Updated: May 31
The psychological benefits only kick in when your anxiety does.
Most people come to deliberate cold exposure for the metabolic benefits.
But that wasn't me.
I started my cold exposure practice with cold showers, because Mike Cernovich recommended them in his popular self-improvement book Gorilla Mindset.
I hated every single second. I used to curse Mike Cernovich and clench my teeth and suffer through every cold shower as if self torture was somehow the secret to my self-improvement.
It wasn't until I read about Wim Hof breathing techniques that I realized:
The real secret to cold water immersion is to relax.
Once I learned to slow my breath and calm my fight-or-flight response, I began to understand that the real benefit in the cold showers was not in the voluntary suffering, but in training my body to adapt to that suffering.
Now, I'm often asked, "How cold should I set the temperature of my ice bath?" and I usually answer, "Cold enough to scare you."
The people who watched me drop my weight from 250lbs to 195lbs are usually curious about whether ice baths can help them lose weight, too. The fact is they don't need an ice bath for that. Any cold exposure that causes them to shiver is activating thermogenesis, stimulating their metabolism, stabilizing their thyroid, producing ketones, and clearing glucose from their bloodstream.
That means the ideal ice bath temperature is going to be different for every person, depending upon their metabolism, their acclimation to the cold, and how much brown fat they've built up.
And none of that matters when I'm staring into the icy waters of my 34F Forge, because at that temperature, I still feel anxiety.
My own fears seem to be different than those that other people have for me. Sometimes, people concerned for my safety ask “Aren’t you afraid your heart will stop?”
I am not.
These people may be referring to a condition called “cold water shock” in which it has been reported that people with heart disease will go into cardiac arrest because of the extra stress placed on the heart by vasoconstriction (in which non-skeletal muscles squeeze blood vessels to prevent the flow of blood to extremities, thereby conserving heat and protecting internal organs).
My heart is healthy. I’m fortunate to have a blood pressure at the bottom of the “normal” range and a resting pulse of under 60 beats per minute, both of which are indicators of a strong cardiovascular system.
What’s more dangerous about an involuntary cold water immersion (such as falling thru ice on a frozen lake) is the panic, which can sometimes lead to drowning.
Entering freezing cold water creates an involuntary gasp reflex.
In response to the shock of the cold, we typically suck in our breath, hold it for a second, and tense all of our muscles.
When I get into the ice bath (always feet first), I still get all the automatic panic responses that my body is programmed with. My heart races, my blood pressure spikes, and a series of physical responses are triggered by my autonomic nervous system (specifical