Cold Thermogenesis: Putting It Into Practice
December 14, 2020
December 14, 2020
In a temperature controlled world designed around comfort, cold exposure (also referred to as cold thermogenesis or CT) has become a surprisingly hot topic (pun intended).
Not only does deliberate cold exposure leave you feeling great, it accesses ancient biological programs intended to optimize our physiologic function and thrive in challenging environments. Although, we are hardly challenged by nature’s elements anymore, we can still reap the incredible physical and mental benefits through intentional practice.
The most popular and widely practiced method has become cold showers. They are accessible and most have a fairly consistent shower routine, which proves a recipe for success. While they are incredibly beneficial and should be practiced consistently, there is a whole world of exciting methods which should be explored as well.
Whether you’re just getting started or looking for to up your game, there is sure to be a method for you! From least difficult to the most complex, here are some great strategies for making it happen:
Face dunking is a great entry into the world of cold thermogenesis. Not only is it easy and accessible, it’s much less daunting than being sprayed with cold water or submersed entirely.
Facing dunking can likely be done with items you already have lying around—so no excuses!
To get the water as cold as possible (without freezing it), fill a shallow pan and let it sit in your freezer for about an hour.
Once it is cooled down, take a deep breathe and place your entire face in the pan. At first, the cold water may be extremely uncomfortable—look to stay submerged for 5-10 seconds initially. Continue building as it becomes easier, eventually working to accumulate a specific amount of time, coming out to take a breath as needed (say, 2-5 minutes).
This is a great practice to adopt before going to bed as it has a calming effect and lowers body temperature. It’s also great if you’re traveling and want a quick solution to jet lag or simply want to be consistent with your cold exposure practice.
Taking cold showers is a great way to start your CT practice and it’s getting a lot of attention lately. Not only do most have access to a shower, most also have their shower routine nailed down so it provides a consistent reminder to keep it going.
Note: Even if you use a different, more complex method, it never hurts to continue taking cold showers for additional exposure/benefit.
If you’re new to cold showers, start slow. Begin with just 10 seconds and build, consistently adding time each day/week. If you struggle, don’t feel pressure to increase time right away—move at your own pace, while still challenging yourself.
Eventually, work towards 2-10 minutes of cold water exposure depending on time. Experiment with contrasting different temperatures as well—i.e. 2 minutes of cold, 2 minutes of hot, etc.
Reminder: Focus on the breath! Forgetting to breathe will elicit a panic response and make the experience more stressful. While the goal is to activate the sympathetic response, you want to learn to strategically work through it. Focus on breathing through the discomfort and coming out stronger.
Finally, always end with cold! It may be tempting to warm up the shower once you're finished, however ending with cold is a great way to keep the benefits of your cold shower going.
Tub and Ice:
If you’re looking for an extra challenge, filling a tub with ice and water is a great option.
Using the tub method offers the benefit (if you could call it that) of full body immersion. While it may seem daunting at first to get your entire body in the cold water, over time you will likely find it is much easier than showers.
Using the tub in your bathroom is certainly an option, but may not be as ideal as purchasing a livestock/water tank and using outside. Tanks are fairly easy to locate and purchase. You will likely want something that holds at least 100 gallons and will be sturdy. We found that this one worked well, was fairly inexpensive, and was large enough to fit two people comfortably.
Tip: choose a plastic tub as cold metal can be uncomfortable. Also, make sure it has a drain plug or you have access to a water pump for easier draining.
To fill a tank with 100 gallons of water takes about 20 minutes. If you’re on a well, be sure you have the capacity to do that before running it dry.
To cool 100 gallons of water to 55 degrees requires about 40-60 pounds of ice when the temperature outdoors is 75 degrees or below. As the temperature rises, you will need more ice and it will be more difficult to sustain the lower temperatures.
There are several ways to obtain this much ice.
You can keep the water in the tank without draining for about a week or two depending on frequency of use. Add food-grade hydrogen peroxide or epsom salt to clear up the water as needed.
Use both temperature and time as variables when starting out and remember to take it slowly. For instance, start with 2 minutes and build up over time or start with a warmer temperature and work your way down. Ideally, you want to get to 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit and be able to sustain exposure for 30-45 minutes.
To make this method worth your while, do it with friends and make a full day of it. The ongoing cost of ice can add up over time, so splitting it with others and making the most out of each session is a great strategy. If you have time, do multiple sessions in the day to get the most bang for your buck.
Natural Water Source (Ocean, Lake, Pond, River, etc.):
If you want a free and easy way to get some cold exposure, use a natural water source like a lake, pond, river, or the ocean. In most areas, some body of water is typically accessible—if not, make it an adventure and seek one out.
Once you’ve found a natural water source, the next step is to get in there! Like all other forms of CT, taking it slow initially is highly recommended.
Some additional considerations when using a natural water source:
The chest freezer is a popular choice amongst those looking to elevate their CT practice with an accessible, inexpensive and relatively hassle-free option.
Choosing the correct size is key and you will likely want something that is roughly 20 cubic feet at minimum. Don’t be afraid to head to your local hardware store try out a couple or research the dimensions and plot it out. Visit your local scratch and dent store or keep an eye out for used freezers on local marketplace websites as they can much cheaper.
You’ll also want to keep the lid in mind and find a freezer that allows the lid to stay open when you’re in it.
Once you have purchased your freezer, place your chest freezer strategically, keeping in mind that once it is full, it is likely not moving. This means keeping it near a water/power source and having the ability to drain it when needed.
Seal up your freezer using a non-toxic adhesive along the edges, seams and any spot water could leak. If your freezer does not have drainage, you may need to explore adding a drain plug or simply use a pump to get the water out. You may also want to any remove wheels and ensure the freezer is well supported and level as water has significant weight, which could compromise the integrity of the freezer.
Depending on the temperature of the water coming out of the tap, it may take some time for it to cool initially. If you want to speed up the process, throw some ice in there.
To keep the water cool consistently without forming ice blocks, use a timed outlet and set it to kick on a couple hours a day. To monitor temperature, use a wired temperature probe that can be kept in the water.
To keep the water clean without chemicals, use a combination of food-grade hydrogen peroxide and epsom salt. Drain water as needed depending on use.
If you’re looking to get fancy and make your chest freezer look good, add a wooden enclosure or some paint. Sky’s the limit!
*SAFETY IS KEY* Because you are using the chest freezer in an unconventional way and mixing water and electricity, it is imperative that you take safety into consideration. This includes:
You also don’t want to inadvertently introduce any toxic exposures to your set up, so research all products thoroughly and ensure all are safe.
Minimum Equipment needed:
If you’re serious about your CT practice and looking to up the game with a solution designed specifically for this purpose, there are certainly options available. Many resemble hot tubs and and can generate both hot water and cold water. However, this market is extremely nuanced and can sometimes be a bit confusing. It is imperative that you do your research and thoroughly vet out each option as not all products are created equally and can be expensive.
If you’ve been practicing any of these CT methods for any period of time, you’re likely becoming fairly adapted to the cold water. However, it is important to note that many cold tubs can reach temperatures much lower than the other methods and you should take it slow initially—both with the temperature and exposure time.
Since each cold tub differs, refer to manufacturers directions for set up and maintenance.
The best part of the having a sophisticated cold tub set up is the convenience and practicality. Simply jump in and get cold!
Any and all cold exposure is welcome and if you can make it a part of your daily routine, go for it! Even jumping in for just 2 minutes is a great way to tap into the sympathetic nervous system and introduce some positive stress. However, continue to experiment with different lengths of time and challenge yourself. Extended exposures (20-45 minutes) offer maximal benefit and will leave you feeling great.
Takeaway: If you’re ready to make CT part of your functional lifestyle, there are plenty of options to choose from. Find a method that will fit into your daily routine and easily become a habit. At the same time, don’t get comfortable—continually challenge yourself and mix it up.
And don’t forget—share your practice with others as community optimizes success!
See you in the field.