From cryotherapy to ice baths, cold plunges to cold showers, it seems like deliberate cold exposure is THE new miracle tool for athletes. But is forcing yourself to withstand cold temperatures really worth the discipline?
History tells us that the benefits of deliberate cold exposure date as far back as 2500 BC as Edwin Smith Papyrus noted the use of cold exposure for therapeutic purposes. And the ancient Greeks utilized cold water as a means of relaxation and even socialization.
Okay, okay, but history also believed blood-letting was a good idea, does deliberate cold exposure stand the test of time?
In short, yes!
Deliberate cold exposure increases your metabolic rate and spikes plasma concentrations which in turn affects the immune system. And if a boosted metabolism and immune system aren’t enough to convince you, deliberate cold exposure decreases cortisol levels resulting in less stress and anxiety while increases in norepinephrine aides in pain relief.
Studies have shown that regular cold exposure positively impacts mental status and physical composition. This is likely because of the increased metabolic rate as well as an increase in Brown Adipose Tissue or BAT activity.
It’s a type of body fat that regulates your body temperature in cold conditions. It activates right before you start to shiver! Its primary purpose is to produce heat to help maintain body temperature and it achieves that by burning calories.
But wait, there’s more!
Athletes who utilize deliberate cold exposure after intense exercise experience less muscle soreness. On top of that, deliberate cold exposure aids in muscle recovery, making your performance during your next workout even better.
However, make sure you limit the length of time you subject yourself to these cold temps! Too long in the cold and the benefits of deliberate cold exposure for muscle recovery begin to reverse by limiting muscle hypertrophy.
So what are the ways you can implement this optimally into your routine?
Before we get into the many options of deliberate cold exposure remember, like your choice of gym location, whatever you’ll be able to do consistently is going to have the greatest impact.
You can start to enjoy the benefits of cold exposure from temperatures lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
As for the length of time, you need to ease into this practice. Submerging yourself in cold water can pose a risk of “cold shock” which is an increase in heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. This shock can put you at risk of drowning (if you gasp underwater) or even cardiac arrest. This risk is highest for the first 30 seconds, which is why you should never jump into a cold plunge or submerge your head right off the bat. Instead, ease yourself into the water.
To reap the benefits of deliberate cold exposure you’ll need to remain in the cold water for at least one minute, this will decrease your skin temperature and you’ll start to feel the benefits of that norepinephrine release.
If you choose to stay in the water longer (3min-15min) you’ll start to reach the point where superficial muscle tissue temperatures will decrease. This is the point where you start to increase your metabolic rate and reap the muscle recovery benefits.
Do not remain in the cold longer than 20 minutes! Once you reach the 30-minute mark your deep muscle tissue begins to cool and your body begins to enter a hypothermic state–not good.
No matter how long you stay in the cold, studies have shown that people who use intentional breathing techniques while engaging in deliberate cold exposure yield the largest positive results.
But What If I Don’t Have a Cold Plunge at my Gym?
There are a lot of ways to incorporate deliberate cold exposure into your life.
The simplest way is to practice a hot-to-cold shower. This won’t yield the muscle recovery results, but it will yield some of the mental health benefits that those ancient Greeks loved!
Another option is to simply fill your bathtub will cool water- remember, water only needs to be 55 degrees or lower to be beneficial. If you practice this continually and want to up the intensity, add ice to your bathtub! (Similar to how you might give your feet an ice bath after a long day in LaDucas!)
The next two options do require you to leave your home.
The first is to visit a cryotherapy facility. In these facilities, you enter into a pod that exposes your body to cold air which yields similar benefits to water submersion. However, this can be a pricier option with sessions costing up to $32.
If you are lucky enough to live in a summery place, finding an outdoor pool you can use in the off-season can even work! Here’s a video of Amber shivering her way through one of her first deliberate cold exposure practices in a pool like this!
The point is, that any integration of deliberate cold exposure into your life will be beneficial to your mental and physical health. So what do you think? Will you brave the cold?