A note on safety: avoid dangerous bodies of water, and avoid doing any sort of breathwork, especially hyperventilation methods like the Wim Hof method in or around water. Ease into cold plunging if you don’t have experience, just as you would ease into a workout routine if you’re starting from zero. When making any adjustments to your training and wellness routines, talk to your healthcare professional.
Stepping into a pool of icy water might be one of the best tools to support your focus, physical fitness, and much more.
In this article, we plunge into the benefits of cold exposure and cold plunges.
Cold plunging is not just about the physical benefits, either. It also can support your energy, focus, and mood.
The Science of Cold Plunges
While it has gotten increasingly popular, the practice of immersing oneself in cold water is not a modern-day fad.
It has roots in ancient traditions and has been studied extensively in the realms of sports science, psychology, and physiology. But what exactly happens to your body when you take the plunge?
When you immerse yourself in cold water, your body goes through a series of physiological responses. Your blood vessels constrict, your metabolism accelerates, and your body releases a cocktail of hormones, including adrenaline and endorphins. These hormonal changes can have lasting effects, too, providing benefits for hours after your cold plunge.
The Benefits of a Cold Plunge
Increases Energy and Focus
When you plunge into cold water, your body's immediate response is to release epinephrine (adrenaline), the “fight or flight” hormone. This adrenaline rush is accompanied by an increase in heart rate and a surge of blood flow to your brain and muscles. The result? A heightened state of alertness and focus.
But it's not just about the immediate adrenaline rush. Cold plunges have been shown to increase the production of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in focus and attention. Regular cold plunges can help maintain elevated levels of norepinephrine, leading to sustained improvements in focus and energy levels.
The net effect of this is heightened alertness and focus for well after you’re done with the cold plunge. If you do your cold exposure in the morning, this could mean an ideal mindset for productivity.
Whether you're hitting the gym, the office, or simply trying to be more present in your daily activities, the increased energy and focus from regular cold plunges can help you perform at your best.
Builds Mental Resilience
We believe in the power of doing hard things, a sentiment deeply aligned with the philosophy of Amor Fati—loving one's fate, even the challenges. Cold plunges are a perfect embodiment of this philosophy in action.
The initial shock of cold water is not just a physical hurdle; it's a mental challenge, a momentary confrontation between comfort and growth. When you choose to stay, to breathe through the discomfort, you're not merely enduring; you're embracing the challenge as an opportunity for growth, much like the ethos of Amor Fati encourages us to do.
Physiologically, the act of immersing yourself in cold water activates the body's stress response systems. Over time, repeated exposure helps to "re-calibrate" these systems, making you more resilient to various forms of stress, both physical and mental. This is known as hormesis, a biological phenomenon where a beneficial effect (improved health, stress tolerance, growth, or longevity) results from exposure to low doses of an agent that is otherwise toxic or lethal when given at higher doses.
For those pushing their limits in fitness and life, building mental resilience is not just an option. It's a key piece of the high-performance puzzle.
Cold plunges offer a practical, time efficient way to train your mind to be as strong and resilient as your body.
Supports Overall Mood
Cold plunges aren't just a test of will; they're also a natural mood booster. The shock of cold water triggers a flood of mood-enhancing neurotransmitters, making you feel more alert, energetic, and happy.
The physiological mechanism behind this is the release of endorphins, the body's natural mood elevators. Moreover, the cold stimulates the production of dopamine and serotonin, key hormones that support mood.
Can Help Boost Metabolism
Cold exposure can activate brown fat, which is a type of fat that helps keep the body warm. Increased brown fat activation is also associated with increased metabolism.
This doesn't mean that cold exposure is a magic solution for fat loss. Cold exposure doesn’t defy the laws of thermodynamics, and won’t make up for diet and exercise, which are and always will be the pillars for sustainable weight loss.
May Support Muscle Soreness & Recovery
We believe in the power of pushing your limits, whether it's in the gym, on the track, or in any physical endeavor.
But pushing your body to new heights often comes with the inevitable: muscle soreness and the need for recovery.
When you immerse yourself in cold water, the low temperatures cause blood vessels to constrict, reducing inflammation and swelling in muscle tissues.
This is known as vasoconstriction, a physiological response that helps to flush out metabolic waste like lactic acid from your muscles.
Professional sports teams have used “ice tubs” to fight soreness for decades.
With that said, this idea has come under fire. The logic against it is that inflammation is the body’s natural response for a reason, as it’s important for the recovery process. Cold therapy may stunt this natural recovery.
If short-term performance is a necessity for you, then cold plunging can ward off the soreness and help you get back to a high level of performance quickly. However, in the long-term, cold plunging might not be a sustainable tool for soreness and peak performance.
For more ideas on recovery, we recommend you check out this article on the various forms of active recovery.
When to Take the Plunge: Incorporating Cold Plunges into Your Routine
Timing is everything, especially when it comes to optimizing your performance and well-being. So, when is the best time to take a cold plunge? The answer may vary depending on your lifestyle and goals, but here are some suggestions tailored for the Kaged community.
If you're an early riser or even part of our 5AM Challenge, incorporating a cold plunge into your morning routine can be invigorating. It's a fantastic way to kickstart your metabolism, sharpen your focus, and set a positive tone for the day.
On days when stress levels are high, a cold plunge can act as a reset button for your mind and body. The cold exposure triggers a release of endorphins, and may help you manage stress more effectively.
After an intense workout, your muscles are inflamed and filled with lactic acid. As mentioned, a cold plunge can reduce soreness and inflammation, preparing you for the next session faster. However, this is double-edged, so it should be used judiciously as a post-workout recovery tool.
Cold Plunge vs. Cold Shower: A Gateway to Cold Exposure Benefits
While the majority of scientific research focuses on the benefits of cold plunges, cold showers can offer a more accessible entry point for those curious about cold exposure therapy. Here's how the two compare:
Cold plunges have been the subject of numerous studies, examining everything from their impact on muscle recovery to mental well-being. Cold showers, although less studied, share many of the same physiological mechanisms, making them a reasonable alternative. We can’t definitively say that you’ll get the same benefits.
Not everyone has immediate access to a cold plunge pool, but a cold shower is usually just a knob-turn away. If you're new to the world of cold exposure, starting with cold showers can be a practical way to experience some of the benefits without the commitment of a cold plunge setup.
Duration and Intensity
Cold plunges are generally more intense due to the full-body submersion and often colder temperatures. However, a cold shower can still provide a significant shock to the system, triggering many of the same physiological responses, such as the release of endorphins and improved circulation.
Ease of Incorporation
Cold showers can easily be incorporated into your daily routine. Whether it's a quick cold shower in the morning to wake up or a brief cold rinse post-workout, it's a convenient way to get a taste of what cold exposure can offer.
A Stepping Stone
Think of cold showers as a stepping stone to cold plunges. If you find that you're experiencing benefits like increased focus, better mood, and quicker recovery from your cold showers, you might be inspired to take the next step and invest in a cold plunge setup.
More Potent Tools to Optimize Your Performance
For more tools to support your performance and productivity in and out of the gym, check out these articles on the benefits of morning sunlight and different types of active recovery.