The Beginner’s Guide To Cold Exposure Training (2018 Edition)

This has been a hot (or cold) topic in our community of late with the rise and fame of Wim Hof. So we decided to ask Iron Tamer Dave Whitley, cold exposure expert, who walks us through the ins and outs of Cold Exposure Training and shares with us his top tips to get started.

Winter is coming. Starks and Lannisters aside, there has been a lot of buzz about cold exposure training lately. This is due in part to Wim Hof, the Dutch world record holder who earned his nickname, The Iceman, by performing feats such as climbing Kilimanjaro wearing nothing but shorts. He also holds the ice endurance record for standing fully immersed in the cold stuff for an impressive one hour and 52 minutes. But it doesn’t stop there. Wim has been the subject of scientific investigation due to the fact that he can voluntarily control parts of his autonomic nervous system. Yes, this includes his immune response.

I Have a Large Top-Opening Chest Freezer That I Fill With Water, Let It Ice On The Surface And Then Sit In ItClick To Tweet

You might be thinking Wim is some sort of genetic freak or his feats are a one-off fluke, but he has been able to replicate his results on a group of 12 students in a lab setting much to researchers amazement. In 2016, I trained with Wim on two separate occasions and am proud to be one of the first 30 U.S. instructors in the Wim Hof Method (WHM).

For me, it began with Joseph Greenstein, the Mighty Atom, who is one of my favorite old-time strongmen. In his biography, there is an account of young Joe practicing breathing exercises in the cold pre-dawn air while rubbing handfuls of snow on his face and chest. This is a variation on the European health practice of cold water dousing. When I came across Wim and his work for the first time, the connection was immediate and the appeal was irresistible. There are three pillars to the WHM: breathing, mindset/focus, and cold exposure. We are going to discuss cold exposure and save the other two pillars for another time.

You are probably asking yourself why anyone would deliberately expose themselves to very cold temperatures. There are many very good reasons—I’ve mentioned improved immune function already. Because of my own cold exposure training, I find that my recovery time is enhanced, and when done in combination with specific breathing exercises; it is very much a form of meditation for me.

Another benefit is a metabolic boost. A few years ago, Tim Ferriss wrote about Michael Phelps and the correlation between his epic 12,000 calories per day food intake and the fact that he was spending several hours a day in the water, which acts as a heat conductor. Think about it, if you are standing in shorts in 45° Fahrenheit, you might be a little uncomfortable, but most people wouldn’t find it unbearable. Dunk yourself in 45° water though, and it’s an entirely different response. You will need to generate more heat, therefore burn more calories, to keep the body functioning.

Since it rarely gets very cold in my home state of Tennessee, people often ask how I train cold exposure. I have a large top-opening chest freezer that I use. I fill it about two-thirds full of water and run it for several hours until it starts to form ice on the surface. To train the cold, I will simply sit in it, submerged to my neck. I have also used a horse trough in the past (often needing to chop through the layer of ice with a hatchet to be able to get into the water in winter), as well as submerged myself in a lake when the air temperature is below freezing and the water temp is only slightly above. If you want to see me do any of this, search YouTube for “Iron Tamer cold training”. (Subscribe to my channel while you are there.)

It sounds painful and honestly, it can be. But it is something that can be trained, just like lifting weights.Click To Tweet

It sounds painful and honestly, it can be. But it is something that can be trained, just like lifting weights. The benefits are tremendous and once you get accustomed to it, it’s extremely pleasant. The good news is that it is not necessary to take full-on ice baths to reap many of the benefits. In fact, I recommend you start with small doses in your own shower. You have more control over your surroundings while you build your confidence and ability to withstand a freezer full of ice water or a frozen lake.

Here Is My Recommended Step-by-step Four Week Introduction To Cold Exposure.

Week 1
Begin by taking your normal shower. After you have finished washing and rinsing, switch the water to the coldest setting possible and stay under for one minute. You can go longer if you like, but one minute is a great starting point.

Week 2
Begin your shower with one minute on the cold setting. Switch it to whatever is comfortable and have your normal shower. Finish with one minute under the cold setting.

Week 3
Again, begin with the cold setting for one minute. Switch to normal for one minute. Continue to alternate hot and cold in one-minute intervals until you are done. Finish with one minute under the cold setting.

Week 4
Continue with the same schedule as week three, but include one day with a full ten-minute cold shower.

Bonus Round
If the cold shower is comfortable and you want to go a little further, you can get two to three 10kg bags of ice. Fill your bathtub about half full with cold water, then get in and put the ice on your chest. Get a small aquarium thermometer to track the temperature in your training log. You can easily work up to 15 or 20 minutes two to three times per week in just a few weeks.

To find out more about Wim and his training methods, visit his site


About The Author

1 thought on “The Beginner’s Guide To Cold Exposure Training (2018 Edition)”

  1. I’m just getting into cold plunging and was wondering how to best pair it with excersize and training. I’ve heard that cold water immersion after intense excersize may inhibit recovery since its vasoconstricting. I love all of the benefits its giving me now but am about to start back on a rigorous training program and hope to use cold immersion to help with performance and recovery.

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