In partnership with Nike

Brave the Cold: Tips to Keeping Up Swimming in Winter with Julia Lebosse

BY Amelia Abraham

Julia Lebosse, ex-swimmer and founder of Sneakers by Women


When Julia Lebosse first stepped into a swimming pool for lessons at 7 years old, she took to it like a duck to water. By 9 years old, she and her twin sister had started training for competitive swimming, and she immersed herself in competitions for the next decade – sometimes getting up at 5am to swim before school. Her skills were front crawl, breaststroke and backstroke, and short distance speed swimming where you “go full out and use all your energy”. She once achieved a sub-minute time in the 100M Freestyle – a pretty amazing time by any standards.

A young Julia Lebosse in the pool lane swimming

At 17, Julia gave up competitive swimming, having achieved many of her goals (like competing in nationals) and because she wanted to focus on other things. She now runs Sneakers by Women, a digital space dedicated to telling untold stories about women in the sneaker, design, and fashion industries. However, she still teaches swimming in Basingstoke, where she grew up – passing on her form and technique to kids – and still frequents the pools and leisure centres where she learned to swim like a pro.

Other than being a useful life skill, looking back now, Julia says swimming gave her two main things: community and dedication. “It was such a close family at training because you see the best and worst parts of each other, you're there when your friends get a PB but also when everyone is so tired at 5 in the morning.” On top of that, it taught her the value of discipline and hard work at a young age, and to keep at it, even when things aren’t going right. “Having to turn up on time also definitely taught me to have good time management,” she laughs. “I use those skills today.”

If these aren’t reasons enough to get down the pool, a regular swimming habit is rewarding and relaxing, adds Julia. “If you dedicate yourself – not necessarily for hours and hours, but even once a week – you’ll see an improvement and get in a rhythm of getting in the water and forgetting your problems. It doesn't even matter if you're a great swimmer – you use your whole body and it’s all-encompassing, so it really helps you get out of your head.”

In other words, you get out what you put in. So here are Julia’s tips for keeping up your swimming routine, even in the cold winter months:

Julia Lebosse in the pool


Choose a pool you’re likely to go back to

“Swimming on your back for a long time, you want a nice ceiling to look at,” says Julia, who is a fan of good pool architecture. Her favourite is the London Aquatics Centre in Stratford, designed by Zaha Hadid. “I’ve been to some pretty disgusting pools in my time,” she jokes, “so I appreciate cleaner, more modern pools.”

Scope out pools online before you venture out the house, she says. If you’re a beginner, look for a shallower pool – so you can touch the ground. If you’re more experienced, you might want to find a bigger 50M pool to challenge yourself. And remember to check the online times for slower and faster sessions.


A bit of healthy competition can’t hurt

Coming up through competitive swimming with her twin sister, Julia had someone to motivate her to get to the pool – and someone to keep up with. “Having someone my age to go on that journey was helpful and I don’t think I would have gone as far without her there,” she says. “I watched her reach the nationals before me and I was like, ‘damn, I want to that’ – but that pushed me.”

While swimming with someone else doesn’t have to be a competition, making plans to swim with a friend or family member can keep you accountable to going and even push you to do that extra couple of lengths when you’re running out of steam.


Get into the gear

As a lifelong sneaker lover, it’s probably not surprising that Julia was into the apparel around swimming – from a good pair of goggles to a fresh pair of trainers poolside, “even if they weren’t going in the water with me”. Sometimes, if her club got a new tracksuit she wasn’t into, she’d “boycott it”. As a competitive swimmer, she wore a bright pink skin – which is what they call the super tight racing costumes that go down to the knee. The pink meant you could clearly see her racing through the water.

“It can get expensive buying all the gear for competitive swimming, from the skin to fins and kickboards,” Julia admits. But if you can afford it, getting into the basic apparel around swimming can be a nice way to motivate yourself to visit the pool. Partly by taking pride in your swimwear, partly by ensuring you get good use out of it.


Stay warm

Some people love cold water swimming, others shudder at the idea. If you’re in the latter group, many indoor pools are gently heated, explains Julia, and you should warm up once you’re moving in the water. You can even look for one where there’s a jacuzzi. As a tip, lidos are often colder, as are bigger more competitive pools. Another tip: remember to either dry your hair after swimming or bring a hat to stay warm.

Young Julia Lebosse in the pool


Make a day of it

“After a swim, usually I want to eat, and a post-swim burger is a good motivator,” she says. Choosing a pool where you can grab food after, or a leisure centre with other activities. Especially in winter, when there is less to do outside. “I think making a day of it can be a good way to get yourself to the pool,” Julia concludes. “Many times after a competition we would get McDonalds to celebrate a PB or medal. Doing something after swimming makes it more social, and can act like a reward.”