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Friday, 1 July 2016

FIGHTING THE FEARS - The cold (Part one)

FIGHTING  THE FEARS - The cold  (Part one)

When approaching the world of open water you hear of many fears that people have. And over my time i have helped numerous people overcome those fears. What are the fears i hear you say, well the list is not exhaustive but here are some...weeds, fish, not seeing the bottom, drowning, not making it back to the shoreline. 

Fear is individual to everyone, it can strike at any time and even with the most established swimmer. Ask any seasoned swimmer and they will all be able to reiterate a tale or two of how they got started in the open water. Some may even give you hints and tips about how to get over it.

As a coach i find that every swimmer has to acclimatise and failure to do so at any temperature can cause the body to react in a way that create fear where previously there was none. I highly recommend wetting the back of your neck (a proper dousing...not  just a sprinkle of water) and your wrists, this tells the brain (the hypothalamus bit) that you are about to put the body under pressure and it can start to protect the bits, your core, prior to full immersion in the water. 

For the male swimmer there are certain areas that they do not want to get too cold, and many an intake of breath has been taken when the water reaches the lower areas, for the ladies the gasp area is higher up but no less painful. For all swimmers that inevitable moment the water enters the zip area....another 'gasp' moment. The trick.....exhale, you need to teach your body to fight its natural instincts, exhale slowly and often, we want to get the heart beat back to normal as much as we can, it can also help prevent hyperventilation. 

Enter the water wetting the back of the neck and wrists, enter in your own time frame and try not to fret about what the other swimmers are doing, your safety is paramount and you have to learn how your body reacts. When you see swimmers are events entering the warm up zone prior to the race, take a moment to observe them, do they get in splash around or turn their arms over, do they walk slowly around faces taut with concentration or do some simply not get in. The warm up zone is designed for you to prepare your body for the task in hand (although i do not advocate putting your face in as many use it to release urine long stored up to keep them warm). 

Once you have your wrists and neck wet, you need to start your immersion into the water, lower yourself slowly into the water (feet remaining on the bottom) until its up to your chin.....and remember .....exhale slowly the whole time. Stay there until the water feels comfortable, then when you are ready slowly lift your chin up to the sky and gently lower yourself backwards into the water, for those in a wetsuit this is an ideal time to feel the buoyancy of the suit do its work, no need for sculling of the hands, for those choosing to enter non wetsuit you will need to scull the hands gently and slowly in a figure of eight position to maintain your body position in the water.  Again it all in the breathing....exhale. This is the position you can return to time and time again while you are swimming, to help you relax, get air in and to sort your head. 

When you are ready, pull your chin to your chest, raise the knees and you will return to the upright position...simples as they say. You should notice how high your shoulders are, they need to be nice and relaxed, is your breathing nice and steady, it needs to be for when you are starting your swim. 

I sometimes see swimmers diving straight in, the thought that runs through my head is why. Do they feel any advantage, does it help with acclimatisation, not in my experience and as a coach i would not advocate it for fear of inducing cold water shock, the RLNI have a useful video that can help you understand the feeling of cold water shock. 

The other thing i see is swimmers pulling at the necks of their wetsuits and deliberately allowing lots of water to enter the wetsuit.....again why, you have just spent all that time trying to get your body used to the temperature and get your heart rate down then in one swift motion forced the body to rethink its strategy and in my option would need to start the whole process again to ensure that you are as relaxed as possible prior to setting off swimming.

Finally getting the face in, although our faces are exposed to the elements all the time and therefore in theory the quickest part of us to react to temperature it can still be a shock to all when placing the face in the water. Resist the urge to take a deep breath in, all this will do is raise the shoulder (yep you are trying it now whilst reading this) and cause the chest to tighten, a normal inhalation will do then slowly  (trickle breathing - treat it as if you are trying to make the flame of a candle move) exhale as you enter your face, once you have exhaled fully lift your head and breath in....we never worry about what we breath in...only about what we breath out, the body will take the oxygen it needs provided you have emptied your lungs sufficiently.

And just for fun, here is how not to do it, the film was made in jest but the swimmers reaction to the first time in is real, swimmers name not given as we have ribbed it out of him enough! x

Well thats about it for the 'pre-swim' in water preparation, ....give it a go and let me know what happens...good luck folks and happy swimming x

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