So it’s been a week of ups and downs since my last post about doing the ice bath. Last week I had a very successful 5-minute soak in water that was below 40 F, and blogged about it with great enthusiasm. In fact, I suggest reading that first, before continuing.
With my newfound confidence in my abilities came multiple days of disappointment. The day after the ice bath, I reused the same water which had risen to 55 F for another soak. After 7 minutes I started shivering! I can’t remember the last time I shivered! Two other days were terrible, stopping well before my normal 10 minutes due to discomfort. And two other days I just didn’t do it–a combination of busyness and not being “in the mood.” Only one good day since then.
Never Underestimate Your Enemy
It’s Friday again, and I need to do at least one ice bath a week (and not more, because it’s expensive!). I feel like I am about to go to war and I am going to lose. I have to get myself focused and primed to deal with this experience. I went all out with my mental and physical preparations:
- Did a HIIT workout earlier in the day (seems correlated with good cold showers later)
- Four full rounds of WHM breathing with exhale retention
- One more round of breathing ending with exhale-retained push-ups (43!)
- Continued breathing while I did 10-15 minutes of stretching
- Did 10 minutes of short WHM cycles with inhale retention (5-15 WHM breaths), doing heat/adrenaline focus
- Before getting in the water, I did a couple more cycles like above, but focusing on programming my response to the event.
Two new things here that I’ve always done, but not in a very focused or determined manner. Today I really focused on them. They are not explicitly WHM, but I suspect many people who succeed with WHM go through iterations of experimentation like this for preparation and endurance.
- Heat/adrenaline focus: I essentially practice the way I want my body to respond in the ice, but while at room temperature. I focus on my arms and legs and try to slow down the circulation–I don’t know if it works, but I feel colder. I visualize heat inside my gut, and practice kegels and flex muscles to intensify it. I visualize events and emotions that cause adrenaline to be released, and try to associate that with mental triggers and increasing heat in the body.
- Reponse Programming: I visualize the sequence of events that is about to happen, and tell myself how I’m going to react to them. It’s almost a kind of self-hypnosis. For instance, “I’m going to step into the water and experience immediate numbness in the feet, but this will feel good and give me energy and make me feel more in control. When I sit down I will feel the coldness not on my body, but on a shell around it, and my body will draw its heat inside and feel good, and I will smile.” I repeat these things to myself in my head while I breathe.
Before all that, I dumped 40 lbs of ice in the 48 F tub. Now, 30 minutes later, I give the tub a good stir and measure values between 34 F and 38 F. This is it…
The self-programming was spot-on. I experienced what I told myself I was going to experience. I felt emboldened when my feet went numb as I stepped in, and I felt very little shock sitting down into it (and I smiled!). I do multiple short inhale-retentions in the water like in the heat/adrenaline focus earlier. I feel warmth inside, even though my entire body is experiencing a burning feeling. The burning is getting more intense, but I can mostly detach from it.
It actually reminds of something a former military officer once told me. During boot camp they would tell the candidates:
The pain is mandatory. The suffering is optional.
That’s exactly how I felt in the water. At least until minute four, when my hands were really hurting. Stiff with a strong burning numbness. I actually had only planned to do 5 minutes, but convinced myself to go longer–the only thing to overcome is the pain in my hands. I did more breathing, but it wasn’t helping. The only thing that comforted me was that notion that this experience was strengthening my hands, so it should be easier to endure next time. Last time it was my feet that suffered, but not this time. Maybe that’s not a coincidence. I’m getting stronger.
Finally, I get out after seven minutes. Lobster, again! (that is the picture from last bath, but still applies here) My hands are super stiff and burning, but I feel good otherwise. Before anything else, I need to take my temperature. Last time, my temperature started at 98.1 F and dropped to 96.7 over the course of five minutes, -1.4 F. This time I started at 97.6 F and ended… 97.3 F! My temperature hardly dropped in 7 minutes in ice (-0.3 F)! This is the first time I’ve measured a drop of less than 1.0 F in any of these exposures. What a pleasant surprise!
But then… the afterdrop kicks in. This is where your body senses warmth and restores bloodflow to your extremities, but your extremities are super cold, and the warm blood going through them cools down. This causes your temperature to drop even though you’re no longer exposed. I turn on the shower and wait for it warm up. While waiting, I start shivering and chattering my teeth. Surprise! My body isn’t out of control, but I’m not comfortable. Five minutes after exposure, I check my temp before getting into the shower: 96.1 F! Whoa, I lost a whole 1.2 F after getting out. The shower is nice on an absolute scale, but I don’t feel like it’s warming me up. In fact, somehow my skin still felt cold. I guess the coldness really permeated.
It should be clarified that there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the afterdrop if you are not suffering from severe hypothermia. Your body just needs to re-heat from the sudden temperature loss. In fact, this is actually a good sign, because it means the body properly shunted the bloodflow while in the ice (allowing the limbs to cool a lot), and then immediately restored bloodflow after the exposure (leading to a lot of blood cooling).
This is the most profound WHM success I’ve felt, yet. I felt good after 7 minutes in ice, my temperature hardly dropped, and my body restored bloodflow immediately after getting out. I think with practice you can avoid the afterdrop. I’m not sure how, other than Wim Hof claiming he can open and close his blood vessels like he can operate his fingers. Perhaps he consciously limits how quickly the bloodflow is restored. Or continues his focus to raise his temperature even after getting out. Either way, I feel like I’m exactly where I should be 8 weeks into the course, with more to learn and more to experience.