The Adrenalist

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Ice Swimming Beginner’s Guide



Ice swimmer Wim Hof of the Netherlands threw caution to the wind in this ice swimming stunt. Not only did he swim under ice, he swam 57.5 meters (188.5 feet) from one hole to another in a lake near the Finnish village of Kolari (granted he followed a safety line–common practice in all ice swimming). Then, ten years later, Stig Avall Severinsen swam 72 meters (236 feet), nabbing Hof’s Guinness World Record for Farthest Swim Under Ice. All this in waters cold enough to induce hypothermia in a matter of seconds. Do these guys have a death wish? Maybe. Are they insane? No, not really. They’re just ice swimmers. Want to find out how you can become a member of their exclusive club? We thought you might.


If you think ice swimming is as simple as plopping into any opening in a frozen over body of water, you’d be wrong. Sort of. There’s not a whole lot more to it than that but there are some subtle variations.

Winter Swimming: All winter swimming is not necessarily ice swimming but all ice swimming is absolutely winter swimming. Let us explain. Winter swimming can occur in any environment, frozen or not, as long as it’s wintertime and it’s cold outside. No ice necessary.

Ice Swimming: Let’s say you’re taking a nice late November swim in a Minnetonka, Minnesota lake. Provided you’ll allow that winter starts after Thanksgiving, you’d be winter swimming. Come back three weeks later to take a dip in the same lake and you’ll see it’s frozen over. If there’s a portion of ice carved out for swimming (whether made by you or someone else) and you hop in, you’re ice swimming! It’s as simple as that, but beware: In order for water bodies to freeze over temperatures have to be below freezing (of course), which means swimming temperatures will be untenable without significant ice swimming conditioning (see the “Training” section for more on that).

Indoor:Though it seems less adventurous, indoor swimming in temperature controlled pools is by far the safest way to enjoy winter swimming. Knowing that the area in which you’re swimming is a precise, uniform temperature provides a welcome sense of security when you’re pushing your body to limits it’s not built to endure.


If you bristle when walking into a shower that’s not the perfect temperature, you’ve got a long way to go before you’ll be ready to compete in a winter or ice swimming expedition, but don’t worry that’s normal. To get started, try turning your shower nozzle a little farther to the right each day for about a week. Once you’re comfortable standing in the coldest temperature your plumbing will allow for minutes on end, you’re ready to take your first dip. Venturing out in the early autumn months, when the water’s still reasonably warm, but still much colder than July or August, is a good way to get slowly acclimated to the sport. If you don’t have a lot of meat on your bones, it would behoove you to put on 10-15 pounds . We’re mammals after all and a little excess fat does wonders for holding body heat.

WARNING: This training regiment should be undertaken over the course of months, not days or weeks. The risks of hypothermia, heart attack, or death are very high when the human body is suddenly immersed in frigid waters. Take this preparation seriously.

Ice Swimming

Photo Credit: jonasj /


Once you’ve conditioned your body to withstand the brutal temperatures of cold weather swimming, you’ll probably want some recognition. You can attain that one of two ways: You can jump in a lake and not tape it and feel good about the fact that you’ve accomplished something you set out to or, if you’re the type who likes accolades and trophies on the mantel, you can apply to be recognized as an official ice swimmer by the International Ice Swimming Association. In order to do so, you must have two spectators submit affidavits providing testimonials of the swim, information about water temperature, distance swam, air temperature, wind chill, location, safety measures, and any other significant conditions. And you’ve got to send along a high quality visual recording (photo or video) of the event. Hey, if it was easy everyone would do it. We’re not totally clear on whether winter swims count, so contact the Association before you take any dives.


Now that you’re a well-conditioned International Ice Swimming Association officially recognized member of the ice swimming community, you can contact said Ice Swimming Association for information on a plethora of ice swimming events held worldwide.

If you’re in the mood for a nice casual winter swim, you can check out events like the Chesapeake Bay Plungefest. Winter swims like this one are open to all and are usually held around the holidays in every cold town across the US. Many are associated with charities so you’ll be doing good while building your swimming resume.

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