This is one that might seem a bit nutty to some people, but bear with me! Cold-water training is a mental game, just as much as it is a physiological game. It’s psychological. And, as you’ll come to learn, the benefits are numerous!
So even if the idea turns you off completely, make it your intention in this step just to give it a try. There’s really nothing to lose and everything to gain.
I took my first ice-cold showers completely by accident! Six months to a year before I was married, so around 12 years ago now, I was sharing a house with some friends and we lost power. It was the middle of winter in Massachusetts, below zero, and I was forced to take cold showers because we had no hot water. It was so cold, it was painful – it was beyond cold! I don’t even know how the water was coming out of the faucet. And it was a few days before things were fixed and we had power again.
Now, my housemates started showering at the health club, but I continued to shower at home before I went to bed. And I slept like a baby. I felt ten times better. I’d just feel great afterwards and knew there must be something to it. I began recommending it to clients, but science needed to catch up before people believed me enough to get over their unwillingness to try it!
It was around two years ago that I discovered Wim Hof and was able to research the science behind the physical and mental benefits of cold-water immersion, and I haven’t looked back.
Before we go into those benefits, I want you to meet the famous example of the extremes that people can go to when they really put their mind to it.
I already mentioned the Dutch daredevil Wim Hof, aka “The Iceman,” in the step on breathing. The things this man has done are truly incredible, from breaking world records for the longest ice bath to running marathons around the polar circle and attempting to climb Everest wearing nothing but shorts! He has the ability to control his inner thermostat, and attributes his personal performance to the method he has honed around practicing breathing exercises, training his mindset and concentration, and gradual exposure to the cold. The combination of these elements allows him to consciously influence his autonomic nervous system.
So startling are his achievements that Wim Hof has given himself over to scientific study, allowing his limits and physiological performance to be tested in order to give us more of an idea of what kind of control it’s really possible to have over our body’s systems. He also trains people in his methods, with results showing that he’s not an exception to the rules that can’t be emulated – other people are able to adapt under his tutelage and perform similar feats.
We’ve talked about how vital our mindset is and the importance of high-performance breathing for improving our health and wellness, but what does cold-water training have to do with anything?
Many athletes will tell you how an ice bath after an intense period of training enhances your body’s recovery process. But it’s not just athletes who can benefit.
World-renowned life coach Tony Robbins practices cold water immersion every morning. As his researchers describe in an article on its benefits, he adheres to the view that it “activates the body’s natural healing powers.” He upholds that it promotes a sense of health and
wellbeing, relieving the symptoms of many medical conditions. “And when practiced on a regular basis, cold water immersion can even provide long-lasting changes to your body’s immune, lymphatic, circulatory and digestive systems that enhance the overall quality of your life.
So what really are the benefits?
First, cold water immersion improves your lymphatic system, which is the system responsible for cleansing your body’s cells of waste and bacteria. Unlike the circulatory system, which uses the heart as a pump, it relies on muscle contraction to function. Exposure to the cold makes your lymph vessels contract, allowing them to carry away waste fluids and engaging the immune system so it fights unwanted invaders. Meanwhile, the cold stimulates your blood flow, supporting your heart and metabolism. Simultaneously, it reduces swelling and inflammation in your muscles in a natural way – much better than taking pills for the purpose when you’re in pain. This is why high-performance athletes use it after they’ve put strain on their bodies during training or in competition.
While boosting the metabolism and increasing calorie consumption, exposure to the cold also affects the type of fat our bodies produce – stimulating the production of the healthier brown fat over the white fat we produce when we overeat.
Cold-water exposure has even been advocated as a treatment for sufferers of depression due to the stimulating effect it has on the production of mood and energy-boosting neurotransmitters in the brain.
In summary, practicing cold-water immersion lifts the performance of your body and brain. I hope I’ve convinced you to give it a go!
Cold Water Training
When I first started cold-water training, it was tough. At the start, I did really struggle! In the beginning, my mind would tell me not to do it, and before I even got in the cold water, I would be shivering. I kept telling my mind to “shut up” and I would get in. Now, I can’t stand purely hot showers. I actually enjoy the blasts of cold. I feel so much better afterwards. I’m more relaxed and my sleep is amazing.
Imagine if I had listened to my logical brain telling me not to do it – I would be in the same place as I was eighteen months ago. Sometimes, you just have to get uncomfortable to move forward in life. I’m going to start you off with the simplest approach when it comes to cold-water training – cold showers.
If you’ve never had a cold shower before, the secret is to build yourself up to it gradually:
- Have your usual warm shower and wait until the very end.
- Take a deep breath and step away from the water flow.
- Turn the hot flow off and let the water run completely cold.
- Start exposing yourself to the shower from the bottom of your body upwards: Step into the cold water feet first, bringing in your legs, then your lower body, then your upper body so, eventually, the water runs over your shoulders and down your front and back.
- Don’t expose your head to the cold water the first time. Stay under the cold water for just fifteen to thirty seconds, then end your shower.
It’s completely natural to gasp or shiver when you first embark on this course of training. As I mentioned at the beginning, when I first started I’d shiver before I even got under the water!
Gradually, your body will adapt and become stronger. You’ll be able to withstand the cold and step up the exercise as you progress, staying under the cold water for longer and exposing your head to the shower. Eventually, you may wish to skip the warm component of the shower altogether.
As part of my daily routine, I take a shower in the evening where I cycle between hot and cold. This is what I’ve found most effective for me when it comes to improving the state of my body and mind and enabling me to perform at my peak.
So have a go and see what works for you – you should immediately recognize the difference in how you feel after a cold shower as opposed to enjoying a purely warm one, which can leave you feeling sluggish.