Do you take a cold shower each morning? For most people, this wouldn't be an ideal way to start the day, but there are a lot of benefits to spending time in low temperature water, like improved recovery times.
I don't take cold showers, but I am a huge fan of cold water swimming, and enjoy taking a dip in my local lake. But there are some territorial swans there at the moment, which makes it a challenge.
So when I got the chance to try out an ice bath at home, I decided it's worth a go. It's a different experience, but means I could get some of the effects without leaving the house.
I tested out the LUMI inflatable recovery pod, which was really easy to set up and use—you need a few minutes with a hand pump to inflate it and then pour a load of ice in.
It takes a fair amount of ice to fill the pod, so instead of blocking up every drawer in my freezer each day, I bought a few packs of party ice from the local grocery store instead.
As it's so quick to set up, I used it each morning before taking my daughter to school. You might shudder at the thought, but this helped me focus on my breath, connect with my body, and these few minutes quickly became my moment of calm in the early hours of the day. But that's not all that changed for me.
I recovered quicker after training
It's common to get achy muscles after a workout—this post-workout soreness is known as delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. It's caused by tiny tears in your muscle fibers that your body is trying to repair.
As a personal trainer, I'm very familiar with this feeling, so I was delighted when I noticed that the ice baths were helping reduce DOMS and my recovery time more generally.
When you get out of the ice-cold bath, the sudden temperature change starts your heart pumping more blood to your organs. The nutrient-rich blood flowing to your muscles removes some of the lactic acid that builds up during exercise.
So, although it might seem counterintuitive, chilling out in some ice actually helps improve your circulation, which was handy for me as I usually have poor circulation, leading to cold hands and feet.
After using the ice bath for a month, I noticed a substantial improvement, leaving me with less achy muscles, warmer hands and feet, and a healthy glow to my skin.
I was more productive
Another benefit from my daily ice bath was I was that my productivity sky-rocketed. When I got out, I literally felt super-charged and noticed that it I was able to concentrate on difficult tasks without my usual procrastination.
I also found that I could tick off those annoying jobs on my to-do list that I always ignored. The sudden shock of the icy temperature activates your nervous system's fight or flight response, boost the hormones you need for concentration and alertness.
And if you've ever taken a cold dip, you'll know that it initially makes you take short, sharp intakes of breath. Wim Hoff, one of the most famous advocates of ice water baths for recovery, has developed a guided breathing exercise to help steady your breath to make a more comfortable experience.
It's quite a lot like learning how to meditate—training yourself to be aware of the present moment by focusing on your breath. This also helps stop your mind racing forward to the time when you step out of the bath and warm up, making it easier to relax into the experience.
I felt calmer
Changing the way you breathe and overcoming the short-term stress of the freezing cold temperature can also be a great way to increase your mental strength, which is another way of saying resilience.
Building mental strength helps reduce stress, improve your wellbeing, and makes it easier to deal with whatever life throws your way. And I definitely found it much easier to shrug off stress after a few weeks using the ice bath.
I’m not saying nothing got to me, but I noticed that I wouldn’t stay stressed or frustrated for so long, and was more able to move on from whatever was bothering me.
I don’t know if it’s because being in cold-water forces you to live in the moment and get into a meditative state, but it’s a wonderful way to feel present. There’s literally nothing else to do but surrender and let go.
Even though my 30 day ice bath challenge is over, I'll definitely be making this part of my normal routine. If you don't have an ice bath to hand, you could try gradually turning down the shower temperature and taking a cold shower every day.
But cold water showers and ice baths aren't for everyone. If you're after a more traditional (and warm) way to recover, use one of the best protein powders for weight loss to make a post-workout smoothie instead.
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Maddy Biddulph is a freelance journalist specializing in fitness, health and wellbeing content. With 25 years in consumer media, she has worked as a writer and editor for some of the bestselling newspapers, magazines and websites in the US and UK.
She is also a qualified L3 personal trainer and weight loss advisor, and helps women over 40 navigate menopause by improving their physical and mental strength. At Maddy Biddulph Personal Training, she runs one-to-one and small group training for menopausal women who want to get fit to ease symptoms and feel like themselves again.
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