This is the third in a series about the basics of what can happen to your body when you swim outside. It’s based on years of experience as an outdoor swimmer, coach and wild swim guide. This blog talks about afterdrop, a sneaky little treat that can hit us after a swim.
Afterdrop can happen at anytime of year but it is more prevalent the colder the water and weather gets. You’re still at risk in the summer so be mindful if you’re planning a particularly long time in the water in the summer months.
Here’s what happens……….
You’ve had your swim, you’ve managed your cold water shock and avoided swim failure. You’re on a high after your swim, endorphins gushing, face grinning, skin tingling. You feel alive and ready to face the day.
But, when you get out after your swim the chill at your skin’s surface will keep penetrating further into your body’s core. You’ll have stopped swimming, are less active and no longer generating your own heat through exercise. You might feel warmer as the immediate cold of the water has been removed from your skin but your core body temperature will continue to drop. This can continue for around 30-40 minutes after you get out. I sometimes find I can continue to feel chilled for some time after this too.
As with everything in outdoor swimming, everyone’s different, so when you start to feel cool will be different to the person next to you. My best mate’s instantly cold when we get out but I take half an hour or so to feel properly cold. At best, you’ll feel colder than you expect, at worst you’ll start to drop into early hypothermia territory.
You might shiver and shake. This is your body’s natural way to create heat so shivering can be a good thing. Don’t be afraid at this stage, lots of swimmers experience this and there’s lots of tools to get you warmed up. It’s just important to be mindful of what could be happening to your body and to learn to look for signs of more severe hypothermia. If you want to read up a little more on hypothermia and how to manage it head over here https://www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com/understanding…/
So, what are the top ways I’ve learned to prevent and manage afterdrop?
Swim your own swim, an important term in all outdoor swimming but as true to afterdrop as anything else. Everyone’s different, when your afterdrop kicks in may be very different to the person next to you. Everyone I know has at some point experienced afterdrop and a good shiver, don’t be embarrassed if it happens, but do use it as a learning experience in how to manage your own swim. With time you’ll learn how at risk you are of getting afterdrop and learn your own tools to prevent and manage it.
Think about what you need to do after your swim. The delayed cooling can mean you end up shivering 30 minutes after you get out. You don’t want to find yourself shivering whilst behind the wheel in busy traffic on the drive home.
Limit your time in the water, learn to be aware of how much your body cools on each swim. Remember to factor in things such as illness, weather, temperatures, hunger, tiredness and anything else that you know affects your swim. My golden rule is to get out feeling like you could do more. That doesn’t make me wholly immune to afterdrop but it definitely helps. Trying to keep your hands as warm as possible, particularly over winter, is important too, you’ll need them for the next part. Neoprene gloves are good but I’m a big fan of neoprene mittens. I find them much warmer and easier to get off.
When you get out it’s really important to get dried and dressed as quickly as possible. It’s easy to think you’re fine when you get out, get chatting to friends, take your time getting your stuff out of your bag, negotiating that towel to avoid flashing anyone but you’ll be losing more and more heat the whole time. Getting covered will prevent this extra heat loss. Before you swim make sure your clothes and towel are available in the order you’ll need them when you get out, make sure clothes are turned the right way out too. This doesn’t have to be a neat pile the likes of Marie Kondo would be proud of. Anyone who’s been out with me will know how far and wide I sometimes spread but I know where everything is and it’s easy to grab when I need it
How many clothes you need to put on will depend on you and the time of year, with time you’ll learn what you need. Sometimes I might just need an extra jacket over whatever I’ve arrived in, by the middle of winter I might have 2 pairs of trousers, 2-3 mid layers, a down jacket and a dryrobe, a big old hat and 2 pairs of gloves! I think one of the perks of winter swimming is getting to feel super snuggly whilst wearing all the clothes you own anyway.
Hot water bottles can be a big help in the colder season, you can use them to pre-warm clothes, re-heat hands and stick around your core to aid with warming up. Gentle exercise can help too, nothing too frantic though, as a sudden increase in heartrate can make you dizzy when you’re this cold. A walk’s been proven many a time to warm me up when I’ve felt a little shivery.
I hope that’s helpful and happy swimming folks x