Since the publication of “The 4-Hour Body” by Tim Ferriss, the work of NASA scientist Ray Cronise on thermal-loading has re-framed cold showers from “ungodly horror.” to “scientifically proven method to accelerate weight loss”, in addition to it’s more traditional roles of “building self-discipline” and “The method acting tips of Hugh Jackman”.(Seriously. Check the references)
Here’s a quick breakdown of some current theories.
- help with weight loss.
- help build muscle.
- help fight low level depression.
- help muscle recovery
- help develop self-discipline.
But first, for your amusement: How to take a cold shower.
One way to do it. (Thank Andrew for being the guinea pig)
Another way to do it. (Theoretically)
and finally: Video Proof!
- Cold showers help with weight loss.
In this case, it’s not so much the cold shower so much as being cold. The concept is known as “thermal loading” and works on the following principle.
– Your body is a giant and intelligent thermostat that uses fat as an energy source.
– It has a temperature that it likes and will fight to keep.
– Expose your body to lower temperatures, and it will use more energy than usual to try to keep itself warm.
– For weight loss, there cannot be a corresponding increase in energy intake.
It’s not really about the cold shower. It’s about continuous and general exposure to cooler temperatures causing an increase in energy output. The work of Ray Cronise goes further into detail and talks about how different kinds of adipose tissue (fat cells) are effected when exposed to cold and how to properly leverage it. I’ll avoid geeking out about it too much.
Theory: TRUE – Although it’s not quite the cold shower so much as cold. Only works if energy intake isn’t subsequently increased during exposure. Works very well when coupled with a decent strength training program.
How to do it: Add a cold shower or an ice bath to your daily routine, or easier still, put an ice pack on your upper back and neck for 30 minutes. This isn’t the quickest way to burn fat, but it does work.
2. Cold showers help build muscle.
This goes back to thermal loading. It’s not so much the cold shower as the effect of cold exposure. The body’s shiver reflex has to kick in to cause the release of hormones that promote muscle growth.
Theory: TRUE – As long as you shiver. (Shivering does not mean giving yourself hypothermia in the comfort of your own home. Don’t be dumb)
How to do it: Stay in your daily cold shower/ice bath until you start to shiver a little. That’s it.
3. Cold showers help fight low level depression.
A research study in 2007 presented the hypothesis that cold showers could deal with low level depression by activating the sympathetic nervous system, increasing the production of certain hormones (adrenaline and endorphins) and stimulating the brain because of the huge amount of cold receptors on the skin.
Theory: Untested.- Currently any results are purely anecdotal. I’m digging around to see if there isn’t some data hidden away somewhere.
How to do it: If you’re taking a cold shower, you’re already participating.
4. Cold showers help muscle recovery
This has been around for decades. The idea being that either cold water immersion or alternating between cold water and hot water (contrast bath) are believed to help reduce recovery time post training because of their anti-inflammatory effect. The problem is, for every study that shows that there is a result, there is another study that contradicts it.
Theory: Plausible. The research goes both ways. If you do it and it works for you, then it works for you.
How to do it: Train hard. Then either take a cold shower or alternate cold water with warm to hot water. Timing intervals vary by study but the emphasis should be about 10 minutes of cold water.
5. Cold showers help develop self-discipline.
This isn’t really a theory, although it’s fun enough that it should be.
If you ascribe to the notion of ego depletion (that will power and self control are a limited resource) then at first the act of forcing yourself to take a cold shower would drain you of your will power and make you less likely to be able to exert self control at task later on that day. ie, Don’t start the habit of taking cold showers the same time you try to quit smoking. You won’t make it a week.
However, forcing yourself to stand in a cold shower every day, for weeks and months on end? That’s going to have an effect on your ability to force yourself to do things that are even marginally less painful. Of course, it’s unproven and largely anecdotal.
Bottom line: While cold showers suck when you start, they have both empirical and anecdotal evidence supporting their benefits. Aim for once a day for 10 minutes.
References and Links:
The 4 Hour Body by Tim Ferriss
Cold water immersion for exercise recovery: