If you have been surfing the channels lately on recovery strategies there is no doubt you have come across cold therapy. Whether jumping into a cold lake, taking cold showers, or plunging into an Ice Barrel each will offer enormous benefits to enhance your recovery, and ultimately your performance.
What Is Cold Therapy?
Cold therapy has been practiced in ancient civilizations, although became less acknowledged with modern medicine. That all changed when Wim Hof “The IceMan” gained popularity for incredible feats that broke numerous world records. He began to speak that cold therapy was the key to untapping our true human potential. Cold therapy exposure enhances our resiliency and adaptability to various scenarios, environments, and challenges we face day in and day out. How? By developing the will to go through discomfort, and building the skillset to shift our state. The ability to consciously shift our state has tremendous impact on our cognitive, biological, and physical health.
What Are The Benefits Of Cold Therapy?
The number one benefit of cold therapy is improving blood circulation. When we expose our bodies to the cold, the smooth muscles within our vascular walls begin to contract and relax the walls. Just like performing traditional exercise, we are conditioning our vascular system with cold therapy. Overall blood circulation is also enhanced by moving the blood through the body to protect your vital organs called peripheral vasodilation. Once the exposure is done, the body will then recirculate the blood to the extremities.
Cold therapy also reduces inflammation by restricting blood to the affected area when exposed. The result is less aches and pains through the day. Athletes, and non-athletes alike can all benefit from this anti-drug approach to reducing inflammation.
The willingness to endure cold therapy involves breathing strategies to calm your body and mind. These strategies carry over in all aspects of life. The individual begins to realize in less impactful environments (day-to-day life) they can overcome obstacles more effectively. These breathing strategies work to lower your heart rate, increase heart-rate variability, and lower your respiratory rate. All are needed to have more conscious control over the Autonomic Nervous System. The ANS doesn’t have to control us! We have the ability within ourselves to shift our state and reduce our stress.
Cold therapy also increases white blood cell counts thus improving strong anti-inflammatory response to boost the immune system as well.
Other benefits include:
- Improve mental health
- Skin and hair health
- Increased energy
- Improved sleep
Types of Cold Therapy?
Cold Plunge Pools / Buckets: The typical temperature ranges between 35°F and 60°F. The temperature is completely individualized to the individual, and their progressive tolerance to cold exposure.
Cold Showers: A cold shower is available for everyone and is a quick and easy way to explore cold therapy. Like a cold plunge, the temperature and time exposure is based on the individual.
Cryotherapy: Cryotherapy can be broken down into two categories: localized or whole body. Traditionally, localized has been choice of many. Think ice packs, cooling gels, and direct ice. The “tools” are directly applied to specific areas. Recently whole body cryrotherapy has gained in popularity. The individual will step inside a cold chamber, and be exposed to sub-zero temperatures by way of liquid nitrogen.
Nature Swims: A swim in a river or lake integrates cold water therapy and nature. A potent combination! Unlike the above environments the individual only can control the length of exposure, as climate will dictate the temperature.
What Are The Risks Of Cold Therapy?
Cold therapy in general is considered safe, although to reduce risks the process should be individualized. Individuals should consult with their primary care provider before engaging in the practice. Cold injuries such as frostbite or hypothermia can occur with prolonged exposure. Dizziness can occur also when you are constricting your blood vessels with cold exposure. Once again, the process should ensure a safe practice.
What Is A Safe Process To Engage In Cold Therapy?
Cold Showers: Begin by taking your usual warm shower, and at the very end switch over to a cold shower. Utilize a calming breathing strategy through the exposure. Try to inhale for 5 seconds and exhale for 5 seconds.
Week 1: Spend 15 to 30 seconds at the end of each shower
Week 2: Spend 30 to 60 seconds at the end of each shower
Week 3: Spend 60 to 90 seconds at the end of each shower
Week 4: Spend 90 to 120 seconds at the end of each shower
Cold Immersion: When you are starting off begin with shorter dips and build your capacity. Do not go past your thresholds in any scenario.
The temperature of the water is based on the individual, a typical range is 35°F and 60°F. For instance if you start Week 1 at 55°, work to decrease a few degrees each week.
Once again, breathing is a great strategy to connect mind and body to accomplish the challenge. The individual could focus on a box breathing strategy at a 4 second inhale, 4 second pause, 4 second exhale, and 4 second pause. Another strategy is lightly, slowly, and deeply breathing to slow the breathing rate. The focus would be on accomplishing “x” breaths. For example if your breathing rate is at 6 for 1 minute, the goal could be 12 total breaths. These are just examples of focusing on breath to accomplish the challenge.
After either practice, begin to naturally warm up by doing a series of Lunge and Swing Breathing Matrices developed by the Gray Institute.
Wim Hof & Elissa Apel PhD, The Wim Hof Method, 2020