The Benefits of Cold Exposure

Abominible Snow AlEvery time I take a shower, I go through a little battle inside my head.

Allow me to explain…

Several months back, I read Wim Hof’s The Way of The Iceman, and it inspired me to experiment with cold exposure training.

In the book, Hof suggests ending every shower by turning the dial all the way to the cold side, then staying under the frigid water for as long as possible.

The first time I tried it, I barely lasted 30 seconds and found the whole thing to be quite unpleasant.

When it was over, however, I felt a powerful surge of energy which encouraged me to do it again the next day. After doing this daily for a few weeks, I’d conditioned myself to withstand several minutes under the cold water.

Though I’m a bit skeptical of some of the bold claims certain proponents of cold exposure training have made, there are three clear benefits I’ve experienced from it, and that’s enough to keep me going:

1 – Increased Energy
Though I’m not typically lacking in vitality, I do feel especially energized right after a cold shower. When the water hits my skin, it really wakes me up and gives my nervous system a jolt.

The science also shows that when the body is exposed to cold, it causes the capillaries to contract and blood is rushed away from the extremities in order to keep the internal organs warm. In the moments following cold exposure, the capillaries expand and fresh blood is returned to those areas. That’s probably why I’ve had some really good workouts right after a cold shower.

2 – Improved Recovery
When you’re fired up, a cold shower is a great way to cool down. Though it may seem like a contradiction to my last point, cold showers are perfect after a workout, especially if you’ve built up a lot of body heat.

Cold exposure following an intense training session also seems to help relieve muscular soreness, which makes sense given the anti-inflammatory power of the cold. There’s a reason it’s common practice to put ice on a fresh wound or injury. The healing power of the cold is undeniable.

3 – The Ultimate Meditation
Frozen YogaThe cold has an amazing way of bringing you into the present moment. It’s pretty much impossible to daydream or think about anything other than the physical sensations you are experiencing while you are in the midst of cold exposure. All you can do is stand there, breathe and accept it.

Focusing on the breath is a cornerstone of virtually all forms of meditation training, as well as a major part of the Wim Hof Method. If you focus your mind deep inside your belly and take big, powerful breaths, it’s easier to keep from succumbing to the cold.

It can also be helpful to move around. If I’m doing outdoor cold exposure, this could mean hitting a few yoga poses and/or doing some light stretching. If I’m taking a cold shower, I might start by letting the water hit my back and legs for the first few seconds, then turn to the side for a bit and let it run over my shoulder, finally letting it hit my chest, armpits and face after I’ve had a little time to adapt to the sensation.

Cold War
Even after following Wim’s teachings for the last several months and experiencing the benefits firsthand, it’s still sometimes a struggle for me to turn the shower knob to the cold side. Occasionally there are days when I’m eager to feel the cold against my skin, but much of the time there’s a voice inside my head trying to talk me out of turning that dial.

And that’s a big part of why I keep doing it.

Forcing myself to override the part of my brain that desires comfort has made me mentally stronger.

Just like my calisthenics training, my experience with cold training has helped reinforce for me how to best approach potentially daunting tasks without getting overwhelmed. The key is to focus on breaking the bigger task down into smaller chunks.

Cold ExposureOn the days when I really don’t want to feel the cold, I tell myself I’m just going to do 30 seconds. Once I get to that point, it’s usually not hard to convince myself to endure another 30 seconds. After a minute, I try to convince myself to say in for another minute. Sometimes it even starts to feel good!

There are days when I time myself on my phone and make sure I do a full 5 minutes. Other days I don’t bother with the timer and just stay in for as long as I can handle.

In addition to cold showers, I’ve also experimented with outdoor cold exposure, ice baths and cold rooms (like the one in the photo to the left), which can all get very intense.

Of course, I do take a day off once or twice a week when I am feeling particularly dispassionate about experiencing the cold.

Just like strength training, it’s good to give your body a break from all that stimulation occasionally. Typically when I skip a day, I’m more eager to go for it the next time.

Cold, Hard Truth
Studies continue to surface about the benefits of cold showers, ice baths and other forms of cold exposure therapy, yet many people are still hesitant to give it a shot. We live in a culture that encourages comfort above all else, but being comfortable all the time does not allow us to grow.

I’m sure you have a friend or two who thinks that you’re crazy for doing calisthenics. Keep that in mind if you think I’m crazy after you watch the video below:

If you’d like more info about cold training, pick up a copy of Wim Hof’s The Way of The Iceman.