What Is Ice Swimming?

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  • Written By: K. K. Lowen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 25 September 2019
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Ice swimming is the act of entering water that has formed a frozen top layer or water that is around 32°F (0°C). This type of swimming can take place in a natural body of water or may be simulated in a temperature-controlled swimming pool. There are many reasons why people engage in ice swimming, including local or national traditions. Some people believe that the shock of dousing the body in cold water has health benefits.

When ice swimming in outdoor bodies of water, people usually must make a hole in the top crust of ice. If using a single hole in the ice, most people will not swim beneath the ice for fear of becoming trapped and drowning. Sometimes multiple holes in the ice are made so that there are many entry and exit points for swimming below the surface. Many people choose to have some sort of rope, cord, or harness, connecting them to the surface so they can swim freely under the ice.


One of the biggest issues associated with ice swimming is safety. People entering freezing water could suffer a heart attack and experience hypothermia. It is possible for a person to hyperventilate when the body hits the icy water, and in such a situation, drowning could occur because the combination of cold shock and hyperventilation can cause a person to uncontrollably breathe water into the lungs. Cold shock response is the natural reaction of the body to sudden immersion in cold water and is common for ice swimmers.

Due to the potential dangers of ice swimming, many people choose to condition themselves to the extreme nature of cold water. By preparing the body for the shock that cold water can cause, people can potentially avoid harmful effects. One method some people employ is to gradually expose themselves over time to colder and colder water temperatures. People also try to control their shivering for conditioning purposes. Mental conditioning also may take place to avoid panicking in the icy water.

It is important to not swim alone because ice swimming can be dangerous in natural and simulated conditions. If medical attention becomes necessary, a person outside of the ice can initiate a rescue. Some people like to have medical services nearby for accidents, hypothermia, or other medical emergencies.

In countries where temperatures are very low during the winter season, people often consider winter swimming to be the same as ice swimming. Winter swimming is simply the act of entering a body of water during the winter months. Ice swimming and winter swimming are similar but are not exactly the same because the water in some places does not freeze during the winter, and indoor pools also allow people to take part in winter swimming without entering cold water.


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