Cold therapy can speed fat-burning, increase recovery, boost mood and energy levels, deepen sleep, improve skin appearance, and more.
Yes, it’s shockingly cold at first, but the benefits are undeniable from day one.
Best of all, people notice it gets much easier within just one week, and you get to keep many of the adaptations your body undergoes during cold therapy, even if you stop.
Now, without further delay: the top two time-saving cold therapy methods that work with resources you’ve probably already got at home!
HOW TO: Cold Showers and Ice Dunks (Oh My!)
The two best ways to get started with cold therapy are cold showers in winter or dunking your face in a bowl of ice water.
Cold showers require almost no equipment. They’re an effective way to expose your entire body to cold water (in the US in winter, your tap water is likely between 40-65 degrees Fahrenheit, which is plenty cold–the moving water also has a chilling effect, pulling heat away from your body).
Go with cold showers if you want full-body cold benefits like recovery, fat loss, and a metabolic boost.
The easiest way to start with cold showers is to end your regular, hot showers on cold. By simply beating your personal record each time, you can go from seconds to minutes in a cold shower within about one week, comfortably. Over time, you can begin dedicating entire, separate showers (without soap) to cold if you wish.
Another tip for cold showers: make sure to expose the area of your upper back between your neck and shoulder blades and your face to plenty of cold water. (Your upper back contains lots of fat-burning brown adipose tissue, and your trigeminal nerve located on your face activates the beneficial mammalian dive reflex).
On the other hand, if you struggle with full-body cold exposure, dunking your face in a bowl of ice water is a great alternative to cold showers. (It’s also the easiest way to continue cold therapy in summer.)
You can still achieve the following benefits using face dunks:
- Healthier looking skin
- Better mood
- Easier time falling asleep and deeper sleep
- Seasonal adaptation and increased cold tolerance for winter
- Calming down by activating your vagus nerve via the mammalian dive reflex
All you need to get started is:
- cold tap water
- a large bowl
- and a tray or two of ice.
Simply place the ice in the bowl, then fill with water to within a few inches of the brim and allow the water to chill for a minute or so.
Take a big breath, then lean forward and submerge your face until you either can’t hold your breath any longer, or can’t stand the cold.
Take a short break to breathe, then repeat for “reps,” increasing the duration and number of reps each session.
When you’re finished, dump the water and save the ice in the bowl in your freezer to reuse later.
Because the face dunk method only takes a few minutes, fitting a session in every morning or night, or both, is easy.
Cold Therapy Recap
You can start with cold showers or ice face dunks depending on your preference and bravery level. Plenty of people like to use both methods interchangeably.
Cold showers offer full body benefits, while face dunks are easier and more specific for cosmetic purposes. However, face dunks also help with energy levels and sleep.
When you finish your sessions, wear warm clothing or a warm bathrobe, but don’t apply warm or hot water to your skin afterwards. It’s more effective to allow your body to generate heat naturally to warm back up.
If you want a more intensive method than showers or dunks, you can do ice baths or swim outside in the cold in open water (rather than doing whole-body cryotherapy).
With cold tap water in a bathtub, a single unopened 10 pound bag of ice on your torso is plenty cold (you can store it in a deep freezer to get more use, too). Hardcore cold enthusiasts do it for 45-60 minutes or longer a few times a week.
Be careful with the ice bath method and consider using a compression shirt, socks, gloves, and a beanie until you adapt to the cold.
Outside cold water swimming is the most extreme, because the moving water further chills your body. Please use caution to minimize the risk of hypothermia or drowning–I don’t recommend doing it alone.
Lastly, as last week’s email covered, cold therapy is safe for the majority of people.
But if you’re not in good cardiovascular health, or have problems like high blood pressure, arrhythmias, or a family history of heart disease, you should ask your doctor first.
Sudden cold exposure can alter your heart rhythm and cause vasoconstriction, which may cause complications in people with heart problems.
You should also ask your doctor first before trying cold therapy if you have diabetes, are at risk of seizures, or take any prescription medications.
And if you experience unwanted effects (like headache or skin irritation), back off temporarily. If the symptoms don’t go away on their own, speak to your doctor before resuming cold exposure.