From placing an ice pack on a bee sting to taking a cold bath after a game, the benefits of cooling the body have long been recognised. But Wim Hof – otherwise known as The Iceman – has single handedly pushed this area of study into new territory. But what does science have to say about cold water immersion, and how might you enjoy the benefits of this treatment at home?
The Wim Hof Method combines cold water immersion with breathing and meditation techniques to unlock a wealth of benefits. Amongst other things it promises to increase energy, reduce stress levels, lead to better quality sleep, heighten focus, increase willpower and even strengthen your immune system.
Today we’ll be taking a closer look at cold water immersion (CWI) and the Wim Hof Method, to find out how it works, what it’s truly capable of, its relationship with warm water immersion, and how you can bring the benefits of CWI to your own backyard.
What is the Wim Hof Method?
Wim Hof became aware of his cold water tolerance at age 17, when he jumped into a frozen Amsterdam canal. Adopting the nickname The Iceman, he’d go on to achieve a series of Guinness World Records, including:
- Running a half marathon in the Arctic Circle, barefoot and wearing only shorts.
- Swimming under ice for 66 metres.
- Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro wearing only shorts.
Through these challenges he began to develop the Wim Hof Method, a program in which participants combine frequent cold water immersion with breathing, yoga and meditation techniques. Hof has claimed that his program results in a wealth of physiological and psychological benefits, many of which have since been backed up by hard science.
What are the benefits of cold water immersion?
What are these benefits? The Wim Hof Method, and cold water immersion in general, has been proven to assist in recovery, rehabilitation and the management of chronic conditions.
This 2011 study showed that cold water therapy reduces delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS): the ache that often hits you the day after undertaking a new or particularly strenuous activity.
As far as the Wim Hof Method is concerned, a number of studies have been commissioned in an effort to understand how The Iceman’s body works, and the efficacy of his method. Happily much of what he claims has been proven true, including:
- The accumulation of brown adipose tissue and resultant fat loss.
- A reduction in inflammation that can fortify the immune system.
- More balanced hormone levels, improved sleep quality, and the production of endorphins that elevate mood.
How does cold water immersion work?
The potential of cold water immersion shown in the scientific studies above poses a question: how exactly does cold water work on the body? What physiological effect does it have that results in these potentially incredible benefits?
Well, cold temperatures constrict blood vessels, which can help to reduce swelling and numb pain. This is the same reason we put ice packs on everything from bee stings to sprained ankles.
Anyone who has gone for a winter swim or jumped in an ice bath will also tell you that cold water immersion is an invigorating experience. It raises the heart rate, gets your body producing adrenaline and endorphins, and can seriously enhance your mood!
Does cold water immersion work with warm water immersion?
Alternating cold water immersion with hot water immersion – otherwise known as contrast bath therapy – is another popular form of water-based therapy. While cold water immersion limits blood flow by constricting your blood vessels and slowing your heart rate, warm water immersion does the opposite, increasing your heart rate and opening blood vessels to promote blood flow.
By switching between hot and cold water, your body oscillates between these two states, which studies have shown can be beneficial in a number of ways:
- Reduced fatigue: In this 2017 meta-analysis contrast bath therapy was shown to reduce fatigue 1-3 days after sport, while this study showed it reduced lactic acid build-up.
- Reduced DOMS: This 2013 study demonstrated contrast bath therapy could reduce delayed onset muscle soreness when compared to resting alone.
- Reduced swelling: In a study of 115 people with ankle sprains, contrast bath therapy was shown to reduce swelling for up to three days after the injury.
Contrast bath therapy and cold water immersion at home
Wil Hof has ventured to the ends of the earth to get his cold water fix. Professional athletes, meanwhile, tend to have the necessary equipment and support staff on hand to enjoy CWI.
But what about those who aren’t paid sportspeople or who can’t afford to travel to the Arctic every time they want a low temperature dip? Sure, you could fill your bath with ice, but that will likely prove a combination of inconvenient and expensive.
Happily, there’s a better way: a Hot Spring spa pool fitted with a CoolZone™ System.
While The Iceman tends to go nearer freezing, cold water immersion is generally conducted in water cooled to 15C. The temperature of hot water immersion, meanwhile, tends to hover around that of the body (36C-37C), and for safety reasons rarely exceeds 40C.
The temperature range of a Hot Spring spa fitted with a CoolZone system is 15C-40C, which means it is capable of offering cold water immersion, hot water immersion and contrast bath therapy, along with all the benefits that each of these therapies can bring.
Not only that, the CoolZone system allows you to enjoy your spa pool year-round. Spa owners in hotter climates will often cover their spa pools in the summer, as the water gets too hot. But with the addition of active cooling technology, you can ensure your spa water is the perfect temperature every time, no matter what Mother Nature might throw at you.
If you’re ready to enjoy the soothing effects of temperature-controlled water, from the Wil Hof Method to contrast bath therapy, look no further than a Hot Spring fitted with CoolZone™ technology. Get in touch with our friendly team or book a test soak today!