Cold Exposure / Ice Bathing Instructions
What is cold exposure / ice bathing
Cold exposure in this text refers only to showering or bathing below 15°C water temperature and not exposure to cold air. While ice bathing is a special part of cold exposure, the cold exposure practice can take various forms such as cold showers and bathing.
Health benefits of cold exposure
Regular cold exposure (< 15°C) has a lot of benefits to the mind and the body. Following, I list four of the positive effects (just to name a few):
• It strengthens the cardiovascular systems.
• It reduces inflammation, swelling and sore muscles (therefore it can speed up recovery after physical training).
• It is linked to improved sleep quality, more focus, and an improved immune response.
• It activates the brown fat tissue.
Furthermore, cold water tightens your cuticles and pores, which will prevent them from getting clogged. On the contrary, hot water dries out the skin. That is why many people report that cold water has a positive impact on their skin and hair.
How to start – cold showers
If you are new to the topic of cold exposure, start with cold showers. This may sound tough, but you can start out very relaxed. In my opinion, it is easiest to start with an alternating warm-cold-warm-cold-warm-cold shower. To do this, you start with a warm shower, which can be as long as you like. Then turn the temperature control to cold and try to stay under the shower for 20 - 30 seconds. After that, you can have a warm shower again for another 30 seconds. Now turn the temperature down to cold one more time and stay under the shower for another 20 - 30 seconds. Repeat this one more time and finish with the cold shower. It is important to end with the cold shower.
Another possibility would be to start directly with the cold shower. To get the body used to the cold, you can start by showering first over the feet, then over the legs, stomach, neck and back and finally over the face. Getting directly under the cold shower is sometimes easier because the body does not know the warm water yet. Be prepared to get a small initial shock, shiver a little and gasp for air when the cold water runs over you for the first time. Try to relax and breathe especially calmly. Help yourself by telling you that everything is okay or thinking about something nice, a good memory for example.
Over the following days and weeks, you can try to increase the “cold shower phases” and decrease the “warm shower phases” until you can shower without the warm water completely. Set a timer and just try to stand under the cold shower for a minute without taking a hot shower before or after. Increase the time until you can stand under the shower for 5 minutes straight. Don't worry, you won’t die. You will feel great after your cold shower, this is for sure! The cold shower works like regular weightlifting, you will get stronger over time. Having regularly small stress responses is good for your body, but please start slowly!
How to continue – cold water bathing/ ice bathing
Important note: There are several contraindications for ice bathing which I will list below. Furthermore, your cardiovascular system should be in good condition. If you are unsure, please check with your general practitioner.
Problems with the heart (e.g. angina pectoris, panic attacks).
High blood pressure (>160 mmHg).
Cold urticaria & cryoglobulinemia.
Raynaud’s syndrome type 2 (with pre-existing blood vessel disease).
After you have mastered this first challenge and have become fond of the cold, you are ready for the next progression: The ice bath or swimming in the sea or a lake in winter. If you are lucky enough to live near a lake or a larger body of water, you can start taking a bath outside in end of summer/early autumn. Alternatively, you can use a baththub if you have one at home. But in the following I will refer to bathing in the water in the nature, because I have had very good experiences with it.
The Wim Hof Instructor Josephine Worseck (I have visited an ice bathing workshop guided by her) invented a rule of thumb for ice bathing newcomers: The 2-2-2-2 rule.
With temperatures around 2°C take a maximum of 2 minutes in the ice bath, always go with the two of you, and not more than twice a week (Please keep this in mind while continuing reading).
In Germany, the time between August and September is a good starting point for bathing. The temperatures drop a little bit, but the water is still relatively warm from the summer. Get into the water and try to stay in one place. Shallow water is recommended, deep water can be dangerous especially at lower temperatures. I prefer to sit upright on my knees in the shallow water and either put my hands flat on my thighs or cross my arms over my chest. Because the extremities cool down the fastest, the latter variant with the arms over the chest is recommended in lower temperatures especially. The hands do not come into contact with the water and therefore stay warm. Your companion will set a timer as soon as you are calm in the water. Please start slow with 1-2 minutes and increase the time over the next few weeks when you feel comfortable. Pack warm and especially comfortable clothes, which you can slip into very quickly after the bath. Hot tea and tasty cookies are also recommended 😊. Over the coming weeks and months, you can go bathing in the lake or sea once or twice a week. Even though it is getting colder and colder outside, and the water temperature is decreasing, you are giving your body and mind the chance to get used to the greater challenge. One could speak here as in physical training of a progressive overload.
When you go into the water, it is not bad at first. But from the height of the genital area and the belly you automatically start to gasp for air and breathe hectically. Relax as much as you can and try to breathe slowly and evenly. Then go under water with the whole upper body up to the shoulders. If the outside temperature is not too low yet, you can also dive your head under water at the beginning or at the end. In winter, however, this is no longer recommended, and you should wear a cap. As the feet also cool down very quickly, neoprene socks/shoes are recommended at temperatures below 5°C.
14 February 2021
"Sunset, Valentine's Day, sheets of floating ice, good mood, people cheering at us, being with a wonderful friend - best ice bathing session I've ever had."
What happens in the water - the 4 zones of cold exposure bathing
For me, and I believe for a lot of other people as well, the cold water bathing can be divided into 3 to 4 overlapping time zones.
Zone 1 – The Panicking Zone
Initial shock, grasping for air, screaming voices in your mind, this is the zone where most people are afraid of. Duration: The first one to approx. 30 seconds; approaches zero for more experienced people.
Zone 2 – Breathing/Overcoming the Cold Zone
Slowly concentrating on your breath, calming your mind, strengthen a positive attitude towards the cold, this is where you are getting used to the cold. Entry time: after zone 1 and takes up 15-90s, sometimes more, depends heavily on the environment and your emotional and physical wellbeing that day.
Zone 3 – Calmness Zone
Breathing focus slowly diminishes, you are entering a state of just being there, the cold is not unpleasant anymore. Entry time: After zone 2 and takes up 30/45s – infinite; entering this zone always results in having a positive experience towards the cold water exposure.
Zone 4 – Internal Peace Zone
No focus on your breathing, feeling empty, your mind is like a clear blue sky in the summer. Entry time: after zone 3 and you only manage to reach this zone sometimes; I’ve entered this zone only a handful of times, this zone is beyond meditation
Now as you are aware that certain mental/body states exist, really try to get to Zone 3. Going into the water and staying there for the first minute is hard, but believe me, it gets better over time. You can do it! :)
After your timer beeps, leave the water and although you might feel unstoppable, warm and happy, dry off quickly and put on warm clothes. Now, you will blush all over because the outer layers of your skin will be supplied with blood again. After you have put on your clothes, you may feel cold for a short time, this is called the after drop. Then go into the warm and/or move your body to get back to your normal body temperature. The cold is a merciless teacher, but it is definitely worth it. The feelings you feel in the water and after bathing trump pretty much everything. Believe me, this is unique. You will also notice that you have become more resistant to the cold and in the future you don’t mind if the warm water in your shower doesn't work.
Important note: Please be mindful that you are doing these exercises on your own risk. Especially when bathing in open waters you should not overdo it and only slowly approach your limits. Be aware that cold bathing (especially in the beginning) is a lot of stress for your body, so also take care of it afterwards.
Why the hell are people doing this??
While most people associate ice bathing with positive health effects (see health benefits from above), there is so much more. From my experience, a couple of ice bath sessions far surpassed my best meditation experiences. Cold exposure grounds me, removes the stress I had on that day, and is a great mood booster. I am pretty sure that my time in Covid19 lockdown would have been worse if I hadn't gone swimming with my mate every Sunday. Last but not least, ice bathing can be a social event. No matter if you prefer bathing just with a friend or in a bigger group, social connections to other people is a big part of what defines us as humans.
If you have any questions or anything else, do not hesitate to get in touch with me via Instagram or through the Contact section.
Thanks for reading!
17 February 2021
"Hamburg on a cloudy and rainy Wednesday. Interview and photo shooting for the local newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt."
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