Cold Water Immersion: What even is it?

  • Wellbeing

Cold water immersion (CWI) is gaining popularity thanks to Dutch motivational speaker Wim Hof. He is also lovingly referred to as Ice Man, which says a lot – and no, he isn’t starring in the new Top Gun movie!

We’ll dive further into Wim Hof’s cold-water antics in a later blog, but today, we’ll look at precisely what cold-water immersion is.

Cold Water Immersion

Cold water immersion (CWI) is also known as ice baths, plunge pools and even cold-water therapy. It is an exercise where a person submerges themselves in water, usually below fifteen degrees centigrade, directly after training to aid recovery.

Now, scientific evidence suggests that cold water immersion does little to aid recovery, but it has been proven that it helps enhance recovery, which is hugely beneficial.

Can Cold Water Immersion Improve Recovery?

When we exercise, especially at high intensities, we are expected to cause small amounts of damage to our muscles – this is usually referred to as Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage or EIMD, which then leads to DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.

A lot of research has been conducted on the effectiveness of cold-water immersion in decreasing DOMS. The results show that it can have a significant effect while reducing Ratings of Perceived Exertion (RPE).

Overall, however, there hasn’t been a great deal of research to conclude the objective measures of cold-water immersion in other areas of recovery. Hence, it’s still not fully understood how cold-water immersion can improve recovery (Reference: Owen Walker, Director Science for Sport).

It is believed, though, that cold-water immersion can help in the following areas:

  • Hydrostatic Pressure – pressure allowing fluids to move more easily around your body is believed to help faster recovery.
  • Vasoconstriction (blood vessel constriction) – leads to lower localised blood flow around damaged tissue, reducing inflammatory activity.
  • Placebo Effect – where the individual feels more alert and awake during submersion, helping them feel more pain relief.
  • Analgesic (Pain relieving) effect of the cold water – thought to be that the cold water leads to reduced nerve conduction speeds, lowering pain receptor signals.

Can Cold Water Immersion Boost Weight Loss?

Some people would lead you to believe that cold-water immersion is a top way for you to lose weight, and if we’re honest, there isn’t enough science to back this up. Ultimately, weight loss is aided by calories in and calories out, so your diet, activity and exercise are what will benefit you most on your weight loss journey.

It has, however, been considered that cold water immersion can affect your metabolic rate, which is the rate at which your body consumes calories and turns them into energy. Again, the research around this is relatively loose, but it can be why many people like to suggest that cold-water immersion has positive benefits on weight loss (Reference: Wim Hof Method).

Safety Tips for Cold Water Immersion

  • Talk to your doctor – Cold water immersion can affect your heart rate, blood pressure, and circulation. You want to ensure you’re in tip-top health before attempting any cold-water activities, as they may cause cardiovascular stress.
  • Don’t dip alone – Cold water immersion can have extreme effects on both your body and your mind. Don’t go it alone, especially the first few times, to ensure that you have it if you need some help!
  • Warm up ASAP – Have your warm clothes at the ready, a hot drink and even a blanket to speed up the heating process. Dry off quickly and avoid taking a hot shower immediately, as this can shock your system; instead, look to warm up gradually with layers to prevent hypothermia.
  • Don’t immerse yourself for long periods – the effects of cold-water immersion can be felt instantly for most. There is no need to push your body further than it needs to go. Keep your immersions short; no more than a few minutes is required.

Feeling the Chill

Cold water immersion has many believed benefits for our health, including our mental health, to which we will dedicate a whole blog.

Whenever you are considering cold-water immersion or cold-water swimming, you should always be sure to check the safety tips for all activities.

Cold water immersion can leave you feeling incredible, especially after a hard workout, but you never want to push yourself too far, as this can cause more harm than good.

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