It’s very simple: proponents of cold water immersion, a form of cryotherapy used as a recovery method post-exercise, or as a health treatment more generally, makes you stronger and more confident.
They are entirely correct.
Cold water immersion
Cold water immersion involves submerging the body in cold water (less than 15˚C/59°F) immediately after a workout as a measure to enhance the body’s natural healing and recovery processes, or regularly day-to-day to boost health and wellness. It has long been thought to improve physical strength, mental health, confidence and overall well being.
As cold immersion therapy is a relatively new treatment in the mainstream, research is scarce (but growing) and healthcare professionals don’t fully understand it. However, plenty of testimony and anecdotal evidence shows us exactly what cold immersion therapy can do. This is in the process of being backed up by an increasingly large amount of scientific data.
There are a few reasons that doing this regularly will make you stronger and more confident, and a few different ways in which this is true.
Firstly, there is the simple fact of fully submerging yourself in cold water on a regular basis. The voice in the back of your head will always tell you not to do it: it’s uncomfortable, unpleasant and quite exasperating. Sometimes, you will find it easy to overcome this feeling- you will jump right in. Other times, when you’re feeling low, or rundown, or simply in need of comfort, it will be incredibly hard to get into the tub.
Forcing yourself to do it- overcoming that voice and getting into the cold water- is key in mastering your own emotions and promoting greater willpower, both of which are central to mental toughness and a sense of confidence in your own abilities.
In undertaking regular cold immersion sessions, you are gifted with the ability to repeatedly master and overcome your own fear. You are shown what it means to put mind over matter and come out stronger and more confident for doing so. This will translate in a very real way into your day-to-day life. The next time you are cut up whilst driving, or your boss takes you to task over something, or your kids are screaming, or you’re uncertain whether you’re going to make a PR in the gym, your body will be ready. You will be more easily able to stay calm under pressure and tell your body to do what you want it to do.
Secondly, there are very real physical benefits to cold water immersion. It isn’t simply a case of getting your body used to doing something uncomfortable and frightening. There are physiological changes inherent to cold water immersion that will make you far physically stronger, more durable, healthier and, as a result, more confident in your physicality itself.
For instance, regular cold water immersion will boost your immune system and help to fight inflammation, especially post-exercise. This will make you far more resilient to illness and disease. Most people who regularly undertake cold water immersion report far less sickness. You can more confidently go about your everyday life, knowing that your body has far more strength to overcome illness than it otherwise would.
Testosterone production also spikes in those who regularly undertake cold water immersion. This will lead to greater gains in the gym, if that’s what you’re aiming at. Quite literally, here, it will be making you stronger: it will give you more muscle mass than you would otherwise have. There is also a vitality experienced by those with higher testosterone levels that, whilst perhaps slightly nebulous, is nonetheless quite profound. You will feel like you’re walking on air.
There is also the sexual potency inherent to greater testosterone output which will, quite naturally, make you feel confident and strong.
Whilst this effect is more pronounced in men, women will also benefit from the improved athleticism and confidence of increased testosterone production.
Then there are the training benefits that cold immersion therapy is known for. For athletes, cold immersion therapy is usually undertaken immediately post-workout. This practice has been shown to have several health benefits, including:
Faster recovery times and enhanced tissue repair
Reduced inflammation in muscle and joints
Increased range of motion and flexibility
Immune system boost
Improved sleep patterns
Essentially, after you’ve had a hard session in the gym, your body will recover faster, with greater athletic adaptation, if you undertake cold immersion therapy.
The accelerated muscle tissue and joint repair, reduced inflammation in muscles and joints, improved flexibility and decreased fatigue granted by cold water immersion in particular will help to combat DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness), reducing post-training fatigue and speeding up recovery. This means that the effort you put into training will deplete your day-to-day far less drastically, and that you’ll be ready to train again far more quickly. The cumulative effect that this will have on your health and fitness, alongside your physical strength, cannot be overstated.
Happiness and confidence
Finally, cold water immersion will most likely make you happier. It can even be used to treat symptoms of depression and anxiety. Depression often comes hand in hand with high levels of inflammation in the brain. Cold water swimming in particular has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect, giving it great potential as a treatment for depression.
There is strong scientific reasoning to back up the idea that cold water immersion can help to fight depression and anxiety and make you happier.
As the body’s extremities become colder and cold receptors skin are activated, electrical impulses are sent from the body’s nerve endings to the brain. At the same time, blood is directed to the body’s core organs, delivering more oxygen and nutrients and bringing about a detoxifying effect, especially in the brain.
This vascular improvement will lead to less inflammation and greater energy levels.
Studies have shown that cold water immersion can also increase levels of dopamine, serotonin and beta-endorphins. Increased levels of dopamine, serotonin and beta-endorphins will help to fight depression and lessen symptoms of stress and anxiety. Each plays a contributing factor in levels of happiness and perceived well being.
In addition, they are central to pain management. Thus, overall wellbeing will improve with regular cold immersion therapy, and those suffering from depression and stress due to chronic pain conditions will see great improvements.
All of this goes a long way to improving confidence and making for a stronger, happier, more relaxed individual.
As we said right at the beginning, proponents of cold water immersion have it right.