Can Ice Baths Improve Performance?

ByCrossFit February 3, 2023
Found in:230204,Health

You’re Invited to Join the Ice Barrel Challenge!

In this interview, Mike Giardina sits down with performance specialist Dawn Fletcher (CF-L3) to discuss the mental benefits of cold-water therapy and experience being coached through a cold-water experience. Fletcher has been using cold-water therapy on herself and her clients for over five years and has seen some dramatic results in increased mental resilience, empowerment, and confidence.

According to Fletcher, it is intentionally working through an uncomfortable situation that provides the most mental benefits. The cold water provides a stimulus that initiates the sympathetic nervous system — the fight-or-flight response — and it is up to the individual to slow their breathing down and down-regulate — a skill that can easily be used in any stressful situation, inside or outside of the gym. In addition to resilience, cold water has been shown to improve depression and anxiety, mood, cognition, and reduce stress.

Fletcher stresses the importance of being coached through this experience to make sure it is performed correctly and safely and to ensure the individual is having a positive experience. When coaching an athlete through the cold plunge, Fletcher makes sure to ask “why” — what are their reasons for getting in the cold? This helps center and ground the athlete before going into this very uncomfortable and stressful situation. She also makes sure to rehearse proper breathing technique, which is essentially 15 seconds of hyperventilation followed by a three-second nasal inhalation and six-second exhalation.

If you don’t have an Ice Barrel and a Penguin Chiller, no worries. The first exposure doesn’t have to be straight into ice-cold water. Just like in CrossFit workouts, it makes sense to scale the intensity. Find a cold pool, lake, or even the ocean. You can even just take a cold shower or a cold bath. Ideally, you start with water under 60 degrees Fahrenheit and try to stay in for 30 seconds or so. As you get more comfortable with the experience, decrease the water temperature and increase the time. The sweet spot seems to be under 50 degrees Fahrenheit and about two minutes in the water — totaling about 12-15 minutes per week.

Don’t forget to join us this month in our Ice-Barrel Challenge!