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This article talks about “ice swimming”. We all know about water swimming, but how much do you know about the practice of swimming under the ice? Ice swimming is practiced primarily by people from northern countries, who also like to compete in cold water. Icy water can be both dangerous for health and benefits.


In recent years, ice swimming (in the water below 5 degrees C) has developed into a whole year-round sport. The International Ice Swimming Association was founded in 2009, and a growing number of swimmers are actively participating in events worldwide. Several reports have indicated that bathing in cold water has a large spectrum of health benefits, such as fewer upper respiratory tract infections, improvements in haematological and endocrine function, improvements in mental health and overall well-being. However, chronic exposure to cold water temperatures can be extremely dangerous, as will be shown below.

swimming under the ice

Ice Swimming Competitions

The International Ice Swimming Association (IISA) was founded in 2009, and since then, a growing number of people are participating in IISA competitions. These tournaments take place in a pool or natural body of water with a temperature of 5 degrees Celsius or below. Wetsuits are not allowed. Swimmers can only wear a cap, a pair of goggles, and a standard one-piece swimsuit that doesn’t cover their knees, shoulders or neckline. For safety, the race distances are only ever 1 kilometre or 1 mile. 

Ice swimming is extremely and immediately painful and is really more mental than physical. The founding father of the IISA and holder of the ice swimming Guinness World Record holder, Ram Barkai, says; “When you dive into the ice, and it feels like you’re jumping into fire… It is beautiful but deadly. It is hard and debilitating, but invigorating.”

Pros and Cons of Ice Swimming

Ice swimming has benefits and also it is dangerous for health. The following are some of the nice, and not so nice, things you might experience when ice swimming:

Possible pros
  • Increased body metabolism
  • Better blood circulation in the heart and other organs
  • Enhanced mood, reduced stress and improved sleep, as the parasympathetic nervous system is activated by cold water, which lets the body relax and heal itself
  • Boosted immune system as cold water shock will kick-start the production of white blood cells and antioxidants.
Possible Cons
  • Hypothermia, or when your body temperature falls below 35 degrees C is a very real risk. It could trigger a heart attack, make you feel drunk, increase your chance of drowning, or cause lasting damage to your extremities 
  • Laryngospasm, or the sudden spasming of the vocal cords, which make it very difficult to breathe
  • Coldwater shock contracts the blood vessels forces the heart to work harder, trigger a ’gasp’ response and rapid breathing. The re-warming process is equally, if not more, painful
  • Chilblains and sensitive, raw skin
  • Drowning.
swimming under the ice
Precautionary measures

If you’re thinking of taking a dip in icy water, remember to:

  • Swim with others – never attempt it on your own
  • Don’t drink alcohol before swimming
  • Enter the water in a relaxed state, panicking increases your chances of drowning
  • Wear proper swimming costume
  • Enter the water at a slow speed
  • Take deep, slow breaths after each stroke, and especially when you get out of water
  • Keep warm, dry towels to hand
  • When you come out, take off your swimsuit and head to a dry sauna. If you don’t have a sauna, wrap yourself in dry blankets and sit in a warm car with the heater on full blast. Then, when you’re fully coherent again, get someone to help you move to a hot shower.

Thanks for reading. 

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