Jim Barber, an accomplished Triple Crown swimmer, and his training partner Bryan Boggs, have created an innovative and insightful Cold Water Perception Scale for marathon swimmers. Their Cold Water Perception Scale provides an excellent basis for understanding your own personal experiences while training and acclimating to cold water.
The Cold Water Perception Scale is posted here.
Defining cold water and one’s perception of cold water is relative. What is acceptable to a swimmer who regularly swims year-round in San Francisco Bay, Lake Michigan, Serpentine, Melbourne or Cape Town may be too cold for someone from Florida or Fiji. What is considered balmy for a swimmer in Boston is the opposite for a swimmer in Bali.
Of all the different types of open water acclimatization, getting used to the cold usually requires the greatest amount of time and effort. For some, swimming in sub-59°F (15°C) water is easy and invigorating. For others, it is painful and not enjoyable. If you have a certain goal in mind – whether it is swimming across the English Channel or participating in a local lake swim – and it involves water cooler than you are used to, cold water acclimatization can take a few days or a few weeks – or several months – depending on the length of your swim, your background and the expected water temperature of your swim.
Barber and Bryan’s Cold Water Perception Scale is a descriptive explanation of what you may experience from water temperatures from near 50°F (10°C) to over 80°F (27°C).
They describe the full range of sensations from 82°F – 84°F (27.7°C – 28.8°C) as being “too warm and overheating and feeling uncomfortable during moderate swims with a sluggish-feeling stroke” to 54°F -57°F (12.2°C – 13.8°C) as “very cold, uncomfortable during entire swim with initial and somewhat continued burning sensation in arms and legs, to the point that feeling is quite diminished in arms and legs.”
It is a welcomed addition to the collective open water swimming body of knowledge.
Copyright © 2010 by World Open Water Swimming Association