– Cold training in the cold sea can prevent drowning

Researcher Dagmar Dahl at Nord University has taken a closer look at two school projects in Norway where students have received swimming lessons outdoors.

Based on both her own experiences and research, she is clear that more of the swimming training must take place outdoors in cold seas, lakes and rivers.

Other research shows that only two percent of swimming lessons in Norway take place outdoors.

– Swimming in a hall where the water is between 26 and 30 degrees, does not enable the kids to master the situation if they end up in the water outdoors. It is also quite cold in the sea, rivers and lakes in Norway most of the year. So cold shock can also occur in the summer, she says.

Dahl himself is an avid ice swimmer. She has learned to cope with the cold shock.

The day we meet her, she is on the beach in Kvalvika in Bodø, wearing a swimming cap, gloves and a swimsuit. The sea temperature measures 3.5 degrees, in other words icy cold. On land it is three to four degrees below zero. It is not tempting to swim exactly.

Researcher Dagmar Dahl is himself an avid year-round swimmer.

Researcher Dagmar Dahl is himself an avid year-round swimmer.

Ice bathing gives a kick of joy and energy

But Dahl likes to do it, all year round, with friends in the ice bath group Bodø Penguins. She herself is the only swimmer in the world who has swum across Saltstraumen twice, a really big challenge even for someone like her.

– It was only possible at power outages. At most, there is a speed of 20 knots on the water masses, she says.

But even during a power outage, the current maintains good speed.

– I had to fight before I got over and was well on land again. The trip was well prepared with both training and security team with me, she says.

Now after a ten minute swim in Kvalvika, with snow-capped mountains and islets as a natural setting, the skin has a reddish skin tone. But she does not freeze significantly.

– It is the proximity to nature and the endorphin kick that is the great experience. It’s just absolutely delicious. But for those who are unfamiliar with swimming in ice-cold water, it can be quite challenging on the first try, she points out.

Physiological changes

One of the most important things for both children and adults who voluntarily or involuntarily have to deal with ending up in cold water outdoors, is to master what the researcher calls the cold shock: the cold shock and the response to it is what happens to your body, there and then in it the icy water.

In Norway with its long coast, it is essential that many have tried it on the body if one is so unlucky to fall into the water either from a boat or, for example, walking through the ice, she believes.

- There are a number of physiological changes with the body when it is suddenly surrounded by ice-cold water, the researcher says.

– There are a number of physiological changes with the body when it is suddenly surrounded by ice-cold water, the researcher says.

Hyperventilation and increased blood pressure

– There are a number of physiological changes with the body when it is suddenly surrounded by ice-cold water. Blood pressure increases. Some become short of breath or hyperventilate. The blood vessels constrict, hands and feet become cold, the researcher says.

People with, for example, cardiovascular disease should be careful and consult a doctor before jumping into the water.

Dahl adds that for healthy people it is no problem to swim for a limited time in cold water, as long as you have good routines afterwards to get warm again.

– It is essential to get through this first reaction. It is about regaining control of the breath, says the researcher.

More outdoor training

Dahl is eager for the number of hours for swimming training in general to be increased, and that some of this time should take place outdoors where one trains water skills under real conditions in nature.

She firmly believes that teacher education must take control and increase the scope and quality of training in swimming and lifesaving in their studies and not leave this to voluntary organizations.

– The swimming teachers of the future must know more about this, and they must be enabled to learn it further.

Research on outdoor swimming in Norway

In the two swimming projects she has followed in her research, children from first to ninth grade have been allowed to unfold by swimming outdoors, in summer and in winter.

She has also interviewed the teachers who have run these two projects. One in Southeast Norway and the other in Northern Norway.

What she found was that the kids who participated became safer in the water, and they thought it was fun to go swimming outdoors.

– It was as expected because they were allowed to swim more than two hours a week in a swimming pool, she says.

The outdoor swimming was in addition to the ordinary swimming lessons for the students.

Provides advice on how to set up the teaching

The kids in both projects had gained significantly better water skills and swimming skills through the experiments.

– One of the initiators of outdoor swimming training said that he got the idea after he observed that children who had been on holiday, came home as much better swimmers, because they got to swim a lot in the South, Dahl says.

Among the exercises they participated in on the swimming projects in Norway, was to cross a river with electricity. When there was ice on the water, they dug holes in the ice, bathed and practiced lifesaving outdoors.

In his research, Dagmar Dahl gives good advice on how schools can conduct outdoor swimming lessons and encourages that this also becomes a larger part of an expanded education with increased water competence for teachers.

– Today, the time that universities set aside for swimming lessons is far too scarce. This means that most of the education takes place indoors where only basic skills are learned. This is despite the fact that most drowning accidents happen outdoors, the researcher says.

Do not bathe alone

Dagmar Gerda Martha Dahl swam a lot as a child. She grew up in Berlin where the family often went on trips to the area and the lakes at Wannsee. In the summer we went to the Alps and some cold mountain lakes.

She started swimming all year round in adulthood as a guest lecturer in Iceland.

She has taken special training in swimming and lifesaving and believes that Norway with its long coastline, numerous rivers and lakes and Norwegians with a strong sense of outdoor life should be better prepared to be able to enjoy and experience this.

– The other positive pleasures of ice bathing are obvious: well-being, the nature experience and the social aspects of the activity, she says.

For those who want to try ice bathing, she recommends never doing this alone, having clarified your own health status and having some practical equipment in addition to the swimsuit. For example, warm woolen clothes, a hat, something insulating to stand on by the beach, something sweet to eat afterwards, a small hot water bottle and more.

– In addition, one should not be out for too long at a time. Carefully increase the length of time, the cooling can come very suddenly. But once you get started with ice bathing, your body gets used to this cold element, and then it can quickly become something you do not want to be without, she says.


Dagmar Gerda Martha Dahl: School swimming «goes wild» –Swimming in natural waters as an integrative opportunity for the development of water competence – perspectives from Norway. Chapter in the book: School and teacher education 2030. In the field of tension new trends in postmodern society2021. Abstract of book.

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