cold water vs hot water swimmers

miklcctmiklcct London, United KingdomMem​ber

I'm now wondering what's the difference between cold water swimmers and hot water swimmers. Let's use 16°C (channel temperature) and 29°C (tropical temperature) as the definition points. If you prefer to do long distance swimming in 16°C water but avoid one in 29°C, you are a cold water swimmer; in contrast, if you like racing in 29°C but refuses to swim in 16°C unless you put a suit on, you are a hot water swimmer.

I consider myself a cold water swimmer. I'm not comfortable with water over 28°C that I get tired and fatigued very soon. Last year when I tried to train thru the summer in the squad, a lot of occasions I burnt out in the middle of the session and suddenly all my 100 became half a minute slower than I should, which did not happen in winter. I also did some races and all were much worse than I expected, when combined with adverse current, it became a torture for me. I even skipped a marathon swimming race (Clean Half) last year (not doing a solo) right in my backyard because I don't think that I can last 14 km in a hot October day with 29°C water temperature, despite being done a 13 km in the same season. Now the sea where I live is as hot as 28 - 29°C and I'm limiting myself to 5 km only each time, and I'm so jealous when seeing my friends doing much longer.

I find myself perform the best when the pool is under 20°C. I haven't known how cold is my sweet spot yet, but what I can say is that last year I timed myself in the pool for 1.5 km in the coldest day when the pool was only 16°C, and I was more than 2 minutes faster than my previous best 3 months earlier in the summer (however I was training more intensely as well because I was preparing for a race in the next month).

In contrast, I also know some people who are hot water swimmers. They race a lot in the summer or in tropical areas, e.g. the races in South-East Asia where the expected water temperature is 30°C and the air can be even hotter (e.g. Perhentian Island Challenge). However, once below 24°C, they put on their black suits. They are fit, they are big, they are strong, but they are afraid of cold water and prefer extreme heat instead. They happily swim over 10 km in the middle of summer when the air temperature is 32°C and the water temperature is 30°C. However, in winter, they always enter the wetsuit division of races.

Other than the distinction above, the strangest I've seen are those marathon swimmers who don't have problem swimming in a wide range of temperature. They can swim for long distance in cold water even below 15°C, yet they don't get overheated when swimming in 30°C as well. How the heck is this humanly possible?!?!?!?!?!?!?! For example I know a woman who is "proud of" her layer of bioprene and does marathon swims in cold water, but she also does marathon swims in hot water as well which I can't really imagine how she can do it without getting heat exhaustion?

I'm also curious that, are most marathon swimmers here cold water swimmer or hot water swimmer?


  • MLambyMLamby Senior Member

    For me, personally, I don't get to be picky. I live in an area where most of the open water is fairly cold to unbearably cold nine months out of the year, and for three months it is fairly pleasant. However, I grew up in an area where the weather was warm for ten months out of the year. SO, I have had to learn to swim in whatever conditions exist, whether it be a lake, river, ocean, YMCA pool, whatever. This has helped me to be a fairly adaptive swimmer when it comes to temperature. I have done 9 miles in 15 degree water and 12 miles in 31 degree water. I have done 10 miles in 21 degree water and 8 miles in 26 degree pool water. My times are pretty steady. I am usually between 1.8 and 2.0 mph regardless of water temperature. Heavy current....I'm a baby. :)

    The key is understanding the potential risks involved with whatever conditions you are going to be swimming in and making sure that you are acclimating appropriately prior to swimming, hydrating and taking in calories appropriately during the swim, and recovering appropriately afterward. All the best!

  • PasqualePasquale Trento, ItalyMember

    I like warm water. Between 24 and 26 is my sweet spot. When is warmer i get out of breath sooner and when is colder my endurance goes down with the temperature. My coldest swim so far was 45min in 16 degree and i lost sensitivity in the tips of my finger for a couple of hours. But I want to work on it. This year I started to explore the cold side and I like it. Unfortunately the covid has ruined my plans and where i live strict rules and lack of OW community makes it difficult and almost impossible to swim OW without wetsuit. But i will try again next year. There is a group of of "polar bears" who plunge in cold water all year long. They are not really swimmers but I guess this will help me anyway to build up cold tolerance. For the moment, and expecially this year, I will enjoy the swimming during summer time as much as I can.

  • swimmer25kswimmer25k Charter Member

    Cold water all day. I’m guaranteed to cramp up in pretty much anything over 72 degrees. I used to take electrolytes every 8 minutes in Key West and I still blew up every time I did that swim.

    My EC temp was 61 and I had a constant stream of pee trailing me all the way to France.

    I have no idea why that happened to me. I’m from South Florida and most of my training was in warm water.

  • I find that I pee more often in colder water vs. warmer water.

    First thing, when getting in this body would just let go! lol

    I read somewhere that this is a known reaction to cold water immersion. Having something to do with various locations of vaso constriction in the body.

    @swimmer25k said:
    Cold water all day. I’m guaranteed to cramp up in pretty much anything over 72 degrees. I used to take electrolytes every 8 minutes in Key West and I still blew up every time I did that swim.

    My EC temp was 61 and I had a constant stream of pee trailing me all the way to France.

    I have no idea why that happened to me. I’m from South Florida and most of my training was in warm water.

  • LakeBaggerLakeBagger Central OregonSenior Member

    Same for me on the peeing in cold water. I don’t think I’m either a warm or cold water swimmer. I haven’t really had occasion to try warm water, so can’t consider myself a warm water swimmer. I tried to do Key West a few years back but it got canceled that year. I’m also not naturally very good at cold water. The first time I tried (2017), the water was 64F, I stayed in for an hour, then got out and shivered for another hour. However, I started doing it more and more and swam occasionally during the winters. Then last summer I stayed in 62-64F water for 10.5 hours—so I’ve improved a lot.

    I’d characterize myself not as a warm or cold water swimmer, but more as a challenge junkie. I like doing things I’m not good at and seeing if I can improve. I suspect I might enjoy warm water swimming and want to try it in the future. I guess I just think that I don’t like to say, “well I’m this or that” because what if I can change and adapt and acquire capabilities I didn’t have before? I do really want to expand the range of temperatures I can swim in—I want this badly as I equate it with more adventures to choose from in my future.

  • smithsmith Huntsville, AlabamaSenior Member

    Definitely cold(ish) water, and this has changed over the years. As of last year, for open water workouts, I felt most comfortable in 62-66 degree water, as long as the air temperature was somewhere in the mid-50s and above. When air temps got into the 70s, pretty much nirvana. When the combined water temp/air temp threshold drops into the 100's very cold for me. Air temp seems to have an significant impact.

    I don't tolerate hot conditions as well as I used to. In 2012, I swam in a race where the water temp was 78 and the air temp was 90. I worked out in that weather as well. I was fine. Now, it is best for me to avoid it. I can do it, but I have to take A LOT of fluids, while slowing the pace substantially.

    Keep moving forward.

  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member

    Since I've been having my temperature checked regularly as part of COVID screening when entering work sites and public pools, I've noticed that my temperature is reading somewhere between 97.3 and 98.0. That set me to wondering (usually while swimming) if there is any correlation between an individual's "normal" body temperature and cold tolerance. Does anyone with knowledge of human physiology have any comments on the subject?


    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • Openh2oOpenh2o Member
    edited August 2020

    How much cold or hot?!?)
    All is training! My opinion!
    All in our life can change with training!
    But most inportant is mind!
    I sey few times here i swim only in pool.but have some swims in diferent temp and feel ok!
    My choice will be for hot water ( all hot water are in cool location))) And recovary is more easier...with cold beer!)))
    Ps 2018 i swim two time. One in water 31 celsius and another -1 c!( 32c diferenc)
    I think hot is better for joy swim! But may be very hard too! If u swim fast or long!( or both)
    25celsius is fine for everyone)))
    Wish u 25C water and cheers!))

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