Cold showers are nothing new. Despite the Reddit self-improvement circle jerk which would have you believing cold showers, no fap and being constantly ‘on purpose’ are the secrets to going from fat World Of Warcraft addict, to self made millionaire with a mansion full of bitches to make Hugh Hefner jealous………
This movement has glamourised cold showers even more so than the mainstream research claiming cold showers are testosterone boosters. Then when Wim Hof became popular as the modern day iceman himself, the cold shower and cold water movement really exploded.
I must say I didn’t actually read or consume any of Wim’s work or content until 2021, but I did practice cold showers as far back as 2013 – and like every cold shower noob, I started only able to tolerate 15-30 seconds at the end of an already hot shower.
Gradually that 30 seconds became minutes and eventually a full cold shower and from there it grew into an ENTIRE year of nothing but cold showers. This was one of my classic experiments – ones the masses question and don’t get but ones I just love doing and documenting.
In hindsight it was another thing I technically took too far. But fuck it, that’s what life’s about and some of us just want to take things further than average. Definitely a contender for the epitaph?
As the years passed, I always used cold water ‘therapy’ in the form of finishing a shower cold. There’s no better natural stimulant and no better method to force better breathing & bloodflow, with little cost, unlike the world of external stimulants.
Cold showers became normal really and anytime someone would get on the cold exposure bandwagon, I would scoff and wonder why they were even mentioning it. ‘Cold showers are so 2013!’ was a saying I coined.
I even jokingly came up with a ‘cold shower hardcore scale’. It’s as follows:
Level 1. ‘Ultra noob’ – shivers in spring when then window or door opens and they’re not in at least 3 layers. The idea of a cold shower is worse than genital mutilation at this point.
Level 2. ‘Noob’ – Could just about tolerate 30 seconds of lukewarm shower water at the end of a hot shower, in summer. ONLY in summer though.
Level 3. ‘Rookie’ – Can get the shower lever on fully cold but hyperventilation is still a massive issue. Anyone they live with will wonder who’s in the shower with them. The 60 second cold water mark is a massive milestone.
Level 4. ‘Aware of Wim Hof’s existence aka BEGINNER’ – they now actually like cold exposure and have done multiple minutes cold at the end of a warm shower. They may even have full cold showers in the hotter months.
Level 5. ‘The one who goes on about the benefits to everyone they meet aka INTERMEDIATE’ – complains when the heating is too high in winter, uses cold showers as a wakeup tool irrespective of the time of year, fantasises about open water/cold water swimming and likes the sound of ice baths.
Level 6. ‘Wannabee iceman/woman’ – Member of a WINTER open water swimming club and doesn’t miss a session, even in sub 10 degree temperatures. Looking forward to their next Wim Hof retreat.
Level 7. ‘WIM HOF – THE ICEMAN HIMSELF’ – Hours in the ice? Easy. Raise your temperature from supposedly deadly low numbers? I’ve got this. Feel more at home in the cold than the warm? That’s you. Crave the cold like the touch of a lover? Oh yeah, that’s you too. You are the cold. Cold is life. Fuck heat.
Which one did you identify with? Intermediate definitely describes me over recent years and particularly so far in 2021.
My interest in cold showers was resparked this year courtesy of my friend lending me Wim Hof’s book, The Wim Hof Method – a simple book on Wim’s life, philosophies and a basic outline of his practice and approach to life. All in all a simple read with easy takeaways and no bullshit marketing. A definite win win.
It was this book that made me realise how easy finishing showers cold for 3 minutes had become to me. Until then I hadn’t thought about it. I was content. I thought it was enough but Wim’s book got me wondering if I could push it a bit more? Could I get more of those long faded mental toughness benefits of doing something you really don’t want to do?
And if so, how?
I’d done a few of these before in my time. One particular moment which stands out was before my trip to Portugal in 2019 when I had badly pulled my back, and was looking for miraculous recovery ideas.
And there were times in summer where it was really hot and cold showers just weren’t doing it. Even then though, they were NEXT LEVEL. These took some doing. Totally submerged meant your body gets much colder and the time seems to pass at 0.25 real speed.
In February 2021 though, after finishing Wim’s book, I wanted to try something. I wanted to take a 3 minute ice bath after my normal hot shower every day for 30 days.
The goal was to be submerged from the neck down for at least 3 minutes. I couldn’t tell you exactly what the water temperature was each and every time, but it was always full cold tap and 3-5 big handfuls of ice left to sit before I forced myself in.
It’s crazy. I only really remember the first day being particularly difficult. My breathing was fast and heavy. I had a hard time getting all my body in and many expletives were uttered.
Although by day 3 onwards I began to enjoy the challenge and could really feel the adaptation to this stressor in such a short time frame. It will sound extreme but this was one of the few times I was forced to feel my body and control my breath. I could feel my body working to warm itself up and my mind quietening.
I had a bad bicep strain during the time I started this experiment and I guess subconsciously I wanted to see if the cold would aid the healing, as well as push my comfort zone. Now I know, I know, the research on cold water for recovery is specific and not exactly great – and I’m aware of the studies indicating less muscle growth and strength gains when taking ice baths after exercise!
But as a quick disclaimer: I wasn’t taking these right after exercise and I wasn’t staying in for the recommended 10-20 minutes, nor was I ensuring the water temperature was the ‘ideal’ figure for recovery.
I did find my bicep issue always felt better after the ice bath and my energy was higher, sleep was better and as you’d expect, my cold tolerance went right up; T-shirts in less than 10 Celsius? Easy.
I also found my ‘just do it’ mentality had been reset too. I didn’t give myself a second to let the monkey mind talk me out of getting in the cold water, and there were days the monkey in my head shouted instead of whispered, but we just got in like we always did.
This crossed to other areas for sure as procrastination went down quite markedly. If I had to clean, I cleaned. If I had to work, I worked. And if I had an idea, I acted. I definitely think this is related.
Wim talks in his book about being fully present while in the ice and if you’re unaccustomed to cold water exposure, this will sound like voodoo hippie talk but as you adapt to the cold day by day, you find yourself almost feeling at home in the cold. But like anything, you can have too much of a good thing so I always capped mine to 3/4 minutes.
A Cold shower vs An Ice bath?
On Sunday the 21st of March I had my first cold shower in a month. It was the evening and I had gotten a little tired and rather than shot some espresso at 9pm, I knew old faithful would rescue me without the adrenal stress; the cold shower. I figured it was time to try one after nothing but ice baths for a month!
Previously, despite my experience with cold showers, just jumping in on full cold would prompt some heavy breathing and a minor adjustment phase……..
This time though, there was nothing. And I mean nothing; no change in the breath and the water didn’t even feel particularly cold. So we’ve further reinstated what we already know so well: the human body adapts to anything when forced to/given enough time.
Recommendations & my future with ice baths…..
Ice baths aren’t essential and certainly aren’t applicable to everyone. I had a strong background in cold showers long before I did this experiment and I honestly think had I not, I would have hated it much much more!
I’ve deliberately refrained from making this article sciencey or full of overhyped benefits. I’ve tried to talk predominantly from my own experiences as much as possible, but I do believe the benefits of cold exposure are real, it’s just the extent to which that varies and again, is dependent on consistency and individual tolerance. Like Wim himself says, start small and build up. There’s no need to force anything.
As the weather (hopefully) gets warmer, there’s no better time to get started with some cold water exposure. I started my ‘journey’ in spring time 2013 and have kept my fondness for the cold going all the way up until now.
Another factor to consider with regards to ice baths is the impracticality compared to the cold shower and the water usage. It’s time consuming filling a bath up every day and this uses far more water than the shower, although it is more powerful and more intense, without a doubt. I guess the real winning option is to find an outdoor lake or beach to use? This can even be a social activity for many and a nice chance to ‘connect’ with nature more than you could in your little bath inside your bland bathroom.
Something else I found was my skin took a fair hammering from being dried out by the cold constantly. My hands were pretty dry and starting to crack a little. This was eased and worked around by simply keeping my hands out the water for a few of the ice bath days, though. So nothing too problematic!
I don’t see myself stopping daily cold exposure anytime soon and as the weather and seasons improve I think the only natural progression is to plunge into some rivers, lakes and seas. Funnily enough I live a 3 minute walk from the sea so what excuse do I have?!
(Side note: If you’d like a video version of this review, check out my YouTube video on them topic…….any support over there would mean the world, thank you!)
Have you read Wim Hof’s book or practiced any of his methods? The breathing? The cold exposure? Or are you looking to get into this? Maybe you still hate the cold but you’re intrigued as to the benefits of this ‘suffering’?
Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to chat more about this!
***(FEBRUARY 2022 UPDATE – Brand new post covering what I went on to do following this challenge for anyone interested: Ice Baths Vs Open Water Swimming (IN WINTER))
YouTube Video Version too:
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