Managing Cold Water Swimming Injuries

A man diving into an ice water pool.
This might be a bit too cold for swimming…

As official Physio’s for the Kelloggs Nutri-Grain Ironman and Ironwoman series we often find ourselves in colder locations (like Portsea, Vic) and despite what many think, in terms of Physio, the biggest concern for competitors in locations like Portsea is not the surf, but in fact the cold.

To be even more specific it’s not the air temperature but the water temp that knocks so many athletes around and can do far more damage than most would be aware.

This is true for anyone who swims in the cold water. Cold water immersion is the quickest way to cool the bodies core temperature. It’s why when you need to cool your beers at a party it’s far better to throw them in a bucket of ice and water, than put them in the freezer. Even though the freezer in temperature is cooler. (Just a tip for young players).

When these top ironman athletes are racing multiple times over a day it creates a problem for them to stay warm for the full day. The biggest concern is Hypothermia and what so many people don’t realise is that dehydration speeds the process of Hypothermia up. By having decreased fluid in the body, it is not able to generate the same heat to stay warm and so cools faster. For this reason remaining hydrated and constantly sipping on a drink bottle in the cold is just as important as doing so in the heat.

Hypothermia is also one of those conditions that far too many people don’t realise they are suffering from it until it is too late. So prevention is far better than treatment.

Once you become too cold the body has to work extra hard to stay warm, which in turn means you are using far more energy to race and stay active and so you fatigue quicker.

Muscle functions deteriorate with shivering as well, and you lose of fine motor ability, progressing to stumbling, clumsiness, and falling.

The other concern is that all soft tissue, like muscles, tendons and ligaments, are elastic in nature, and so lose elasticity when cold. So their ability to stretch and repeatedly contract is reduced, and by continuing to force it increases the risk of a tear or snap.

A good example would be to get two rubber bands, put one in the sun and the other in the freezer for an hour.

Then after the hour stretch both the rubber bands and see what one stretches easier. You could also see how far you could stretch both until they snapped. Invariably the cold rubber band will be stiffer and snap a lot easier than the warm one, and this is the same with your muscles.

So despite the obvious thrills and spills that can sometimes be created by the big Portsea swell, the real danger and the real key to mastering Portsea has to do with how you manage the cold water. The winners and losers will largely be decided by how well each athlete handles the cold and not just the swell.

Don’t Stop Swimming Because Of Sexy Shark Attacks

Shark Attack!

A surfer was attacked by a shark at Avoca Beach on the Central Coast this week. Aerial patrols have since spotted several sharks in the area ‘aggressively’ chasing schools of fish. The result was massive media hysteria in the newspapers, on the television news and on the radio. For what? An ‘attack’ that didn’t even require stitches and was the equivalent of a mild dog bite?

So what’s the big deal? Well, sharks are sexy and a good sell. We’re all afraid of them and when it comes to fear factor, they’re hard to beat. Two people drowned in rip currents over the holidays, but it barely rated a mention. Rips aren’t sexy.

So let’s talk about the so called shark problem because many of you are probably ocean swimmers or about to become one. And let’s face it, long distance ocean swimming on a glorious sunny day is a fantastic experience until you suddenly see that shadow play on the bottom. It’s probably a cloud, but then again, it could be a…Great White!

I know it’s hard to believe, but sharks live in the ocean. It’s their domain and we’re just another source of food to them.  There’s no aggressive and malevolent attacks or man-eating sharks out there, just big fish looking for a quick meal. And most shark attacks consist of a single bite, because the shark realizes pretty quickly that were not a great source of meat and moves on. Yes, many of those bites can be horrific, but many of them are minor and the chances of it happening to you are minuscule, even if you swim in the ocean every day for the remainder of your life. The odds are well in your favour.

Records on shark attacks in Australia have been documented for a long time, tracing back to the 1700’s. Since that time, an estimated 877 attacks have occurred, of which 25% (215) have been fatal. But in more recent times, shark nets have been introduced offshore and in the last 50 years, there have been 52 fatalities due to shark bites. That’s an average of 1.04 per year.

Purple dye highlights a Rip Current at Tamarama

Let’s put this in perspective, on average about 87 people drown along our coast each year due to various reasons, mostly rip currents. Seems to me there’s a lot more to worry about than sharks.

So I hate to blow the Jaws bubble that we all have lodged in our heads, but sharks just aren’t something we need to worry about too much. Enjoy your swim and get those images of thrashing red water out of your head.  But if you do see a shark zooming in for the kill, attack it first. They’re not used to it. That’s my theory anyway.

10 Tips For Preparing For An Ocean Swim Event

An elderly man putting on his fluro green cap before his ocean swim event.I’ve been to more ocean swimming and surf life saving events than I can remember, and through all those events I’ve managed to lock down my own pre-race prep so I’m ready and raring to go every time.

Here’s my top 10 tips for preparing for an ocean swim:

  1. Before leaving home ensure you have all swim wear (goggles, swimmers,etc), towel, warm clothing, sunscreen, hat, adequate nutrition (food, water, etc) and check weather prediction for the day.
  2. Arrive in plenty of time to allow time for registering and a proper warm up.
  3. Observe the race course and racing conditions.
  4. Plan entry and exit paths (quickest way to first turning buoy, landmarks e.g. buildings to aim for on the way in, etc).
  5. Avoid long periods in the sun where possible.
  6. Keep warm.
  7. Hydrate before you race.
  8. Keep calm and relaxed.  If you find you are too tense take 3 big breaths.
  9. Wash out and then spit in your goggles to ‘antifog’ them, then rinse them well to ensure a fog free race. Note: Don’t clean your goggles with sunscreen on your hands.
  10. Enjoy the race!

How To Assist A Swimmer In Difficulty

A red box with a yellow rescue tube in it located near the beach.
Some beaches have publicly accessible rescue equipment – but only use if you’re trained.

People can get into trouble at any time in the water for a variety of reasons.

It might be because they’ve got out of their depth, they’ve been overwhelmed by a wave, taken in too much water or had a medical emergency to name a few.

Drowning is often called the ‘quiet killer’ because victims expend their energy fast while they panic trying to stay above the water and ultimately slip under the water – so it’s not always easy to spot.

Some of the signs that someone is in trouble may include panicked cries for help, waving arms or a ‘ladder-climbing’ action to stay a float.

Before you jump in to try and save someone, first think of your own safety – many would-be rescuers become victims themselves because they’ve got themselves out of their limits and are acting on adrenalin rather than ability.

Whether you’re a strong swimmer or not you should call for help from nearby lifeguards, or at unpatrolled beaches call triple zero, immediately.

Only enter the water if you are extremely comfortable in the conditions, and only use public rescue equipment if you’re trained to use it.

How To Assist A Swimmer In Difficulty

  • Bodyboards and eskies can be used as flotation devices to get to the swimmer. Throw them into a rip current to try and float them out to them.
  • Something as simple as an empty drink bottle with the lid on tight can keep a person a float.
  • Are there surfers nearby? Get their attention and have them paddle over.
  • Keep your eyes on the person in the water at all times. If there are more than one of you on the shore, one person should be solely responsible for this.
  • If you’d like the skills to rescue someone, train to become a lifesaver.

90 Ocean Swimming Tips From Our 2011 Twitter Campaign

During the 2010/11 summer season Andre Slade delivered 90 day’s worth of ocean awareness, confidence and fitness tips throughout the ’90 days of summer’ – 1 December 2010 to 28 February 2011!

The tips were delivered by Twitter so they’re all within 140 characters as well!

OceanFit’s 90 Ocean Swimming Tips:

  1. Learn to swim to survive. You’re never to young or to old to get started.
  2. Swim regularly. Swimming regularly helps you develop and maintain your swimming skills and basic fitness.
  3. Know your limits. Stay well within these limits until you’re confident your ability has increased to extend your limit.
  4. Get to know how the weather affects the conditions on your beach.
  5. If in doubt, stay out. If you’re hesitating it’s a sign that you’re best staying on the sand.
  6. Learn about Rip Currents. They can be both friend and foe so the more you know about them the better.
  7. Always swim with a friend. Not only is it more fun, but it’s safer too.
  8. Observe the conditions before entering the ocean. This is best done from an elevated position over at least 5 mins
  9. Be in control. It’s important to be in control when you’re in the ocean and not let the ocean take control of you.
  10. Respect the ocean. The Hawaiian watermen live by this motto for a very good reason.
  11. Keep warm. In cooler water temperatures wear a silicone swim cap (or 2) and keep moving.
  12. When standing in the wave zone do so with one foot in front of the other. It’s a great defensive and offensive stance.
  13. Before starting any ocean swimming sessions take the time to assess the high tide line for signs of stingers.
  14. Start your swim session with a short dry warm up. Take a jog along the beach and then stretch your upper and lower body.
  15. Observe the ocean floor the first time you head into the water. Get a feel for where gutters, holes and sand banks are.
  16. When running/wading into the water look above and below the water line to prepare yourself for what’s ahead.
  17. Look for a rip current close by to swim out through the wave zone faster. The current is outgoing and there are less waves.
  18. Look for shallow sandbars. It’s faster to wade/dolphin-dive over them than swim around them.
  19. Use your arms as much as your legs when wading. Get them both high and wide using your arms to drive your legs.
  20. A good pair of tinted or polarized (Vorgee) goggles will help you see better and reduce squinting while swimming outside.
  21. Make sure your googles are fitted and feel comfortable before you hit the water. Stopping to adjust them breaks your rhythm.
  22. The run to the water is not to late to change your line. If a set arrives or a sand bank clears you can deviate to benefit.
  23. Look for an oncoming wall of water when you’re running/wading out which will bring deeper water to start swimming sooner.
  24. Over holiday periods you can reduce your swimming sessions as a treat but don’t wipe them out. Consistency is your friend.
  25. Practice wading and dolphin diving in different water depths so you’re always ready for what the ocean throws at you.
  26. Don’t leave your goggles in the sun or in hot places (like seat of car). The heat will warp them & they won’t fit properly.
  27. If training for an ocean swim mix longer (aerobic) sessions with shorter (anaerobic) sprint sessions for endurance & speed.
  28. Make the transition between wading & dolphin-diving smooth. Try not to stop & think about it – you’ll loose your momentum.
  29. Dolphin-diving isn’t just for getting under waves. It should be used in any water depth too deep to wade.
  30. Dolphin-dive with your body in a streamlined position and enter the water no greater than 45 degrees to maximise glide time.
  31. Head down to the sea-floor when you dolphin-dive under a wave to get below the wave turbulence. It’s calmer near the bottom.
  32. When dolphin-diving under a wave use your hands like anchors to grip the sea-floor, securing yourself while the wave passes.
  33. To resurface after dolphin-diving in shallow water bring one foot in front of the other and push off the sea-floor.
  34. When you resurface from a dolphin-dive get straight back into your swim stroke & add six ‘power strokes’ to get up to speed
  35. ‘Power Strokes’ are a set of normal swim strokes with more effort. Use to increase speed quickly to gain greater momentum.
  36. If there are two waves coming towards you close together while dolphin-diving you should stay under water till both pass.
  37. Learn how to float and tread water efficiently. Even if you think you can swim these skills could save your life one day.
  38. Create fog free goggles by spitting in them while dry to create a barrier on the lens. Rinse in ocean water before wearing.
  39. When changing in & out of swimsuit under your towel tie the towel high so the bottom is half way up thigh for easier access.
  40. Create a seamless transition to start swimming by using a big push off the sea floor as part of your last dolphin-dive.
  41. Change in & out of your bikini or 1-piece on beach by putting on a t-shirt without arms in sleeves & changing underneath
  42. When you surface from diving under a wave get in a couple of swim strokes before breathing to regulate your stroke again.
  43. If when you run into water your breathing rate is high start by breathing every 2 strokes till it settles then go to 3 or 4.
  44. White water is fill of air bubbles so look to swim in as much blue/green water as possible for better propulsion and speed.
  45. For waves that are peaking but haven’t yet broken, don’t dive too deep underneath. Just push through the top to save time.
  46. In huge surf when you’ve dived deep under a wave, look up to the surface on your ascent and aim for calmer water to surface.
  47. Waves that haven’t begun to peak should just be swum over the top of. It’ll feel like a ramp but just keep swimming.
  48. For waves that have peaked & are starting to break, push through the top 1/4 of the wave only. Add a dolphin kick for speed
  49. If you tend to get sea-sick when in the ocean, try to limit time floating in one spot – think ‘on the move off the mind’
  50. Look ahead & stay on course without compromising rhythm by lifting head forward at start of breath before rolling to side.
  51. Balance how often you look forward (or back) when ‘sighting’. To much disrupts rhythm, to little & you’ll stray off course.
  52. Before heading into the surf give rips a reference point on land so you can locate them from at sea & avoid them on return.
  53. Breathe bilaterally when ocean swimming so you can keep an eye out for waves when swimming parallel to beach.
  54. Feel for the ocean movements while you’re swimming & then become one with it by adjusting your stroke to ‘go with the flow’.
  55. Learn about the local marine life and ocean environment where you swim and you’ll get more enjoyment out of your swims.
  56. Swell’s will give you a ‘lift’ when swimming to shore. Get even more out of them by adding a few power strokes on the lift.
  57. When returning to beach look for where waves are breaking all the way to beach. You’ll be able to ride them all the way in.
  58. When returning to shore keep an eye out for waves coming from behind by looking back under your arm as you take a breath.
  59. Get a feel for the time between larger wave sets, then time your return to shore with a large set to get the most benefit.
  60. Use backstroke intermittently when returning to shore for an extended look behind you for waves without compromising speed.
  61. When returning to shore to finish an ocean swim race ’empty the tank’, there’s no need for your energy once you’re on shore.
  62. Learn about wave periods and wave sets because understanding them will assist in your decision making in the wave zone.
  63. Get added distance from swell line ‘runners’ when returning to shore by adding a few power strokes as they pass beneath you.
  64. If there’s a wind chop on the ocean surface adjust your breathing to breathe away from the wind.
  65. If you get caught in the crash zone in big surf while returning to shore face out to sea and dive under waves.
  66. When returning to shore you can ‘sight’ behind you to look for waves by looking back under your armpit as you take a breath.
  67. When swimming through the wave zone you can work out you’re in the wave crash zone by stirred up sand and seaweed.
  68. Get extra time to scout for waves to bodysurf on your return to shore without losing speed by flipping over & backstroking.
  69. Look along the wave line while looking for a wave to catch, if they’re breaking to the side of you then head towards there.
  70. Judge on your return to shore whether waiting for a wave to catch is going to be faster than swimming the whole way in.
  71. Swimming onto an unbroken wave that’s about to break is your best option for body surfing from the back of the surf zone.
  72. To prepare to swim onto an unbroken wave, increase your stroke rate, kick hard, take a deep breath and keep your head down.
  73. Catching unbroken waves, when you feel it take hold of you start to stroke with one arm, keep the other stiff and in front.
  74. Catching unbroken waves, when you’re completely on the wave stop your swim stroke and get into a streamline position.
  75. Remain as stiff as a surfboard when bodysurfing, tighten up all your core muscles and stretch your whole body long.
  76. If you’re dumped by a wave while bodysurfing, remain stiff and long and kick hard to get to the front of the wave again.
  77. Bodysurfing with your arms stretched out in front is best for both safety and for creating a long streamline body position.
  78. If you find yourself falling off the back of a wave you’ve been bodysurfing, start swimming again to ride the last of it.
  79. For a clean exit at the end of large waves you’ve bodysurfed you can actually tumble turn out of them to finish.
  80. The less number of times you have to breathe while bodysurfing a wave the less chance you have of falling off it.
  81. Keeping your head tucked well inside your outstretched arms while bodysurfing will keep your body straighter.
  82. A good way to know when to stop bodysurfing & start dolphin-diving/wading is when your stroke arm hits the sea floor.
  83. If your goggles have filled up with water while bodysurfing, leave adjusting them until you’re out of the water and running.
  84. Leave the beach with less sand in your swimmers after a bodysurfing session by walking out from deeper water to finish off.
  85. Don’t treat bodysurfing like a holiday from swimming, to get the most out of the wave you’ll need to put in 100% effort.
  86. For streamlined dolphin-dives think in order “hands, head, shoulders, hips, knees, feet”, enter like an ‘n’ exit like a ‘u’.
  87. Cramping: Reduce by stretching, hydrating & not overdoing it. Treat by alerting a swim partner then floating and stretching.
  88. To reduce chafing when swimming, apply generous amounts of Vaseline to the areas most prone: your armpits and inner thigh.
  89. Get water out of your ears by holding nose & blowing out, jumping on 1 foot while shaking head or use over the counter products
  90. Ocean swimming is a lifetime of learning. Watermen maintain respect & empathy by always learning about, and from, the ocean.

The most important thing that I check before I go to a beach

Below is a aerial picture of Bondi and with a little bit of help there is a compass and the seasonal predominate wind’s superimposed on there.

So why is the wind the most important thing I check before I go to the beach?

All of these things below are affected by the wind. Are there any that are important to you when you are at the Beach?

  • Where will be comfortable to sit on the beach? Or even which is the best beach to go to?
  • Will it be cold or hot? Wind chill can make a big difference I’d estimate between 5 and 8 degree’s celsius on a windy day
  • Will there be blue bottles? You’re unlikely to get stung by a blue bottle at Bondi if the wind has been blowing North East for a couple of days.
  • What the water temperature could be like? (Do you know what the Coriolis Effect is?)
  • What the waves might be doing? Wind not only creates waves, but affects how they perform as well, i.e. onshore/offshore winds
  • What time to go to the beach? The wind has a lot to do with the weather if its middle of summer and there is a 25 knot sou’easter forecast you know there is a big chance that we are in for some bad weather (get to the beach early)

My personal favourite is in winter to duck down to the south corner of Bondi and although it’s probably only 21 or 22 degree’s it’s fully protected from the winter winds and is glorious when the sun is shining.

So get to know your beach, local winds and their affect on the beach environment. Put a little thought in to your next trip and enjoy the benefits a bit of planning will have on your beach experience.

My favourite wind forecasting sites: