With Edgley’s help you can enjoy all the benefits of open water swimming, no rhino neck, salt tongue or jellyfish stings necessary
So you want to take up open water swimming? That makes most of us. And it goes way beyond being inspired by the record-breaking heroics of adventurer, athlete and strongman swimmer, Ross Edgley. There’s scientific backing to the benefits of wrestling with the deep blue, too.
Cold water (yes, it’s going to be bloody cold) stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system. This helps your body to rest and to repair itself, and it therefore has a calming effect on your mental state, which may well be burned out by work. Open water swimming also releases the happy hormones dopamine and serotonin, which are proven to elevate mood and stave off depression.
Despite old wives’ tales linking the cold and illness, further research has revealed that regular exposure to cold water can boost your immune system. In response to the shock of jumping into the cold, your immune system produces more white blood cells to counteract the attack.
The most obvious benefits, however, is the benefit of exercise. Swimming outdoors is much better for burning calories than indoor pool swimming; it taxes your muscles more and helps to maximise your heart and lung function.
But these benefits are hard-won. Open water swimming is rewarding, but tough – relaxing in a Jacuzzi, this ain’t. And so, to help you overcome some of the aquatic obstacles and reel in all the health and fitness boons this pursuit affords, Edgley offers you some sage advice.
You need to deal with boredom
Ok, you’re not going to be swimming six hours on, six hours off for the next few months, but a lot like marathon training, open water swimming can be a lonely existence. And so you need to get comfortable in your own head.
“You are left alone with nothing but the surrounding nature and your own thoughts, so you need to find a way to entertain yourself. I try to re-watch films in my own head or tell myself jokes. It takes a slightly abnormal way of thinking to occupy yourself for that duration of time.”
You need to avoid land sickness
Open water swimming may be your new passion, but having dived in, don’t neglect your other training. After 100 days at sea Edgley lost a lot of strength in his stabiliser muscles and basically had to learn to walk again on dry land. It pays to train in the squat rack and the water in unison.
“Swimming is a non-weight bearing activity, and whilst you will unlikely be putting in 12 hours a day like I did, I suggest you maintain regular lower body training. During the Great British Swim, my lower body – mainly my calves – wasted away due to not having to resist downward pressure. It may sound weird, but I missed gravity.”
You need to be smart with your caffeine
The fact that a morning coffee can perk up your athletic performance is not news, but as Edgley explains, there’s more to it than that when you’re really putting in the miles.
“Another reason to consume caffeine during endurance exercise is that it has been shown to spare muscle glycogen. During the swim I was pairing my morning porridge with Red Bull because the porridge provides glycogen, which is stored for later in the day and the Red Bull mobilizes your body to use its own body fat for fuel.”
And don’t worry about your food too much
You may think that as an athlete, either record-breaking or recreational, that everything you eat needs to be organic, vegan, and low GI health foods. And although worthy and wholesome, when you’re training hard and burning through your energy stores at a rate of knots, bending the rules is actually the smartest (and most delicious) way to maintain your performance.
“Sometimes it is just about force feeding yourself calories. When you are putting in that many miles, what you’re eating becomes less important than how much you are eating. You just need to fuel your performance or you will burn out pretty quickly.”