Tips for Swimming Outdoors (Nature's Wet and Wild Phenomenon)

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Oct 10, 2011

Tips for Swimming Outdoors (Nature's Wet and Wild Phenomenon)

Outdoor swimming can be a bit of a shock for people moving from the swimming pool for the first time. After all, the pool is nice and safe, with enclosed sides, a non-slip surface and everything you need on hand. In fact, maybe it's a bit too tame during the times when the public decides to stay home instead of swimming with you! If you're ready to get wet and wild and make the move to the great outdoors, then follow these tips to get the most from the experience while still staying safe.
Ahh, the calmness of water and the nature  - priceless

This is a guest post from Dee Mason, a sports and fitness enthusiast who looks forward to the Olympics in her home city, London, next year. She can frequently be found punishing herself in the gym, with cycling and swimming being particular areas of interest.

Enter Dee Mason

What You'll Need Before You Jump In

The pool may feel chilly when you first jump in, but it's positively toasty compared with lake or river water, especially outside the summer season. If you're swimming in cold water, you'll be at risk of hypothermia if you stay in too long. So, it might be a good idea to measure the water temperature before you jump in. If the water is not too cold for you, you should still pay attention to the warnings your body gives you to avoid trouble. If your teeth are chattering and you start to shiver it's a sign that it's time to get out of the water.  Change into warm, dry clothes, drink a hot tea or soup which you brought in your thermo bottle and warm up by running, doing star jumps (jumping jacks) or press-ups (push-ups).

You can, however, increase your water time by investing in a good wetsuit which will also improve your buoyancy, so you won't have to work so hard during your swim. Get a swimming wetsuit (or triathlon wetsuit) for maximum flexibility when swimming. And when it's really cold, it's wise to cover your hands and feet with neoprene boots and gloves, even though swimming with booties might not be the most efficient way to get ahead. If you opt into booties you might want to also use fins, so you get some extra propulsion. For some crazy, cold temperature swimming, check out the Ice Swim in South Africa video below.

Deep and Wide (Swimming Safety First)

Unlike pools, lakes, rivers and seas don't have convenient markings to let you know how deep you're getting. In fact, they may have no safety features at all. That means it's up to you to look after your own safety. When you step into the water, the bottom may drop away sharply once you leave the shore, so don't get taken by surprise. Checking the depth of the water is also important if you're planning to jump in or dive. Many of the worst swimming accidents are caused by people hitting their heads on rocks or jarring their necks and spines. And watch out for slippery algae covered rocks, too. Bare feet or a rubber grip shoe are the best footwear for an outdoor swim.

Lakes may also be wider than they look, so make sure you have built up some stamina so you don't get stuck half way across. If you're swimming in a river or in the sea, then watch out for fast moving currents such as the rip current - you don't want to be dragged downstream or out to the horizon.

Swimming Buddies Welcomed

It's never a good idea to swim alone, especially in deep water, because if you get into difficulty, there's no-one to help. That's even more important when swimming outdoors. Swim with a friend, or have someone in a boat in case you get into trouble. If you must swim alone (even if you are not alone), wear a brightly colored silicone cap so people can spot you in the water. The silicone will also keep your body heat from rapidly escaping via your head. If you're swimming on your own and you get a cramp, then lie on your back, paddle with your arms and shout for help. (Swimator Blog Note: It is always better to have some safety device with you, such as the Safe Swimmer, even if you are with friends.)

Water Hazards (Weed Me Out)

Weeds aren't just a problem in your garden; they can also be a hazard when swimming outdoors. You'll often find them in rivers and while one or two aren't a problem, your legs can get caught in large amounts. The trick is to move slowly through clumps of weeds and avoid kicking so your legs stay free. Many swimmers also get frightened by running into a clump of weeds in the water, so just try to stay calm and tell yourself that they are just grass and the worst thing that can happen is that you get a few grass cuts.:) (assuming you are not running into some poisonous plants)

Group swimming is awesome fun
In lakes, it's algae you have to watch out for. This green scum isn't nice to look at and can cause eye irritation and skin rashes. If you spot algae, swim somewhere else. Another lakeside hazard is swimmer's itch. Caused by contact with the snails that live in marshy lakes, it's harmless but unpleasant, making you itch for up to two days.

Weil's Disease

Rats are responsible for another water-borne hazard. More specifically, their urine may carry Leptospirosis which, if left untreated could turn into Weil's Disease - and that can be fatal. If you're swimming in an urban area, especially after heavy rains, and get symptoms like flu or jaundice 3 -14 days after an outdoor swim, get a Leptospirosis test. If you have it, antibiotics will soon take care of the issue.

What Else Should You Know

Here are a few more tips for safe outdoor swimming:
  • Get local information about the places you are swimming in
  • Assess water quality before going in
  • Cover open cuts with a waterproof plaster to avoid infection
  • Build up your stamina slowly
  • Never drink and swim
These may seem like a lot of rules, but they are the best way to stay safe and if not taken lightly they will contribute to your outdoor swimming enjoyment. However, don't forget to have fun. Swimming outdoors offers unparalleled opportunities to get close to nature - you might as well enjoy it.

From Swimator Blog: If you are only a pool swimmer, you should consider venturing out of your comfort zone and explore the unexplored. Outdoors or open water swimming is a great rush and usually much more enjoyable on a nice day in a nice water. You do not need to go into extremes as the guys in the Ice Swim Africa video, but throw in an open water swim here and there. You will see that you'll get hooked. We have literally thousands of lakes in Finland, some even with no boat traffic, so getting out there for a swim in a warm summer day is just priceless (I have not tried the ice swimming yet). Don't take my word for it. Try it yourself!
Be seen, keep your stuff dry and take a break when needed.


Tuomas said...

Do you have any other information on the Ice Swimming event in Africa?

It looks like Crazy fun, I would like to participate?

Swimator said...

Hi Tuomas, you can have a look at their FB page for more info. I unfortunately do not have much else to share.

Swimator said...

and here is the link :) FB Ice swim in Africa

LoneSwimmer said...

Nice beginner's article. I'm an English Channel soloist, and I write a lot (free) on my blog at particulaly about open water swimming, and trying to teach people all the various relevant aspects, from weather, to cold, to locations, to safety and planning.

bestabovegroundpoolsreviewed said...

At least I have an idea on outdoor swimming. I wanted to try but was to afraid to venture out. Big thanks to the author!