I’m getting soft.
Not really. As a full time Jiu Jitsu instructor and practitioner, I’m on the more rugged end of the American Male Toughness Spectrum. Compared to the guy who checked us into the hotel here in London, I’m Chuck Norris rugged. But I know better. Put me up next to Thoreau at Walden pond and I’ll look like a Muppet Baby (and not Animal, more like Beeker).
About a month ago- in an attempt to alleviate this lack in fortitude- I embraced a daily ritual of ending every shower with an abrupt and intense blast of cold water. My goal initially had been to simply shock my system, and introduce some intentional discomfort into my intentionally comfortable life.
We’ve all seen videos of Eastern Bloc tough guys casually bathing alongside glaciers in frigid rivers and lakes. Oftentimes they have a newborn baby swinging from their arms, executing flawless gymnastics routines. Child abuse? Far from it. These babies are growing up to be terminators. Physically and mentally unbreakable.
This is evident in the rise of the Russian MMA killers. You’ve gotta put these guys to sleep to stop them. It’s no secret that this toughness, both mental and physical, is born from from hardship. Toughness is like a muscle, it needs to be stressed and broken down to get stronger.
To Musashi, the icy plunge into the sacred stream was necessary. If his body could not withstand the cold, how could it survive in the face of life’s more threatening obstacles?”
Ice baths, cold therapy, and even cold showers have health benefits beyond the obvious reduction in soreness, inflammation and recovery time. Prolonged exposure to cold burns brown fat stores, regulates hormones, and improves immunity and blood flow. It’s better for your skin and hair. I’ve noticed improved sleep. But I’ve come to appreciate something less measurable…
Is the condition that I so feared?” ~Seneca
My first few times in the cold were terrible experiences. Simply awful. I managed to withstand about 10 seconds before succumbing to the discomfort. How alarmingly pitiful is that?! I’m a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, fought in a cage, and clocked countless hours battling world champions on the mats, only to be tapped out in seconds by cold water.
Herein lies the value of this endeavor. With each shower I increased my time under the cold, asking myself, “what type of person do you want to be?” Literally, out loud. My wife thinks I’m crazy.
Now, though, I can walk right into a freezing cold shower with no mental preparation or recoil. I get a tinge of excitement and anticipation even, where there was once apprehension and dread. It’s become such a valued part of my daily routine that I’ve been doing it here on vacation in London. (For the record, their water seems much colder… thanks Obama.)
To some, this may seem trivial, like it wouldn’t translate to other areas in life. To them, I’d say take the challenge and find out for yourself.
The nuts and bolts:
One minute of hot water to wash up, then four minutes of cold. I suggest going directly from hot to freezing cold to get the full experience. To optimize the physical benefits, spend the most time with the water hitting the base of your neck and upper back.
Dr. Rhonda Patrick has done extensive research on cold therapy. She claims just 2 minutes in 50 degree water will double levels of norepinephrine. You’ll get the same effect with just 30 seconds of 40 degree water. In other words, a cold shower will make you feel good.