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Ice Bath Secrets

6 Years of Teaching Insights and How You Can Benefit

From a novice instructor in 2019 until now in 2024, I've witnessed a diverse array of participants from various walks of life undergo our class, experiencing a wide range of outcomes, both positive and negative. By sharing these stories, I aim to expedite your journey to finding a solution tailored to your unique needs.

1. Managing Expectations: Beyond the Blueprint

While many expect positive outcomes from ice baths, it’s essential to recognize that results can vary.

For instance, one participant experienced a panic attack triggered by childhood trauma, which emerged after the session had ended. We promptly provided comfort and assistance until she departed.

In another instance, a participant forced herself into the water unprepared, resulting in a severe migraine. This incident underscored the importance of listening to one's body.

Not every experience conforms neatly to the blueprint, much like how not everyone should consume an avocado daily. Embrace the unpredictability and glean insights from each session.

2. Fear of the Cold: Breaking Mental Blocks

The primary obstacle for most participants is fear, rooted in past discomfort or chilling experiences.

Many cases I've heard participants say things like "I'm very afraid of the cold", or "I'm just going to observe but not go into the water". This is totally respected and in fact helpful to be expressed by everyone. Most times though, these people go through the protocol and watch their fellow coursemates go into the water, and end up being able to do it confidently themselves without additional prompts from me.
Other times, they wait until everybody has left to be able to go into the cold one-on-one with a guide.

Fear should not be blocked out, else we would just blindly rush into all sorts of dangerous situations. In our workshops we find that gradual exploration allows fear to grow at a very controllable pace, and something I mention frequently for participants is: "You now control the moment you start, the intensity you wish to experience, and the moment you want this to stop." With all this control at hand, there is nothing left to be afraid of! Address this fear head-on by acknowledging it and gradually easing into the cold.

3. Optional, Not Compulsory: The Freedom to Skip

Contrary to popular belief, ice baths are not mandatory. As an instructor, I emphasize individual choice. Some days, skipping the ice may be the right decision for an individual.

Ice baths are actually pretty stressful to the body. If you are already facing stressful issues such as fighting an infection or other physical or mental stressors, an ice bath does take a huge amount of energy to be dealt with as your body struggles to burn resources for reheating.

The good news is I'm seeing more and more participants come for the community aspect, speaking about their day and going through a round of relaxing breathwork, then instead of the ice bath, they opt to sweat it out in the sauna for a more relaxing way of getting the body to do some work.

Participants need to be empowered to listen to their bodies, instead of the instructor, their peers or even encouragement from family.

4. Pushing Too Hard: The Shivering Price

Life often pushes us relentlessly, and we carry this mindset into ice baths. Overdoing it by staying too long in the ice can lead to post-immersion shivering.

What most people aren't aware of is that while we are in the ice, we start to feel "invincible" mainly because of blood vessel constriction cutting off supply to hands and feet, keeping the warmth to the torso and brain, so that cold blood cannot enter the core.

On top of that, adrenaline is secreted during an ice bath. Adrenaline dampens the pain response in your nervous system so that you won't get slowed down by injuries as you fight or escape a threat, like an ice bath.

This invincibility usually sets in within 60-90 seconds (faster if you are a seasoned practitioner), which is when many people express they can stay forever and opt for a 10-30 minute immersion. The truth is that the body is constantly losing heat to the cold water no matter how you feel. The price to pay is hypothermia or anywhere near that. Having experienced a very surreal reaction to that during our Wim Hof Method instructor certification trip to Poland's Mt Snezka and being caught in a 70km/h blizzard in -15 Deg C wearing nothing but shorts, I can honestly say that having your prefrontal cortex shut down and the reptilian brain switch to survival mode is a very brutal experience, which I would never wish on anybody.

Long story short:
Balance intensity with self-awareness. Go into waters cold enough to create a shock response for you to deal with as physical/mental training, stay long enough for a chance to calm down from the chaos, and get out quickly enough before you lose too much heat. Rinse and repeat, the whole process can be as quick as 12 minutes for 3 rounds.


5. Consistency Matters: Year-Long Commitment

The most significant transformations occur when participants commit to regular practice. Those who attend sessions consistently for at least a year witness lasting changes. Ice baths seep into their daily reactions to stress.

One participant shared that in his investment company, there was an incident where a project did not go according to plan and was considered a failure and a huge loss. His reaction was basically: "I guess that's life, let's learn from this and move on."

All his shareholders' jaws dropped. They said one year ago his reaction would have been to scream, shout and push blame. What did he do?
He attributed a huge part of his character shift to the multiple times he came into the process of breathing and freezing for the past one year, training his brain, breath and body to manage a sudden and intense stress over and over again, and always coming out calm and collected.

6. Healing Community: Lifelong Illnesses and Strength

Some students with chronic illnesses find solace in these classes. Connecting with others facing similar health challenges fosters a sense of community. Strength emerges not only from the cold but also from shared experiences.

A particularly memorable participant came with an autoimmune condition Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS). It is a type of arthritis that causes inflammation in the joints and ligaments of the spine and for 10 years he had to have powerful painkillers Arcoxia as part of his regimen every 2-3 days.

After his first Fundamentals workshop in 2019, he tried a 30-day Wim Hof breathing challenge to do the protocol every single morning for a month on top of coming to weekly breath and ice bath training sessions. At the end of 30 days, he was actually one of the few who completed without a single break, but beyond that he said that the entire month he only had pain killers 2-3 times!

I met him again in 2023 where he brought his friend to a workshop, and updated that he now has his own freezer at home where he hops into before work, and even better news was that he is completely off painkillers!

Of course, I cannot credit the method alone for his life-changing results. This is also a man who is incredibly devoted to his practice: Fitness, nutrition, stress management, rest, being a leader at work, being a husband and father at home. Such a balance requires a strong discipline and the essence and meaning of his habits need to be discovered so as to power him through life's challenges.

7. Mindset Shifts: From Discomfort to Resilience

Ice baths shift mental paradigms. Participants learn to embrace discomfort, adapt, and build resilience.

A serial entrepreneur who comes for weekly morning sessions shared that the pain from an ice bath almost never goes away, but it is something he joyfully looks forward to experiencing. When he feels the skin send a powerful feedback to the brain, and all his instincts ask him to flee, he relishes in his ability to still be able to breathe calmly, strongly and not respond.

I'm very compassionate to people who feel pain and usually ask them to get out before a bad reaction sets in, but this is one of the few occasions where I ride with the enthusiasm of watching grit and determination be built brick by brick, softened with a gentle inhale but strengthened with a powerful clench of heat production during the exhale.

Mindset shifts can happen within the ice and their impact on overall well-being can be tremendous, it creates gluttons for punishment when you realize that surviving hardship only serves to strengthen you, either with an answer of "You did it, you are indeed strong", or "You couldn't do it, here's where you can improve".

8. Rituals and Routines: Incorporating Ice Baths

Everybody asks "So what's the best way to do this?" Here's some practical tips on integrating ice baths into daily routines. Whether it’s morning rituals or post-workout cooldowns, consistency is key. How can you create your own ice bath practices?

Wake up calls: The most painful one because your body is still cold from sleep. A short but repeated protocol is recommended, such as 3 x 1 minute. The colder the better, single digit temperatures.

Relaxation: Usually done after a long day. If you are tired, there is no point fighting an intense cold anymore. Go for 3 x 2-3 minutes at a higher temperature of 10-12 deg C.

Post workout: Great way to kill pain and inflammation and feel great again. If logistically possible, it can even be used in between sets. If done right after a workout though, the pain killing also stops inflammation from signaling muscle repair and growth. If muscle growth is your aim, schedule the ice bath a few hours later so the afterburn can work its magic.

Pre workout: A new study indicates pre-cooling the body improves the overall sustainability of the workout. In our own experiments, we found that the output in calories burned during a 3 min all-out exercise bike push resulted in 10% less caloric burn when we ice before the workout, but no sweating, much less lactic build up in the muscles, and together with nasal breathing there was hardly any breathlessness at the end of the push, so everyone said they enjoyed that sequence and would rather repeat that compared to a push without pre-cooling.

9. Beyond Physical: Emotional and Mental Benefits

Ice baths extend beyond physical benefits. Here are some emotional and mental advantages of the cold:

Stress reduction - Struggling in the cold breathing hard and fast means giving in to the fight and flight reaction. If you calm down fast enough, the still water at your skin starts to get heated and forms a thermal layer. This is like your reward for being able to calm down quickly, and the powerful part is when you apply this special power to all sorts of stress-bombs surprising you on a daily basis.

Increased focus - Do you know you have the ability to be laser-focused for a substantial time? Notice where your mind goes when you first enter a freezing cold tub: It's definitely not on that unread email about a project, or what to have for dinner. The unique way you think and breathe to stay focused on surviving the cold is incredibly useful for many other areas in life too.

Heightened mindfulness - We don't have many windows of time in life to ask simple questions like: "Which muscles are tense? Are my toes feeling OK? How is my breath? What am I thinking of now?" but these become extremely clear during an ice bath. How is it useful?
Imagine now getting into a heated disagreement, and you start feeling your heart rate increase, shoulders and fists tightening, breathing accelerating, the next words coming out of your mouth might very well be hurtful unless you catch yourself in that state and willfully bring yourself into a calmer state to continue the conversation without casualties.

We encourage readers to explore the holistic impact of how this basic protocol can trigger a multitude of positive practices.

10. The Art of Recovery: Ice Baths as Restorative Tools

Ice baths are powerful recovery tools. After a morning duathlon, a biohacker who happened to attach a HRV reading device to his chest came for an afternoon breath and ice session. The result showed that one hour after the ice bath, his HRV reading was so good that the system recorded a "Day Time Recovery" level that was higher than his recovery level at night during sleep! The only time I can get this is from deep breathwork or from one hour into watching a relaxing movie, yet he was in that state immediately while heading home after an ice bath.

Now that you've reached the bottom of my post, one of the biggest points I wish to share though, to the detriment of my business, is that joining my class will not heal you.

Your healing comes from rest.

Breathwork helps you rest. Ice baths are so tiring, they help you rest at night. Physical work helps you rest.

Stress does not help, late nights do not help, rubbish nutrition, loneliness, and everything we know is bad for the body does not help. Just sleep more, sleep better, and do whatever it takes to achieve that!

If I were to summarize what the ideal practice looks like, it would be to educate yourself with the best knowledge available to improve your wellbeing in the shortest amount of time possible, and dedicate more hours to physical and mental rest.

Sleep so deeply that you wake up energized and ready for the next day, the next year, the next decade of suffering and challenges, and still be able to breathe calmly and smile, whispering "Bring it on."