Cold Immersion: The Ultimate Resilience Building Tool
Extreme cold exposure is a unique tool for building resilience. Our preferred method of cold immersion, the ice bath, prevents future injury, improves your ability to cope with stress, and aids with the body’s recovery after a traumatic experience.
Let’s take a look at the incredible physical and mental responses that it generates.
Injury Prevention and Recovery
Immersing yourself in the extreme cold has a host of physical benefits:
- Triggers recovery post-workout
- Increases blood circulation
- Reduces delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
- Reduces inflammation
However, not all types of cold immersion are equal. Cold water has been found to have a significantly greater impact on the body than cold air. Physical contact with icy water extracts heat from the body 25 times faster than contact with air at the same temperature, which quickly affects the cardiovascular and endocrine systems.
According to a study conducted by exercise science researchers at the University of Toronto, lower skin and tissue temperature results in lower neural conductance velocity, which limits muscle spasms and pain sensations. The vasoconstriction that follows alters blood flow, reducing lymphatic and capillary cell permeability, limiting inflammation and minimizing swelling. This then improves the ability of the muscles to reconstruct themselves after a hard workout and takes some of the regenerative burden off the body which promotes more relaxed sleep, both essential for recovery and future injury-prevention.
The effects don’t stop there. The change in core temperature triggers an increase in human growth hormone and testosterone, and can strengthen the immune system by up to 300% of its current capacity. A spike in norepinephrine, the fight-or-flight hormone, also increases blood flow to the heart, breaks down fat tissue, and increases blood sugar levels to deliver more energy to the body.
Resilience to Stress
Everyone’s first reaction to extreme cold exposure is: “get me out of here.” XPT Performance Director PJ explains that this is exactly why we practice it; to form any adaptation, we must create a stress response.
When we experience the initial frightening sensation, we are faced with a choice: Get out and bring the body to safety, or stay and force the body to fight for its life. This fight is where we see adaptation. Overcoming this initial shock requires you to calm your emotional and irrational thinking and encourage a transition to the kind of rational thought that Daniel Kahneman explores in his book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” Kahneman emphasizes that to do so, you must “shrink the change” by forgetting the larger goal and instead focus on what is right in front of you.
At XPT Experiences, we urge participants to begin with three slow, controlled nasal breaths.
This controlled breathing stimulates a shift from a sympathetic (fight-or-flight) to parasympathetic (calm) state. With each shift, you train your vagus nerve to respond in stressful situations. Although the ice-bath is an example of a physical stressor, the effects of training the vagus nerve extend to all fight-or-flight situations. With each rep in the ice bath, you improve your ability to react calmly and perform when real-world adversity strikes. You can practice our beginner, intermediate, and advanced ice bath breathing protocols today in the XPT Life app.
Humans have never been less equipped to handle these situations. “We spend so much of our time in temperature-controlled environments that are neither too hot nor too cold,” Nestler said. “As a result, we not only switch off the cold shock and heat shock proteins involved in immune function and other important bodily processes but also make ourselves too comfortable. Then, when we have to perform in harsher conditions, we fall apart.”
By creating consistent stress-responses in the body through cold immersion, we train our minds to become as resilient in the face of adversity as possible.
Start your cold immersion practice by learning how to get the most out of your experience with the first episode of our Ice Bath Tips and Tricks Series:
Ready to start your cold immersion practice? Visit the XPT Life shop to purchase your own Cold Plunge and dive into the XPT Life app to make the most of your experience with our Ice Bath Tips and Tricks Series in the XPT Life app.