you have swam in was. While it's not as immediately comfortable to swim in as something above 77 degrees, this is certainly by no means uncomfortable or dangerous. However, your breathing can be negatively affected by this temperature, though not enough to be harmful.
70 Degrees - 60 Degrees
Now things are getting chilly! This water temperature is, unless you are accustomed to it, probably uncomfortably cold. Your breathing will be harder to maintain in this temperature, and you won't be able to hold your breath nearly as long as you would otherwise. You may not think you'll need it, but a good wetsuit will go a long way toward keeping you swimming in this kind of water.
60 Degrees - 50 Degrees
This water temperature, if you jump right in, can lead to hyperventilating if you aren't careful. If you are unaccustomed to cold water, you might find yourself going into shock. Shock brought on by cold water does not change depending on the coldness of the water that causes it, so if you go into shock at 50 degree water it will be just as powerful if the water was 35 degrees.. While the actual temperature in which you will go into shock will vary from person to person, you should always be careful.
That's not to say you can't swim in these temperatures, but it is recommended that you not only prepare physically but that you have the proper protection needed to ensure a safe and enjoyable swim. Wetsuits and other protections are a must, and you should never swim in these temperatures alone.
Below 50 Degrees
If you jump into water colder than 50 degrees without any protection, the coldness in the water will be painful and a huge shock to your system. You may go into shock and lose control of your breathing. Protection is, again, required and you should train your body long before jumping in so that you arr more prepared for the plunge!
As the water temperature gets colder, such as 40 degrees or even 35, the effect on your body does not change all that much. You will go into shock at the same speed in 50 degree water as you will at 40. Thus, you should take similar precautions. Wetsuits, gloves, booties, and so on.
Before you swim in colder water, you should definitely take the time to acclimate your body to water of such temperatures before jumping right in. It can take time for your body to adjust to these waters, but if you work at it, a little at a time, you will start to find the water much more bearable.
There are some health benefits to swimming in cold water, so if you want to take advantage of these benefits, make sure that you train your body and mind for it first.