There I was, naked and down on one knee on my bathroom floor with my feet and ankles aching so bad I could hardly stand; at this point, I was not convinced that cold plunging was such a great idea.
Let’s take a quick step back; I have always been into fitness and self-improvement, both mental and physical. At times, it might have been classified as an unhealthy obsession, but I believe that anything worth doing is worth doing to the extreme. As I approach my 50th birthday, I have never been more focused on my mental and physical wellness. The major difference? I would say I have a much healthier mindset about both.
When you play obsessively in this space, you can’t help but run into a long line of trendy fads (some good and some not so good). Without turning this into a history lesson, humans have been chasing some version of the fountain of youth since the quest for the Holy Grail. The following story is one of my most recent adventures in the health and wellness space – cold plunging.
One of the latest health fads that finally caught my attention was “cold plunging”. From Andrew Huberman and Joe Rogan to Ben Greenfield and Whim Hof, the world of “podcast gurus” has been singing the praises of this age-old practice that stimulates positive responses in both the physical and mental territories of human performance.
One of the problems with fads is the cure-all list that shows up with you Google “benefits of cold plunges” or type it into your trusted AI platform (in my case ChatGPT); it is hard not to roll your eyes when you read the list of benefits that appear too good to be true.
Well, there was only one way to find out for myself. I decided to give in and give cold plunging a try!
My decision was also inspired by a trusted friend and fellow biohacker, my good friend Kevin Crowe. When I sat down to dinner with Kevin in April 2023, he shared that one of the many items he is convinced helped him was cold plunges. Aside from being an elite athlete who pushes himself harder and farther than anyone I know, he has also recently battled and overcome trigeminal neuralgia. Please check out our podcast episode to learn more about Kevin and how he won against this disease.
I will spare you the medical details, but let me leave you with this shocking fact: it is nicknamed the “suicide disease,” as 27% of people who develop it commit suicide within the first year due to the overwhelming pain and suffering they experience. Over one year later, Kevin is thriving and is back to his awe-inspiring adventures, the next being a 715 KM race down the Yukon River on his paddle board.
Back to the dinner. I thought to myself, “Ok. There is one major issue: I hate cold water!”
I grew up in Quebec with a pool in my front yard and quickly realized I only enjoyed it above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. For anyone who is keeping track, that is not a cold plunge. Based on my online research, cold plunges are between 50 – 59 degrees Fahrenheit for 11 minutes per week to experience health benefits. Many of the online influencers would have you believe that unless you are cutting a hole in a frozen lake or jumping into an ice-filled tub in your backyard, you are not really doing the thing. Everything I have read states that is simply not true.
Think about it like working out. You don’t start with an overly heavy weight. You start with something manageable that challenges you, and then you can build up from there. Each person is unique; the best gauge is how you feel and not what you read online.
At the point of this writing, I am eight weeks in with daily plunges of between four and seven minutes with a temperature ranging between 52 and 58 Fahrenheit.
The pink styrofoam insulates the cold water to stabilize the temperature between plunges. The water temperature in my cold plunge tub is 50°F
- I use my bathtub. It is simple, it is there, and I rarely use it for anything else.
- I use a $10 fish tank thermometer I bought on Amazon to check my water temp.
- I change the water 1x per week and drain about 30% daily to allow me to top it up with fresh and cold water to bring the temp back down.
- I place a piece of pink Styrofoam over the top each day to help keep it cold.
- I add some ice to help cool it down, but not every day.
- I shower before and then jump right in afterwards.
- I use a tactical breathing technique when I first plunge in to get myself under control. I take two quick breaths through the nose and a forced exhale through the mouth, repeating as required.
- I follow up with box breathing during the plunge. To do this, breathe in for four seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for four seconds, and repeat.
- I submerge my head immediately to kick in the vagus nerve response and the parasympathetic nervous system.
- I submerge my head again right before I get out and hold it underwater for as long as I can on a single breath.
- On the weekend, I enjoy an infrared sauna for 40 minutes prior and do the cold plunge right after. (I have a sauna at home. stay tuned for a write-up on that as well)
- When I get out, I towel off, wear a robe, and warm up naturally to increase benefits. (Google says you burn more brown fat with a natural warm-up process, which is not 100% the truth. You can Google it yourself to dive deeper.)
- Weight Loss – I am down approximately five lbs since starting my cold plunging. I was carrying a few more “winter pounds,” and with a beach trip to Spain coming up, I wanted to tighten things up. At almost 50 years old, controlling my mid-section is no laughing matter. I also tightened up my food and was indeed deliberate about food and calories. Keep an eye out for a follow-up article on my animal-based diet experiment, another fad that has paid off for me!
- Inflammation – my joints feel good, my workouts leave me less sore, and my recovery from workouts is faster. I had some mild joint aches before starting, and it has improved.
- Workouts – With my improved recovery, I find I can work out more often than before, as my body feels rested and ready to go. I always work out within at least eight hours on either side of my cold plunges, so I do not use it as a post-workout tactic. I have read that it may not be ideal for resistance training to cold plunge after a weight workout, as you want some inflammation for hypertrophy. It is better for endurance training recovery vs. resistance. More reading is to be done here on this point.
- Mental Alertness – This is 100% one of the most significant benefits I have experienced. You never feel quite so alive after a five-minute cold plunge at 55 degrees. My mind is crisp, clear and ready to take on the day; it is like a double espresso or 10 mg of Dexedrine or Adderall (without the jitters).
- Mental Health and Attitude – For the past eight weeks, I have noticed a consistent and steady improvement in my daily mood and approach to life. In simple terms, I have become happier and found more joy in my life. (That alone had made it worth it!)
- Skin – I have seen no changes in this area. As a psoriasis sufferer, I always seek things that will help. I have seen no changes on this front, not worse or better.
- Ritual and Routine – The power of overcoming this daily is hard to measure and does play a massive role in the feeling of grit and mental toughness. Knowing that I can overcome something as uncomfortable as five minutes in 55-degree water while staying calm has an incredibly positive impact on my confidence and belief in myself. This will undoubtedly vary. By all means, give it a try and let me know how it goes.