Tempering is the process by which something is made stronger, harder, and more durable. In the case of steel, it is the process of reheating and cooling it off that improves the hardness and elasticity of the metal. The same process can be used to forge a stronger, healthier, more resilient body!
In his book, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, Nassim Nicholas Taleb discusses a process called hormesis. “Hormesis, a word coined by pharmacologists, is when a small dose of a harmful substance is actually beneficial for the organism, acting as a medicine. A little bit of the otherwise offending substance, not too much, acts to benefit the organism and make it better overall as it triggers some overreaction… gains from harm.”
Just as repeated exposure to the right amount of strength training, progressively increased through proper programming builds muscle, increases energy and endurance, and makes the body stronger overall while completely over doing it simply accelerates the breakdown of the system. Exposure to cold acts in a similar manner. Short term cold exposure, incrementally increased over time provides an assortment of benefits not found in any other form of training. This process of conditioning through the gradual and continued exposure to stress within a controlled dynamic is known as “Stress Inoculation”.
Benefits of Cold Exposure Training
- Reduces inflammation
- Increased fat burning through cold thermogenesis
- Improved immune system function
- Boosts testosterone
- Increased energy and focus
- Increased athletic performance
- Faster recovery
- Improved sleep
- Mental toughness
How to Do Cold Exposure Training
Cold exposure training doesn’t have to be extreme. In fact, since it’s a conditioning process – tempering – in the beginning it is better done in small, incremental doses. You can start simply by turning the water in the shower to cold for 30 seconds and slowly increasing exposure for up to 5 or 10 minutes. Eventually work your way up to stepping right into an ice cold shower first thing in the morning – no hot water!
Another way to gradually build up cold exposure is to walk around outside in the winter time without a jacket for short periods of time until it becomes tolerable. Work your way up to wearing just a t-shirt and shorts while walking around in the cold. Sure you’ll get funny looks, but it’s worth it!
Ready to kick it up a notch?
Try an ice bath or cold water swimming in a pool, lake, or ocean – Polar Bear Plunge, anyone??
And, of course there’s always cold water dousing, made famous in the past few years by practitioners of Russian Martial Art, but also practiced by many other martial artists (Morihei Ueshiba, anyone?) and religious ascetics, alike. The practice itself is very simple, but the psychological hurdles one has to jump through in order to consistently carry it out are immense – thus the huge mental toughness component that goes into it!
Cold Water Dousing Procedure
- Fill up a bucket of cold water
- Go outside in your bathing suit and stand on the grass
- Slowly dump said bucket of cold water over your head
- Breath deep and enjoy the rush of heat and energy!!
Don’t worry, you won’t get sick – colds are caused by viruses, not being cold!
Here’s me cold water dousing in the snow here in NJ last weekend…
Wim Hof has set 21 world records involving cold exposure from running a marathon in his shorts above the arctic circle to running a full marathon in Namib desert without water consumption to climbing Mt. Everest in only shorts, to being immersed in ice for over an hour. In his book, Becoming the Iceman, Wim states, “The cold is a noble force… The cold forces me to generate heat. It makes me feel alive.”
Wim has also scientifically proven that his method of cold exposure, combined with breathing exercises, allows anyone to access and gain conscious control over autonomic processes, such as the immune system!
Both the Russian Martial Arts and Wim Hof, The Iceman, place an immense importance on breathing exercises as essential components of their health systems. The breath is used to fully oxygenate the body, generate heat and energy, and increase tolerance to stress and pain.
Check out the Vice documentary on The Iceman to see how far cold exposure training can go!