Ice Baths - Next Level

This is me, forcing a smile in an inflatable birthing pool that has been repurposed for an ice bath. Wim Hof instructor, Sebastien Zappa times how I stay in my first true icebath with a stopwatch
 
 
Have you heard of the Wim Hof method?  I'm not sure I'll adopt it but this is why I decided to try it, and you might find it interesting too:
 
Icebaths have been used by cyclists and athletes for a quite some time as a recovery method. The idea is: cycling between warm and cold environments creates a repeated constriction and dilation of blood vessels which ends up being like a pumping motion that bonfies the body's normal circulation.  Ice baths are performed to encourage bloodflow, help eliminate metabolic waste and essentially improve recovery after exercise. I've used this method during particular periods of my cycling career.  

The Wim Hof Method, which also incorporates cold water exposure into its teachings and pratice has been gaining a lot of popularity recently. I had the opportunity to attend a Wim Hof introduction course, given by Sebastien Zappa, Ph.D., hosted at Opex Gym in Montreal.  I had a front row seat, like I try to score at any event or presentation that I'm really keen on making the most of.
 
Wim Hof Instructor Sebastien Zappa at Opex Gym in Montreal with student and professional cyclist, Lex Albrecht sitting at the presentation, among crossfit gym equipment like kettlebells
 
What got me most interested in learning more about the Wim Hof protocol, was my experience using saunas for prologned heat exposure.  (This is another technique used by athletes to encourage the body to increase its plasma volume.) During my sauan exposure for performance, I found it difficult to force myself to remain in a hot, dry environment, in the same way that holding myself in an uncomfortable power zone (like, really uncomfortable: like during VO2 interval efforts).  As a result, I loved it.  Because my heat protocol experience made me feel like I was not only getting physiological gains that the heat method was supposed to provide, I was also getting psychological gains as I could carry over the mindset and memories of the experience into my workouts and races at their most difficult moments.
 
Opex Gym Montreal, Wim Hof training
 
The first half of the course focused on teaching breathing methods developed by Wim Hof that, like heat and cold exposure, are intended to be benefical phsyiologically and psychologically.  The curious part is that the breathing techniques taught through the Wim Hof Method are not supposed to be used during cold water exposure.  The breathing exercises are a separate technique that intend to sharpen a tool in practicer's toolbox - in my opinion, body awareness, and how to breathe mindfully (without actually applying the Wim Hof Method breathing exerices itself) which can be useful in certain situations, like during an ice bath.  

Lex Albrecht wearing a Craft Sportswear grey sweatshirt hoodie and black athletic pants, laying down, focusing on a breathing exercise taught in the Wim Hof method
 
The second half of the course provided further insight into the physiology of what goes on in the body during the breathing exercises.  We learned how to prepare for a successful experience and techniques to safely recover from time in an ice bath.  One included some tai-chi like movements. 

Tai chi, opex gym, lex albrecht, group class, wim hof semiar, wim hof training, wim hof method

Then came the spiciest part - the ice bath.  The goal was to stay in there for a minimum of 90 seconds, and a maximum of 120 seconds (or 2 minutes, in other words.) My broken collarbone wound is still tender, so I left one swimsuit strap off. 

Girl in an ice bath - Lex albrecht sitting in icecubes
 
The first trick to a successful ice bath experience (one where you can manage to stay in there, and calm your body and mind down enough to feel chilled out... in a good way) is to get in, and sit down in onen single shot.  No tip-toeing around. 

This approach is the same one to use getting into difficult and scary situations in life, or even workouts that promise a bit of suffering.  Jump in and go, without pondering what the future holds.

The second trick is to right away, get control of breathing.  Take in big deep breaths, and expel just as much air as you take in.  Short, puffy, panicked pants are counterproductive.  This is partly where the Wim Hof breathing exercises come in handy.  I learned earlier in the day a breathing techinque that involves pretty much all of my torso and yields a high volume of breath intake, plus a good thing for my mind to focus on.

The third trick, that I wasn't told, but adopted from my sauna experiences, is to control my mind.  I essentially reminded myself, in my mind, that I was actually safe and okay despite what my instincts were screaming at me.  
 
This is my favourite element of the Wim Hof Method and I'm convinced it's the one that pays the greatest dividends.  It's an exercise to become stronger in situations that feel instinctively threatening, dangerous and stressful. Training hard can be one of those situations.  It's normal for your mind to try to stop you from pushing far past the zones of comfort that are essential to reach for the body to create performance improving adaptations.  

So when I can find an uncomforatble situation to get comfortable in, without actually causing any harm... I try it.

How I Will Use Wim Hof: 
I'm not planning on becoming a Wim Hof guru, but I enjoyed learning about the method. I'm convinced it will serve athletes both in and outside of sports.  It's a tool to build mental resilience and fortitude, and improve body awareness and mindfulness, which I dig.  Thank you Seb, I can't wait to learn more from you, and thanks Mizar for such a wonderful opportunity at Opex. I'll probably be taking freezing cold showers even more often now.
 
Lex Albrecht in a bathing suit getting out of an ice bath outside pool swimsuit
 
 
 

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