DIY Ice Bath and the Benefits of Cold Water Immersion

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It’s that time of year again when inland waters are decidedly colder than sea temperatures. That said, here where we live, the nearest sea is the North Sea which feels cold all year round.

But it’s now that I don my trusty budgie-smugglers and head off to the lochs, the sea and rivers in search of the mindfulness that only comes from the sensation of being stabbed to death by a million tiny ice needles.

Do I enjoy it? Not going in. Not once I’m in. Not even coming out. But after all that there is a sense of achievement, a feeling of having survived something awful, all mixed with an incredible endorphin rush and feet that refuse to get any feeling back.

I don’t pretend that it’s easy. You will often find me, semi-naked, staring blankly into a large tub of icy water for 20 minutes trying to muster the courage to get in. But it’s always worth it. When I get out.

Some benefits of cold water immersion are:

Improved lymphatic circulation and increased function of the immune system.

Improved cardiovascular circulation – this can help improve heart health, mental performance, immune response and metabolism.

Boosts happiness – the cold water has been shown to trigger mood-boosting neurotransmitters that help with relieving anxiety and depression.

Aides in fat loss – cold exposure helps to increase Brown Adipose Tissue (brown fat). This helps warm the body in the cold by generating heat, much like a muscle, and in doing this it burns white fat (love handles).

Can help improve hair and skin conditions – the cold closes up the pores, tightening the skin, allowing the skin and hair to retain their natural oils. Many people claim to get relief from conditions such as psoriasis, and eczema from cold water immersion.

So why do I do it? For all the reasons above and more.

My immune system has definitely ramped up. My mood is better for sure. If I’m in a bad space, cold water lifts me back up.

One thing I love the most is using it as an act of mindfulness. Submerged in freezing water, you can’t be anywhere else but in the moment.


“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Viktor E Frankl

The biggest gift cold water exposure gives me is that it widens the gap between stimulus and response. The stimulus being the numbing cold and the knee-jerk response of wanting to get out. This translates to every other aspect of my life, enabling me to have a measured response to things that trigger me, rather than an emotional outburst.

It makes me anti-fragile. I’m tougher, more robust, better at adapting, comfortable being uncomfortable.

I’m harder to kill.

I am unf*#£withable.

I emerge from the water god-like. Wearing Crocs.

I even managed to convince my lovely wife to give it a go. And she’s still with me!

Obviously it’s not for everyone, every time. Check with a doctor if you are unsure.

“But I don’t live near a handy swimming/dipping location Glenn!” I hear you exclaim.

Well there is always a cold shower, but to be honest I hate them. Turning the shower dial down to zero is possibly one of the hardest things a human can do. And nothing beats total immersion, so an ice bath is the answer.

DIY ICE BATH

There are a number of DIY options from the high-tech to the ridiculously simple.

On the high-tech front you can re-purpose an old chest freezer.

Here is a great tutorial from Science Backed Health. This type of bath means you have year round access to a highly adjustable system. The down side is the cost of both the freezer and the ongoing electrical costs. You also need a designated space for the thing.

The Wheelie Bin Option

The other end of the spectrum is to use a wheelie bin. I added a simple tap to the bottom of mine to make it easier to drain. This works well but it is fairly difficult to get in and out of, and you need to contort yourself into odd shapes to fit, so definitely not for everyone. Also bear in mind that wheelie bins come in different sizes.

This works well but you end up looking like a hairless, cold, damp version of Oscar the Grouch.

Next up is using an IBC cube. This is an Intermediate Bulk Container. These are the big plastic cubes surrounded by a metal cage that are used for transporting liquids from fruit juice to nasty chemicals. Every community has ‘a man’ who knows where to get them from, but you can check Gumtree, Ebay and building merchants. They are generally about 1000 litre, so ample room for you and some mates (if any are stupid enough to join you). I picked this one up for about £45.

IBC

Do a bit of research as to what the cubes contained previously and try to get one that has had food-grade liquids in. If you can’t then it will need a really good clean before use.

The next step is to cut the top off. I used an angle grinder to cut through both the cage and the plastic simultaneously. I cut it down to the first horizontal bar, but you can decide how tall you want yours.

The important thing to remember is that you need to keep it inside the cage. If you don’t then the plastic will distort and the water will flow out.

At this point you might want to sand down any rough or sharp edges.

To make double sure that the plastic doesn’t deform inwards I drill holes into the top of the plastic and secured it to the top rail with cable-ties. It’s possible this is unnecessary, but better safe than sorry.

Next, to avoid some diabolical mishap as I straddle the rim of the ice bath, I cover the edge with some pipe insulation and again attach it with cable-ties. At some point I will create a wooden edge to go all around that will protect me and give me somewhere to rest my coffee.

And that is pretty much it. Take it to it’s final resting place, bearing in mind that at some point you’ll need to drain it from the release valve at the bottom, fill it up and either add ice or wait for a suitably cold day and have at it.

This time of year I don’t need to add any ice, if anything we need an axe to smash a hole for getting in.

Having some kind of lid is great to reduce the amount of leaves, twigs or squirrels that may fall in. A piece of plywood or a scrap of tin weighted down works, and again I will make a proper hinged lid at some point.

And be aware that you will need to change the water occasionally (probably more than I do) as it will stagnate and eventually develop an algal bloom. Not idea for dipping.

We have our bath in the veg garden next to the polytunnel so we can recycle the water for our plants.

Ice baths are hands down my favourite activity that I don’t really want to do. The ripples that this practice has had in other parts of my life are immeasurable. I highly recommend it.

But approach all new things with caution, get cleared by your doctor and take it slow. This is a case of more definitely is not better. Start tentatively for only a short while, one or two minutes, and slowly build up. Kelley thought she was going to throw up the first time she got in, but gradually she is building her resilience.

Don’t let the ego take control! Trying to tough out an extended session can leave you hypothermic and with after-drop, a potentially lethal situation that occurs as you warm from extreme cold conditions, so don’t push it. If you start to feel ‘good’, get out. It probably means you are already hypothermic. If you can’t touch your little finger to your thumb, get out. It’s also best to let someone know you are doing it so that they can keep an eye on you.

So now that you have the knowledge and the warnings, go out there and embrace your chilly side. You won’t regret it.*

*You might.

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