A journey into ice water: From cold showering to ice baths

A journey into ice water: From cold showering to ice baths

People will often joke about me in the cold. I am no Wim Hof, it’s not my reality or goal. I have learnt that being in the cold is a journey and that everyone’s different. That it keeps changing based on where you’re at individually. The cold also takes you places, mentally and physically, that you don’t expect, and I already know it will forever more.

When it comes to starting out with cold showers, I’ve learnt that the only difference between me and other people is that I’ve already decided to persist past the early discomfort. Especially the first days where it’s a shock and, well, uncomfortable! I’m motivated because I deeply believe that it is good for me. It’s not as though cold shower can actually hurt either at 6°c-15°c in the UK. The trick, if there is one, is to decide to believe in the benefits and apply the will to do it. Building up from those first 30 seconds to a few months later 15 minutes in the summer months. Let’s also remember that only a hundred years ago getting a hot shower was a rarity for most, and that was the least of your problems in terms of experiencing discomfort. People cold dipped because they had to.


“A cold shower a day keeps the doctor away” — Wim Hof


I started cold showering because I often felt cold

The truth is that I have always felt the cold, for as long as I can remember I’ve been a sweater or hoody guy, taking a coat ‘just in case’! My hands and feet have suffered the most, as I got older this happened more, that intrigued me, why?

Then I heard Wim Hof talking (late 2018) and it felt obvious to me that learning to feel the cold without feeling cold would be good for me. To build a strength I’ll need to strengthen my physiology, to challenge myself mentally whilst investing into myself physically. My experience so far tells me that anybody can cold adapt to cold or even freezing ice bath temperatures, it’s uncomfortable at first, and it passes. Cold adaptation is the way to receive so many benefits that unlock over time with persistence. The killer benefit of cold showers specifically is they’re free (if you have a shower) and easy to access. It takes away the hassle, excuses and over thinking. Just get in, and breath.

My lessons from two years of cold showering

  1. It’s a mind game – accept it’s cold and good for you, that it’ll easier and easier once you’re through the first week. You have got to just get in and do it. Decide and do, no thinking. Make yourself a cold shower person, then celebrate it daily by being that.
  2. Repetition is vital – it’s where the scientific backed benefits are. Much like exercise or a good diet, it gets easier the more you do it and the benefits come the more that you do it. The odd cold shower does not cut it.
  3. Stay in until it is not cold – how long to stay in, this is the answer. Build up your time first from 30 seconds, the benefits kick in after a few minutes.
  4. Breathe – it’s cliche almost now, but the breath is the key. It’s a focus point and you want to do less breaths, ideally slowly in and out through the nose to encourage vasodilation. Steady the breath and you steady the mind’s response to the cold. If you feel muscles tense (they likely will) just breathe.
  5. Relax, don’t force it – I made this mistake, pushing too hard, and it’s the opposite to what you should do. Just relax into it. When you feel relaxed, relax some more, feel your shoulders getting softer. You’ll feel a smile creep in when you made it there, it’s automatic!
  6. Warm up if needed – if you push duration and feel a little cold after, no problem, put on a light sweater and warm up slowly. The Wim Hof horse stance is great for this, as are air squats or even some steady star jumps.
  7. Try morning vs night – they’re such different experiences. There’s something particularly lovely about a night cold shower and then straight into a warm bed. And night showers support better sleep. If I can, I do both! Play with it, see how it feels for you.

The journey grew from cold showers into cold in nature

Being immersed in water up to your neck is very different to cold showering. Wim Hof inspired cold showers led me to Wim Hof experiences with (my now cold and WHM mentor) Emma Estrella in the Lake District and Wim Hof himself in Poland. Both highly recommended. I have already learnt a lot – the most surprising is that cold in nature is unparalleled in the beauty of the way it challenges. There are many reasons why, it’s simply natural, everything about it, I can distill it to two points:

  • Feeling connected to nature, feeling in it, is amazing. Beautiful even. Feeling like I belong more than I ever do when in a city, for example.
  • Feeling a different level of cold (more so in winter). From cold showers to freezing streams, it makes a big difference when combined with the above. The power of Mother Nature.

The problem is – I don’t live near natural water sources!

I didn’t try ice baths on Wim Hof experiences that I’ve attended so far, I was inspired me to try, to go deeper because I knew I couldn’t access amazing waterfalls or lakes. So this is why I converted a chest freezer, why it seemed natural to try it, I wanted the full immersion, it’s so different.

Cold showers and ice bathing aren’t hierarchical. I didn’t see ice baths as better, they’re simply a different modality to receive a set of benefits faster in the case of ice baths. Cold showers though are convenient, certainly easier. Ice baths bring unique benefits to my mindset – the way it grabs and calms the mind, the feeling of achievement and doing something good for myself afterwards, like a workout.

Ice baths changed everything

There are a whole host of benefits but first you again have to decide that you want them. That is the key pre-requisite, without that it’s too uncomfortable, you will likely quit and feel miserable after. There has to be a commitment to yourself, to your health. When you do, the benefits are numerous. Here’s three unique cold water immersion over shower benefits (there are more but here’s what was specific to me):

  1. Confidence and conviction – this mindset benefit is over-looked yet I found it the most important part. When you do something difficult, very uncomfortable, for short doses everyday you feel that you accomplish something, you see yourself differently, it does make it much easier. A person with grit and strength, go try that on before you’ve even had breakfast! This gives you the strength to be motivated elsewhere in life. Maybe putting down the biscuit tin, or doing the work on your project.
  2. Realising the mind-body connection – this was my original motivation, the cold water gives the tiny muscles that move blood around the body a workout. The heart is pushing blood to more places and has to work more efficiently in doing it. Your heart is working as it knows how, the efficient heat pump. And you feel it, deep inside, you start to feel a you’re in control. This is my excitement to manage this a decade later and what’s possible.
  3. Stronger Immune System – There’s good data that cold water immersion can be beneficial in the production of white blood cells in your body. White blood cells help to protect against getting ill, it’s believed that this process is related to an increased metabolic rate. Wim Hof insists that this is true for cold showers too (just not as effective in short durations as full cold water immersion). I used to have monthly colds and sore throats, that stopped. I still get the odd illness once or twice over a year, but overall much stronger.

Closing thoughts

”The cold water is a teacher” – says Wim Hof, it sounds like woo-woo nonsense, until you experience it. I did, I listed to my body, the feelings, and it made total sense. The cold reflects where you’re at (physically and mentally) in more ways than I can describe. If my head feels foggy and unfocussed the cold offers a slap, to focus, quickly! I’ve noticed a pain is less sore or I’d not even noticed a pain until the ice removed it. Sometimes I’ll get out and feel overly cold, I know I am overcooking it and need to take some rest. If I am well and strong I get out feeling stronger. If you listen to your body’s response, there are lessons galore. And, I know I have only just scratched the surface. Try it, no matter what modality you choose to explore.