Cold Water plunges – making a splash!
The first time I jumped into intensely cold water I had no idea how cold it was and might not have done it had I known. In fact, I was thinking way more about the fact that I was going to be plunging in from a 30-foot drop from a cliff, next to a series of mountain waterfalls. This was in a place called Devil’s Punchbowl, in a spot of wilderness about 20 minutes outside of Aspen. It wasn’t quite like jumping off a high dive into a pool. There were rock walls all around, lots of noise from the cascading waterfalls, and just a small area of water that was safe to jump into. I was 17 years old and it was the first time I had jumped off of anything like that. So needless to say, I was focussed more on a successful jump than what the water would feel like.
(Cliff jumping and cold water plunges can be extremely dangerous. Whatever you read here, know that you should be extremely careful and do your research.)
If you’ve ever jumped in 40 degree water, you’ll know that what I experienced was a huge shock. My muscles seized, even my lungs felt paralyzed when I made it to the surface for air. I had to really think hard to make my arms and legs work to swim the short distance to where I could climb out onto rough, sharp-surfaced rocks. The only thought running through my mind is how to end the feeling of numbing cold. And that’s a thought that I think very easily could have taken the majority voice in my head. If so, I may have always been shy of cold water for the rest of my life. But instead, that thought was quickly drowned out by the huge rush I got, and the natural high that followed. It’s one of the most intense, pure, and natural feelings of being alive that I can ever get. And I wanted that so bad that I immediately climbed to the top of the cliff several times more for another round.
Since then, I’ve been compelled to submerge myself in any natural body of cold, mountain water I find myself at. The colder the water, the more I am drawn to it. Most of the time the temperature will be between 35-50 degrees. And I’ll go to great lengths to get to it. I’ve broken the ice at the shore of mountain lakes during winter in the middle of the night. I’ve gotten soaked with no towel or change of clothes. I’ve scrambled rock walls, climbed fences, trespassed (unintentionally), been yelled at, and called crazy. And it’s always been worth it for the benefits that come with it.
These benefits of cold plunges are not just a personal experience, they are grounded in physiology and apply to almost everyone. Most people already know that athletes use cold water plunges to help them recover from intense workouts. The cold water helps with inflammation which can help prevent post workout soreness. However, researchers are discovering new benefits constantly. Furthermore, people who do cold plunges regularly describe numerous positive effects. Among these benefits, the most popular include increased cardiovascular performance, alertness, better sleeping, stronger immune system, and weight loss. A lot of these benefits are a result of the expansion and contraction that happens in the blood vessels close to the skin. It’s a completely natural way to positively change the physiology in your body in a short amount of time, with little physical exertion, and without ingesting any medicines or supplements.
Humans have known about, and been seeking out the therapeutic benefits of cold plunges throughout history. This is nothing new. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Polar Bear Club, but even the Romans and Greeks likely used ice baths. And most recently, the therapy has been trending due to Wim Hof, a pioneer in bringing ice baths to your everyday ritual. Wim Hof teaches a method of training our bodies to thrive in cold conditions, and teaches breathwork around a cold plunge practice. While the history of ice baths is long, it’s only recently that they practice has become more mainstream.
Are you interested in giving it a try? Here are my tips:
- Where are you going to do it? Find still water, in a quiet, private place. A lake, an eddy in a slow moving part of a river, or make an ice bath in your home tub or buy a water vat from your hardware store.
- Make sure the temperature is right. Start by going for water in the mid 50 degree fahrenheit range. You can go down to 40 degrees, or even colder, but it’s best to work up to that level.
- Have a friend nearby. You might experience severe cramping, shortness of breath, changes in heart rate, and other side effects. It’s best to have someone nearby who can help you out if you can’t get out of the water on your own.
- Have a towel ready, and a soft, safe space to get out. Your body will be stressed, and you won’t be moving very easily. You want to be careful not to slip or step on something that might make you fall.
- Do not move into the water slowly. Try to go in all at once. Going slow can make you panic before you get all the way in.
- Submerge to your neck. You want your chest and shoulders to be submerged.
- Focus on deep, big inhales and exhalations. This will increase blood flow and help you manage the discomfort and keep your limbs movable.
- Time yourself. Aim for a goal time. I would suggest starting with 30 seconds and increasing it by 15-30 seconds each day you try it.