CPR First Aid

Wading Into Russian Ice Swimming

A new icy sport has emerged in Russia, with more people trying to join. What are its benefits and how can people start? Learn more about Russian ice swimming.

One of the things that come to mind with the country of Russia is the unforgiving cold temperature. This is likely paired with the image of them taking a shot of vodka to stay warm.

However, despite the extreme cold, Russians have an interesting sport that elects to ignore the frigid climate. The sport is called Russian ice swimming and has been around for many years. 

Why are these people so keen on going to frozen bodies of water? What does it do for them? And can other people practice it too?

Read on through as we discuss everything about this freezing sport.

What is Russian Ice Swimming?

The History

Ice swimming has been around for a long time, with the first Russian records dating back to the 16th century. 

Despite the written records, evidence indicates that it may have been practised many many years before that. It was mostly done as a winter activity or custom, and people would go into frozen lakes and ponds for a swim. 

There are even some reports of people diving into holes in the ice! Nowadays, however, this type of swimming has evolved and there are official clubs where people can join and compete in. The members of these ice diving teams are called walruses.

There are also pools that have been specifically designed for this sport which makes it much safer.

How Do The Russians Do It?

So how do Russians actually do it? Well, there are certain safety procedures that need to be followed first. For example, you should always check the thickness of the ice before going anywhere near it

You also need to make sure that you have the proper gear. This includes a swimming cap, goggles, nose clips, and earplugs. 

As for the actual swimming part, Russian ice swimmers usually do it in pools or holes that have been cut into a frozen body of water.

They will swim laps for a certain amount of time before getting out. The record for the longest ice swim is held by Yekaterina Nekrasova who swam over 270 feet in over a minute. 

Russian ice safety: Check thickness, gear up.

Can Other People Practice Ice Swimming?

Nowadays, this type of swimming has become popular in other countries as well. In fact, there are now ice swimming competitions being held in countries such as the United States, Germany, Sweden, and Finland

So if you’re interested in trying out this freezing sport, know that you’re not alone! Just make sure to take all of the necessary safety precautions first.

Global ice swimming trend: US, Germany, Sweden, Finland host competitions.

Cold Showers

In order to start, practice first by having cold showers each and every day. Acclimate your body to the cold. Professionals do these showers a week before they plan to go in the ice water. It is best to start off slow and gradually increase the temperature and duration.

Don’t Drink Alcohol

While the myth of Russians drinking vodka to keep warm is rampant, one should not do this at all when attempting to do anything in the cold. This is because drinking alcohol lowers a person’s body temperature, leaving them vulnerable to the negative effects of the cold.

With that said though, it isn’t good to go in dehydrated as low body temperatures can cause dehydration.

If you are going ice swimming, best to do it without a drop of alcohol. Consider tea instead.

Eat a Lot!

Before going to the ice, eat as much food as you can. Go for carbohydrates as it is the main fuel for any cardio-like physical activity such as swimming.

Swim Slow

The final tip we have is to start swimming slow. It is a mistake that when people get into icy waters, they take off real quick. This sudden change in body temperature can be too much for the body and might lead to negative effects.

Swimming at a slow pace will help your body adjust better and make the experience more bearable.

Now that we’ve found out what this Russian swimming sport is all about, it’s time to move on to the next question: what are the benefits of this freezing sport?

The Effects of Russian Ice Swimming

Swimming on ice has a range of different effects, both positive and negative. Here are some of the most notable ones.


Improves Circulation

When you swim in cold water, your blood vessels constrict. This forces your heart to work harder to pump blood throughout your body. Over time, this can improve your circulation and cardiovascular health.

Increases Endorphins

Swimming in cold water can also release endorphins, which are hormones that improve mood and provide pain relief. This is why some people enjoy the sensation of freezing cold water and find it addicting.

Boosts Immunity

Another benefit of this type of swimming is that it can boost your immunity. This is because exposure to cold temperatures helps increase the production of white blood cells, which fight off infection.

Weight Loss

Swimming in cold water can also help you lose weight. This is because when your body is exposed to the cold, it has to work harder to maintain its core temperature. As a result, you burn more calories.

In fact, one study found that ice swimming can burn up to 500 calories in just 30 minutes.

Relieves Stress

Lastly, this swimming can also help relieve stress. This is because cold water can trigger a relaxation response in the body, which decreases heart rate and blood pressure.


There are also some dangers associated with swimming in icy waters. Here are some of the most notable ones.

Icy water swimming: Dangers to consider.


One of the most serious dangers of swimming in ice is hypothermia. This is when your body temperature drops below 35°C.

Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, confusion, slurred speech, and drowsiness. If left untreated, it can lead to cardiac arrest and death.


Another danger of swimming in frigid temperatures is frostbite. This is when the skin and tissues freeze due to exposure to cold temperatures.

Symptoms of frostbite include numbness, tingling, and pain. In severe cases, it can lead to tissue damage and amputation.

Heart Attack

Ice swimming can also trigger a heart attack. This is because cold water can cause the blood vessels to constrict, which decreases blood flow to the heart.

This can cause symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and dizziness. If left untreated, it can be fatal.


Lastly, this type of swimming can also lead to drowning. This is because cold water can cause muscle stiffness, which makes it difficult to swim. With no people around to help, or those that are not accustomed to swimming in icy waters, it is possible that help won’t come.

An Unexpected Sport With Unexpected Benefits

Russian ice swimming is an unexpected sport that brings about many benefits. It is unsurprising then that more people are dipping their toes into the icy waters.

With that said though, the one thing that people should always keep in mind is the accompanying dangers that the extreme cold can bring about.

If you or a loved one wants to try this kind of swimming, add first aid to your list of preparations. This allows you to respond quickly when the need arises.

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