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Cold Water Showers (Part 2)

by Garry Davidson on February 18, 2013

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Lose Weight & Cheat Your Way To A Trim Physique

Did you know that water conducts heat away from your body 25 times faster than air?

When you throw yourself into a pool of cold water, your body still maintains its internal temperature at around 37°C. But it does this at a HUGE caloric cost. The latest studies show that this caloric cost can help you lose weight.

Not only that, but the latest studies show that your body adapts over time to regular cold water immersions. These adaptations increase your metabolism, so you burn more calories throughout the day, even when you’re not in the cold.

All this time we’ve been obsessing over diet and exercise, and now we find that the high energy demands of thermogenesis during cold immersion, can play just as big a role in weight loss as exercise can.

So How Does Cold-Immersion Weight Loss Work?

When you take that cold plunge, the body uses 2 different mechanisms to maintain your core temperature:

1. Reduces heat loss (by making insulating changes).
2. Increases heat production (by thermogenesis)

The insulating changes I refer to above are the reduction of blood-flow to your skin, and the exchange of heat between your veins and arteries.

A lot of people worry when I say “insulating changes”…

“Won’t cold exposure just make my body put on more fat for insulation?”

We humans aren’t like arctic mammals. Although we DO adapt to the cold via various different mechanisms, an increase in subcutaneous fat is not one of them.

In a 1995 study by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, 64 Indian men were taken to Antarctica where they worked outdoors for 8 weeks. The findings of this study were pretty interesting. Although these guys put on a bit of weight, there was no change in skinfold thickness, and abdominal girth DECREASED1⁠. This basically means that they put on more muscle and got more shredded.

Antarctica indian study

Indians living in Antarctica for 8 weeks were found to have decreased abdominal girth and increased lean mass1.

When it comes to weight loss, what we’re most interested in is how the body increases heat production. This includes shivering and non-shivering thermogenesis.

Shivering can increase your metabolism by an average of 400-550% the level of your metabolism at rest2⁠. Studies have also found that shivering draws most of its energy from stored fat3⁠.

Although full-on shivering is an excellent way to burn those extra calories, it’s a tad discomforting for MY liking. Instead, you can stick to a temperature that causes shivering without shaking, where you simply experience an increase in muscle tone. Increased muscle tone without shaking, is classed as a low level of shivering, which still increases the energy demands on your body, and is still great for losing those extra pounds.

Perhaps more important than shivering, is another method of heat production called “non-shivering thermogenesis”. This involves brown fat cells, which are a good type of fat that we definitely want more of.

Brown fat cells play such a HUGE role in weight loss, that many scientists now even claim that reduced brown fat cell activity may be the very reason why people get obese!

Brown fat cells come from the same stem cells as muscle. They are more closely related to muscle than they are to the usual white fat you want to get rid of4,5. Like muscle, brown fat contains lots of mitochondria. It specializes in burning the unwanted stored white-fat in your body, to produce heat.

We used to think that brown fat cells were only available in kids under the age of 10 (which is why it’s so easy for kids to stay lean). But what we’ve recently found is that after the age of 10, brown fat simply gets deactivated. It gets RE-activated during cold-exposure…

Brown fat distribution during cold exposure

PET-CT scans reveal the activation of brown fat cells during cold exposure6⁠

Not only do you activate those dormant brown fat cells during cold exposure, but through frequent and regular cold exposure, you can actually increase the number of brown fat cells in your body. And after just a few weeks, your body’s ability to burn calories through brown fat cell thermogenesis, increases7⁠. This increases your resting metabolic rate (RMR), helping you to burn more calories at rest. In a study on Korean pearl divers, divers were found to have a 30% higher RMR during winter, when the water temperature was coolest at around 10°C8⁠.

We also have evidence that warm temperatures make you GAIN weight, since a review paper in the journal Obesity Reviews, found a link between central heating and obesity9⁠.

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As new research unveils the connection between cold water immersion and weight loss, more and more people are experimenting with this new and different way to lose weight. Ray Cronise, a NASA scientist, and a pioneer in the field of cold water immersion, managed to lose 50% more weight in half the time, simply by adding cold-water immersion to his diet and exercise regime.

Remember though, Cronise didn’t achieve success from cold-water dips alone. He had a solid exercise and nutrition regime as a foundation, and simply used cold water immersion therapy as a supplement. I suggest you do the same.

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 The benefits of cold showers really do go on and on. They improve circulation, stabilize blood pressure, delay ageing, strengthen immunity (fighting cold with cold), and help prevent disease. The least you can do is give it a try.

Here’s how it’s done…

How To Have A Cold Shower

I’ve been incorporating cold showers into my routine for a few years now and I’ve noticed a big difference in my performance and recovery.

I started out by jumping straight into the coldest setting on my shower. The first few times it made my heart jump into my throat, and I thought I was going to have a heart attack. There were few experiences in my life that ever made me breathe that fast. One of those was when I was being chased by a stray rabid dog in Turkey. So yeh, real fight-or-flight-type response.

The good news is you don’t have to EVER go through the same amount of discomfort I did.

Actually I encourage you not to. See, when the water is so cold that it makes you shiver, brown fat thermogenesis is DOWNregulated, because shivering is already producing the heat you need. You want it to be at a temperature that doesn’t give you full-out shivering by shaking. This makes your body focus more on non-shivering thermogensis, i.e. the activation of brown fat cells.

Over time, your body will adapt – the science confirms this. You become better at non-shivering thermogenesis as your brown fat cells multiply. Your threshold for shivering goes up, and you’ll find that you can handle cooler and cooler temperatures without shivering.

So there are many different ways you can do this. If you’re brave (or crazy like me), you can use the Spartan method and just jump straight into the cold, shiver it out, and wait for your body to adapt over time. If you do it like this, here are some tips:

1Immerse your face FIRST. There are special receptors in the trigeminal nerve that supplies your FACE, which actually DECREASE your heart rate in response to cold water.

This is a little trick I learned while studying extreme physiology at university. It’s called the “diving response”, and it will help to keep your heart rate and breathing in check during the cold-shock response you’ll get from step 2…
2Immerse your whole body. Let yourself gasp and breathe as fast as you need. After about 10-20 seconds, turn the tap off. Since you’ve just been exposed to the cold, your body will continue to adapt by reducing the blood supply to your skin. Use this time to apply soap, shampoo and all the rest.
3Give it at least a minute before you turn the tap back on. When you do, you’ll find that the cold water doesn’t feel so bad anymore, since your body has had enough time to adapt by taking insulative measures.


If you prefer the more civilized method as used by James Bond, simply jump into a warm shower, enjoy it, take your time, then reduce the temperature to the coldest setting for the last few minutes of your shower.

To make it easier on yourself, you can reduce the temperature gradually. Allow your body to adapt to each change in temperature before you lower it again. Go low enough so your body tenses up a little, but not to the point where you shiver. Over time you’ll find that you can tolerate lower and lower temperatures, without ever breaking a shiver.

Keep in mind though, that you eventually want to get to at least 10°C. Although studies show numerous benefits derived from water up to 15°C, the best adaptations happen when the water is cooler at 10°C10⁠.

For your body to adapt, you also don’t need to stay in there for very long at all. Aim for around 3 minutes, maximum 10.

What Body Parts To Hit?

We know that most brown fat cells are located around the back of your neck and upper chest6⁠, so let the water run over these areas.

It turns out that Steve Reeves was also a fan of cold showers. Here’s what he had to say in his book, “Building the Classic Physique”:

“Take a cold shower each morning upon arising—let the cold water run on your genitals for a minute or two to stimulate circulation—then dry off by rubbing briskly with a good Turkish towel.”

I haven’t come across any studies that confirm this, but doesn’t hurt to try. If you paid attention in those high school biology lessons, you’ll know that your testicles hang in a pouch outside your body because they work best at cooler temperatures. You’ll also know that the testicles produce sperm and testosterone. Could it be that intermittent exposure to even cooler temperatures could boost sperm and testosterone production? Who knows? But it’s a worth a try ;).

So, what are your experiences with cold showers? Hate ‘em? Love ‘em? Have you noticed any weight loss? How’s it helping with post-workout recovery? Let us know in the comments box below, and let’s get talkin’

References

  1. SACHDEVA, U., NAIDU, M. & SUNDARESAN, G. Thermal Acclimatization to Cold in Men Exposed to Antarctic Environment during Summer. 261–269 (1995).
  2. Alexander, G. Cold Thermogenesis. Int Rev Physiol. 20, 43–155 (1979).
  3. Vaillancourt, E., Haman, F. & Weber, J.-M. Fuel selection in Wistar rats exposed to cold: shivering thermogenesis diverts fatty acids from re-esterification to oxidation. The Journal of Physiology 587 , 4349–4359 (2009).
  4. Seale, P. et al. PRDM16 controls a brown fat/skeletal muscle switch. Nature 454, 961–967 (2008).
  5. Cannon, B. & Nedergaard, J. Developmental biology: Neither fat nor flesh. Nature 454, 947–948 (2008).
  6. Van Marken Lichtenbelt, W. D. et al. Cold-Activated Brown Adipose Tissue in Healthy Men. New England Journal of Medicine 360, 1500–1508 (2009).
  7. CANNON, B. & NEDERGAARD, J. A. N. Brown Adipose Tissue: Function and Physiological Significance. Physiological Reviews 84 , 277–359 (2004).
  8. Doi, K., Ohno, T., Kurahashi, M. & Kuroshima, A. Thermoregulatory nonshivering thermogenesis in men, with special reference to lipid metabolism. Jpn J Physiol 29, 359 (1979).
  9. Johnson, F., Mavrogianni, A., Ucci, M., Vidal-Puig, A. & Wardle, J. Could increased time spent in a thermal comfort zone contribute to population increases in obesity? Obesity Reviews 12, 543–551 (2011).
  10. Eglin, C. & Tipton, M. Repeated cold showers as a method of habituating humans to the initial responses to cold water immersion. European Journal of Applied Physiology 93, 624–629 (2005).
Chest Sculpting Newsletter

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Marcin September 5, 2013 at 8:04 pm

I accidentally come up withi the turning off tap for one minute trick myself. It’s very useful.
What helps me a lot is doing around 40 very heavy and deep breathe in and outs before starting with water and during the bath to breathe deeply even if I don’t feel like to. It gives you a little high (your hyperventilating) and warms your body, thanks to that I don’t have any shivers. If I don’t breath I shiver all over.
Another thing helpful is to keep stopwatch of how long I’ve been in shower. It helps me to stay motivated to do fulll 4-5 minutes.

Reply

Garry Davidson September 11, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Nice one Marcin. You do your heavy breathing first, before the cold water forces you to do it. Your method does have a biological basis though, since hyperventilation reduces the blood-flow to your skin. As a result, you lose less heat when the water hits your skin, so it doesn’t feel so bad. But then one wonders if that reduces the fat-loss or general cold-shock effect? The idea is to lose as much heat as possible. But hey, if deep breathing takes away from that initial discomfort, then I’m all up for it :p.

I also find it helps if you just scream “Spartaaaa” (from the movie “300″) and just turn the shower on. You don’t actually have to ‘scream’ it lol, just say it to yourself with Leonidas’ contorted face, so you conjure up the image of a manly battle. A cold shower then seems small in comparison. Don’t think about it when you step into the shower, don’t try to prepare yourself mentally, just do it. You never get used to that initial discomfort, but there’s comfort in knowing that the discomfort goes away after those first few minutes.

Reply

Chicago Allen September 26, 2013 at 5:17 am

lol….Garry youre hilarious bro. Ima try it cuz i need to do something to get the body i desire.

Reply

George L January 24, 2014 at 5:55 pm

I read an article before yours, talking about taking cold showers to aid in muscle recovery.After reading this i think i might just shower with cold water. i didn’t know all the benefits of a cold shower, this is my first week I’m curious to see how my body responds. I have noticed that after a hard workout, the next day I’m walking around with little soreness.

Reply

Garry Davidson February 7, 2014 at 5:39 pm

Yes! The reason a lot of professional Olympic trainers encourage cold and ice baths to their trainees, is because it aids in recovery.

Reply

Mihir June 11, 2014 at 7:58 am

Thanks Garry I myself use only cold waters for bathing and what results should I expect with regular workouts and cold waters?

Reply

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