Way back in the 1800s, an Austrian peasant farmer called Vincenz Priessnitz, popularized a powerful ancient remedy that had people from all over the country, flocking to him and queuing up at his door. Among them were the Emperor’s brother, a monarch, a duke and duchess, 22 princes and 149 counts and countesses.
Vincenz Priessnitz, the "Water Doctor"
Vincenz Priessnitz discovered this powerful remedy when he watched a roe deer in the forest, heal itself of a bullet-wound in the leg. He went to the same spot every day, and watched the deer bathe its leg in the same cold water source, and gradually it became completely healed.
In 1816 Priessnitz himself got into a serious injury with a horse cart, where he broke his ribs. The doctors told him it was fatal, or at least crippling, but he went against conventional wisdom and used cold water therapy to heal himself.
He then used his cold therapy to heal some of his neighbors. Word soon spread of Vincenz Priessnitz and his 'miracle-cure', and he soon became renowned throughout the country and beyond. People of all ranks went to see him from many different countries. Even doctors went to receive treatment.
Priessnitz' cold water therapy worked so well, that the Emperor awarded him the Austrian Gold Civil Merit Medal First Class, the highest civilian honor of the Austrian government. His therapy touched so many lives that monuments were built in his name, long after he died.
Vincenz Priessnitz was visited by royalty and common folk alike for his "miracle" water therapy
After Priessnitz, there were many others who became popular with their use of cold water therapy to cure disease. One in particular, was a Bavarian priest called Sebastien Kneipp, who cured himself of pulmonary tuberculosis by regularly plunging into an icy river. Pulmonary TB is a serious condition that's difficult to treat, even today.
Kneipp wrote about the subject, and opened a series of hydrotherapy clinics which are still in operation today, and known as “Kneipp clinics”.
But cold water therapy existed LONG before either of these two guys found out about it. According to Dian Dincin Buchman, Ph.D., author of The Complete Book Of Water Healing, cold water therapy has been around since the dawn of man. Both Pythagoras and Hippocrates were known advocates of cold water therapy in the treatment of various illnesses.
The Roman Emperor Augustus used a series of cold baths to cure a liver abscess, when nothing else was helping. Cold baths were then used widely by the Romans. They were also used by the ancient Greeks and ancient Egyptians. Native Americans were known to plunge into icy lakes and streams as a general cure for all illnesses. Ancient Russians also frequently bathed in ice cold rivers for health and spiritual cleansing.
Ancient Romans, Egyptians and Greeks, all recognized the benefits of regular cold water bathing
If you think about it in evolutionary terms, aside from the few that happened to live near a hot spring, man has only ever been exposed to cold water until fairly recently. I can't imagine our paleolithic ancestor Grok, ever having been exposed to prolonged periods of temperature-controlled hot water. To bathe himself, Grok would stand under a cool waterfall or dive into a cold lake, stream or river.
After over thousands of years of being exposed to cold water, it makes sense that our bodies adapted by developing a positive response to cold water. Survival of the fittest, right? Those who had negative responses died away.
There's obviously some magic in cold water therapy, and modern medicine has done a great job at hiding this from us because big pharmaceutical companies like nothing better than to sell us their drugs. Despite this, there are those of us who still practice cold water therapy for its obvious health benefits.
In the US, there's Coney Island's Polar Bear Club in New York. These guys take a plunge into the near-freezing Atlantic ocean every Sunday from November to April. Similar seemingly-crazy cold-water stunts are performed more regularly in Russia and many European countries like Finland, where “ice hole swimming” is a popular pastime.
"Ice hole swimming" is a popular pastime in Finland
I used to wonder why all these crazy Russians and Europeans are always torturing themselves by jumping into frozen lakes. Now I know why – it makes them strong and keeps them young and healthy.
The way cold water works is it acts as a hormetic stressor. A hormetic stressor is something that's dangerous in high doses, but in lower doses, stresses your body in a way that results in a favorable biological response. Exercise is a hormetic stressor and cold water acts on your body a lot like exercise does. Both cause your heart rate and blood pressure to go up DURING exposure.
When you exercise, you could look at your increased heart rate and blood pressure and say something BAD is happening to your body. But no-one today would say that exercise is bad for you.
Exercise is a hardship and a stress on your body, but as long as you don't overdo it, you are rewarded after exercise with better health, strength, vitality and wellness in general. The same happens with a cold shower.
Jumping into a cold shower or otherwise being exposed to cold water can shock the hell out of you. I'm sure you know the experience – whether you turned the shower faucet the wrong way, jumped into a public swimming pool, fell off a boat, or got sprayed with a garden hose. It makes you gasp, pant like a dog, and your heart races like you're being chased by a rabid dog.
This is all bought on by the “cold shock response”. It only lasts for about a minute, after which your body adapts and the cold water really doesn't feel so bad. And if you're worried about hypothermia, don't. Mild hypothermia starts only after about 30 minutes of cold water immersion. So as long as you keep it short, you have little to worry about.
I say “little” to worry about… if you have heart disease or high blood pressure, you have to be a little careful and seek permission from your doctor before you take that icy plunge. Your heart and blood vessels may not be able to handle the increased workload.
So this cold shock response, although different, has a lot in common with exercise. It shocks your body in a way that stimulates a powerful hormonal response in your body.
The Benefits Of Taking A Cold Shower
I could go on forever with the list of benefits. Unlike medical drugs, which have one or two benefits and 60 different side-effects, this is a natural, holistic remedy that our bodies were designed by nature, to respond well to. The list of benefits to regular cold water immersion really does go on and on. Here are a few important ones that matter to you and me.
Increased Strength & Muscle Growth
There are some studies that suggest regular cold exposure leads not only to a reduction of body fat, but also to an increase in muscle mass. Despite eating more, animals kept in the cold are found to have less fat and more muscle than those kept in a hot environment.
A little lower down in this article, I also discuss a study where a group of 64 Indian subjects were found to have reduced abdominal girth and increased lean mass during an 8-week expedition to Antarctica.
In an interesting study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, cold water immersion BEFORE a weight-training workout, resulted in significantly greater strength gains than both the control group (who did nothing before the workout), and the group that was immersed in HOT water before the workout. A number of other studies have also reported this finding. Some authors suggest this could be because of the decrease in pain perception caused by cold water immersion.
And hey, I just had a thought.
Have you seen Rocky IV? Where Rocky trains out in the mountains in the freezing cold of Russia, while Ivan Drago trains indoors with all his fancy equipment and STEROIDS. It's probably just a coincidence, and I doubt they had this in mind when they planned to have Rocky train in the cold… but I like to think Rocky's muscles being kept cold, allowed him to train harder than Drago.
And hey, there's actually a study that suggests cooling the body is "better than steroids".
So give it a go. If you find the burning sensation in your muscles while doing 3 sets of weighted squats unbearable, then maybe a cold pre-workout shower is what you need.
Improved Post-Exercise Recovery
Cold water has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect when applied on your body. It works very well with inflammatory conditions like arthritis, sprained ankles and acne. There's also a lot of inflammation associated with the muscle-soreness you get after exercise. Studies have shown that a quick cold shower after exercise, significantly reduces the time it takes for your muscles to recover.
One particular study found that taking a cold shower after a high intensity interval training session, improved next day running performance. What was particularly interesting in this study, is that running performance was better in those who had a cold shower immediately after exercise, as opposed to 3 hours after exercise. So it's best to jump into the shower while you're still at the gym, rather than wait to get home.
So cool off those muscles and you'll perform better at your next workout. Better performance leads to better gains.
Better Mood, Energy & Vitality
I don't know about you, but I feel like crap when I come out of a hot bath – I feel drowsy and tired as hell. Maybe that's just me, but one thing we can all relate to is the fact that a cold bath/shower leaves you feeling energized and refreshed afterwards.
This is because exposure to cold water activates the sympathetic nervous system, which results in increased levels of norepinephrine in your blood. Norepinephrine plays an important role in keeping your spirits high. In fact, low levels of norepinephrine are known to lead to depression.
Since norepinephrine levels can increase by five-fold during a cold shower, cold showers are now being considered as a potential treatment for depression. If you're not depressed though, the least a cold shower will do is make you feel bloody good.
Regular cold water immersion also delays aging, improves circulation, gives you healthy hair & skin, strengthens immunity, and some say even boosts testosterone and increases fertility. But one of the most important things you and I need to know, is can cold exposure REALLY help us to lose weight?
There's a lot of talk out there that freezing your butt off for hours on end will only burn a few extra calories at best. But what are the latest studies showing?
Could it be that thermogenesis during cold exposure can be just as effective as exercise?
Use Cold Water Therapy To 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 DECREASED. This basically means that they put on more muscle and got more shredded.
Indians living in Antarctica for 8 weeks were found to have decreased abdominal girth and increased lean mass.
When it comes to weight loss with cold therapy, 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 rest. Studies have also found that shivering draws most of its energy from stored fat.
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 of. 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…
PET-CT scans reveal the activation of brown fat cells during cold exposure
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, increases. 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°C.
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 obesity.
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 regimen.
Remember though, Cronise didn't achieve success from cold-water dips alone. He had a solid exercise and nutrition regimen as a foundation, and simply used cold water immersion therapy as a supplement. I suggest you do the same.
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:
Immerse 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 in college. 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…
- Immerse 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.
- Give 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°C.
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 chest, 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 it 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'.
Remember though, if you're looking to get into shape, cold water therapy alone is not enough. You have to combine it with other methods that help to boost testosterone. Click the link below to discover some of the most powerful methods for boosting testosterone: