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Human Physiological Performance During A 1-Mile Swim in Cold Water

Courtesy of Ram Barkai of the International Ice Swimming Association.

Spencer Treu, Katelyn Cummings, Mariah Olson, Jennifer Connell, Ted Wilson, and Christopher Malone from Winona State University in Minnesota teamed up with Ram Barkai of the International Ice Swimming Association to publish a study entitled Human Physiological Performance During a 1-Mile Swim in Cold Water.

Their study analyzed data from 71 male and 17 female persons who completed 1-mile ice swims based on the International Ice Swimming Association database that includes information on swimming performance times and swim conditions.

The average swim completion time was 33.9 ± 7.8 minutes, but the study found that the swim performance of males was not significantly affected by increasing age. The data also showed that water temperatures below 5°C had no statistically significant effect on swim completion time.

The authors summarized, “Ice swimming is increasing in popularity with consideration for future Winter Olympic activities. Characterization of ice water exposure physiology remains an important consideration for emergency, military, and medical personnel. This data set provides a useful benchmark for understanding and predicting physiological performance during exposure to cold environmental conditions.

But the study’s final conclusion was startling to say the least.

In a 1-mile swim distance, age does not appear to greatly affect cold water swim speed, especially in male swimmers. The Winter Olympics are held every four years and few athletes can remain competitive for multiple competitions of skiing for example.

This study suggests that they may be only a modest reduction in swim speed between the ages of 25 and 55, therefore athletes who compete in cold water swimming at Olympic events could remain competitive for 20+ years, making ice swimming a truly novel extreme sport for athletes.

Imagine an athlete like Petar Stoychev, one of the fastest cold water swimmers in the world. He started off his career as a competitive pool swimmer and competed in his first Olympic Games in the 1500m freestyle. Then with the advent of the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim, he was able to qualify for two Olympic Games in the 10 km. Now, with the possibility of ice swimming in the Winter Olympics, he may very well qualify for future Games in the newest aquatic discipline.

Copyright © 2016 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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