Tips & Tricks

Getting into cold water is hard, and I won’t say it isn’t (Note, it doesn’t have to be as cold as the temp on the thermometer above!). But like most hard things, there are rewards. One of the rewards is an increase in self-esteem. Getting into cold water is not fun. After you’re done it a few times, you may find yourself thinking about how awesome you are because you do this difficult thing that everyone else says they could never do. Bask in that! There are others on the internet who say you come to crave the cold, and that it will get easier. It’s both false and true. I’ve never once looked at cold showers like I would a hot-fudge sundae, but I have craved it when under stress, and it did get easier over time – if for no other reason than you know you can do it. 

Over the time I’ve been practicing this, I’ve learned some things that can make it easier. Some were my ideas, others I picked up or adapted from others. The long and short of it, is to figure out what works best for you, and to do that. So let’s see if I can answer some common questions.

How do I even get in??

Don’t start cold at first. Move from warm to cold incrementally until you’re there. Don’t give your mind time to talk you out of it though. When you find you’re standing outside of the water arguing with yourself, stop, turn off your brain, and hop in. There’s no point in suffering before AND during. By the time you finish your internal conflict, you could have been done. Unless you’re a very disciplined, logical type, you likely won’t be able to argue yourself into the water anyway. Turn. Off. Your. Brain. Yes, impossible for big stretches of time, but super possible for a few seconds at a time – and that’s all you need. Don’t think. Act. Do. Move. It’s worth it.

How long do I stay in for?

Three to four minutes seems like a short time when you’re doing good, fun activities. When you’re uncomfortable, it seems like FOREVER, Some people advocate starting with a few seconds at a time and working up. Valid idea, and if that appeals, go for it. Here’s why I didn’t do that, and why I think it might not always be the best plan. You’re doing this for a reason. To gain something. You can’t get that with 10 seconds, 30 seconds, or even one minute a day. And it’s hard to do something when you see no benefit from it. I went right for 3 minutes the first time, because my psyche needed help RIGHT FREAKING NOW. I couldn’t wait for a week or however long, to build up to it. If I hadn’t been able to see, clearly and immediately, that I was going to get at least something out of it, I wouldn’t have been able to continue. So that’s two things, actually. First, I needed help fast, and couldn’t wait to be “ready”, and second, to do something that hard, I needed to have the reward firmly in hand, purely for the motivation to get in the cold water the next time.

Say I buy your logic. How do I stay in 3 minutes without someone super-gluing my hand to the wall first?

Here are some of the tricks I use, and have read work for others:

  • Cuss. Cuss a wild, blue streak, and do it at volume. Seriously, it releases the stress well, and it helps a lot.
  • Sing. During the easier showers, I sing. Sometimes I make up songs with wonky lyrics about the cold and how much I hate it, but sometimes I just sing something. It occupies your mind at the very least.
  • Sing in another language. No, seriously. The words of Disney’s “Frozen” soundtrack are taped to my shower wall (in protective plastic sleeves), in Spanish. It takes me 4 minutes exactly to sing through the whole Elsa solo. And hey, I’m gaining a new skill that will impress all of my friends.
  • Practice relaxing into the cold. Fighting the cold makes it harder. Dancing around in the shower to trying and stay warm while you’re getting cold is not only nonsensical, it’s dangerous (you could slip). Stand still. Breathe. Relax. Someone I saw on the internet said to remember that cold is not pain, it is just cold. That helps too. (Of course, when you hit a certain temperature, it does feel quite convincingly like pain. But first, you’ll get used to that, and second, you’re at least a total bad-ass when you’re done.)
  • Chant a mantra. This is one that is super common. I belong to Wim Hof’s facebook group, and a while ago someone asked what everyone chanted in the shower. There were various answers, but most folks did chant. I’ll grant you that the most common one was “fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck….” (repeat until water turns off) but hey, it was still a chant of sorts.
  • Make yourself a playlist. About beaches, and heat.
  • Remind yourself of all of the benefits of doing this (if you don’t know them, see the literature section).
  • Contract your large muscle groups repeatedly. This not only gives you something to do, but according to Wim Hof (there is no proof, but hey), this activates your brown fat and help you feel warmer.
  • Count off the seconds out loud (one Mississippi, two Mississippi…) or have a visible timer in the shower.
  • Talk to yourself. Never put yourself down. You are awesome. You are superhuman. Be encouraging and complimentary and supportive. Or, if like me, your dad spent time as a marine corps drill-instructor, feel free to use my dialog. “Are you giving up soldier? I didn’t think so! Bootstrap your ass in place right now! You’re going to do this! Soldiers are strong! Soldiers are mean! You are a machine!!!” What?? It works!
  • Remember that it gets easier the longer you’re in. The first 30 seconds is the hardest. It slowly gets easier as your body adjusts to the cold until at the end of about two minutes, you’re likely getting pretty numb.

How cold does it have to be?

The experiments I’ve seen use temperatures from 57-68 degrees F. In summer, my out-of-the-tap water temperatures are 68 degrees F or higher. When you’re first starting, that seems plenty cold, but it isn’t enough for everyone. I felt some relief at 68 degrees F, but I had massive changes only at lower temperatures. After some experimentation, I find that anything under 60 degrees F works best for me, and I’m happiest at about 57-58, lower than that and my psyche loves it, but my fingers hurt a lot. You may be different, but you should get a good thermometer, experiment, and find out. And if you suddenly experience a drop in your mental state, maybe decrease the temperature of your shower or bath.

What if the water coming out of my tap isn’t cold enough?

When this happened to me, I noticed because my mood fell. Obviously I wasn’t going to let that continue through summer and into fall, when the temps would fall again, so I had to figure out how to get colder. Online, I found a guy who put ice in a wire basket and let the shower water run through. I tried with a colander, and it works well. It worked best with a rice colander (teeny, tiny holes where water seeps out slower). I can get 55 degree F water that way. The negatives are that you have to have several pounds of ice on hand to refill the colander repeatedly as the ice in it melts, and you have to have the dexterity to hold it both in the stream of water and over your body. And if your shower head is low like mine, you have to kind of bend your knees to keep under the water. Hey, you’re getting exercise too, right? Anyway, keep the water pressure low, use a colander with tiny holes, and you won’t go through as much ice. I find that with a starting point of 70 degree F water coming out of the tap, it takes 8 lbs of ice in a rice colander, under low water pressure, to last 3 minutes. I refill the colander four times, over that span, generally using all 8 lbs.

Easier, is buying a small, portable, Japanese bath, which I did after fighting with the colander for a while. The bath might get up quite warm overnight, and would take 30-40 pounds of ice to lower the temp adequately, but hey. I mortgaged my house to McDonalds for a steady supply of ice at first, but eventually, I learned to freeze a huge number of tiny juice bottles every night, and dump them into my bath every morning. Down sides: the cost of the ice vs having to wait for the bottles of ice to melt enough to cool the bath (about 45 minutes), and having to empty, refill, and scrub out the pool weekly. Other people I’ve read about have bought a chest freezer and put it on their porch on a timer. It’s filled with water (obviously), and a timer-plug in turns it on at a set time during the night, so it’s the right temp in the morning. If you’re going to go that route, obviously buy the extended warranty and unplug it before you get it for safety.

Folks that only need the cold once a week, like the gal in England, could just wild swim every weekend. Take a thermometer, though. Some rivers and lakes just don’t get cold enough (or may be too cold!). I’ve done the river and lake route too. Not my fave, although I do enjoy the ocean. I got a swim robe, which is a voluminous robe you stick over your suited, wet self when you get out. It has enough room in it to change, without giving the world a show. It you go that route, it’s worth the investment. Better than trying to change in a Toyota, you know?  I suppose you could also head for the hills and toss yourself into a snowbank, but maybe watch for deer poop if you do. I’m not speaking from personal experience. Honest.

Couldn’t I just END the shower with warm? Please?

I’ve actually wondered that myself. My advice would be to either 1) let your body warm itself, or 2) give it a shot both ways, and see if it still works for you. Another disclaimer: Quick rewarming brings with it a risk of Afterdrop. Three minutes at 55 degrees F or followed by a warm dip is something I’ve done with no ill effects, but lower temps or longer times you might ask your doctor about safety margins. Actually, asking your doc is always a good idea. Then, if your doc says yes, and if it doesn’t mess up the benefits for you, go for it. You may not want to though, as hot water feels very prickly and uncomfortable on cold skin, and there’s a rush of calm that comes over you as your body warms itself. Also, there are significant benefits of having your body warm itself. Like I used to have such poor circulation that I could stand on a hot pad, and my feet would still take a long time to warm – or might not warm at all. And eventually my circulation really improved by requiring myself to warm. At first, I would have to stand in warm water while I toweled off, so I didn’t have cold feet all day. But, eventually, my circulation improved so much that I didn’t need to anymore. And there’s the whole calorie burning thing, because rewarming yourself is like jogging in terms of calorie burn, only without having to put on spandex and sweat. Bonus.