Cold Weather Training for a Healthy Body and Mind

April 06, 2018

Cold Weather Training for a Healthy Body and Mind

By: Connor Walberg - PepPod Contributor and Advocate

I’m still not quite sure what started me down the path of cold weather training.  It’s definitely not easy, but then again, the best things in life rarely are.

So what is cold training?  It has different meanings to different people, but the basic principle is the same.  It’s the use of cold weather or elements to learn how to control our bodies on a higher level, seek clarity, and gain health benefits.

In my experience life has always been best when I’ve pushed past my comfort zone.  Embracing a life of adventure and jumping past my limits has created lasting memories and made me a stronger, more confident person.

Cold training has become an extension of who I am and provided some powerful moments over the past several years.  Sure, it can be extremely tough at times and certainly uncomfortable. But learning to work through these challenges has helped me grow in countless ways.

A few quick thoughts on cold weather training that are not scientific, but come from personal experience:

* We are taught all our lives to put jackets on and that “it’s cold outside”.  Thoughts are powerful and the more we listen to them, the truer they become. They manifest into the real world and before we know it, just hearing “it’s cold outside” gives us the chills.  If we aren’t taught to be cold, maybe we will be much more comfortable regardless of temperature. Little kids go outside and don’t even notice the cold.

* Our bodies can regulate heat very effectively, but we don’t give them the chance.  The more we use external warmth, the more we rely on it to maintain comfortable temperatures.  Learning to regulate your heat better gives you a level of freedom that few ever see. It’s liberating to be comfortable outside in minimal to no layers and not have to worry about it being too cold.

* I still don’t have a great answer when people tell me I should have a jacket on, or ask, “aren’t you cold”.  Simply laughing and continuing with my day seems to be most effective. It honestly annoys my wife more than me and her answer is, “he’s a grown man, he’d wear a jacket if he wanted too...” which makes me laugh every time.

* If you get a cold shower in the morning, the first thing you did that day was a real challenge.  This sets your mind up to believe it can accomplish anything. It gets easier over time and eventually you’ll enjoy standing in ice-cold water.  It sounds crazy but you’ll soon stand there and think about other things as if you were taking a hot shower.

* Icing injuries and sore muscles is healthy, so moving around in the cold should be as well, and cold showers and baths help with the healing process.

* Cold air and water forces you to focus on one basic thing, staying warm.  This creates a true meditative state where you can leave behind the day’s worries and truly embrace the moment.

* It’s possible to regulate your immune system through mastering cold training. (more on this later in the science section)

* The cold doesn’t make us sick.  It actually has countless benefits.  I’ve cold trained while I’ve been sick and it generally made me feel better.

The early days before cold weather training

Ever since I was a little kid I’ve loved the cold weather and snow.  I’d spend every minute I could outside sledding, building jumps, creating ice hills in the yard to slide down on my feet, and sculpting snow into various shapes.  I’m kind of obsessed with snow.

Regardless of how cold it was, I went outside.  It’s not that I loved the cold then, but I chose to not let it bother me.  I believe that the weather should rarely if ever be a factor into not doing something outside.  If our worries are things that are out of our control, we are focusing on the wrong things.

My best memories have come from challenging weather which may have been tough in the moment, but became fond memories that to-this-day still make for great stories to share.  Think of a time you experienced a crazy weather moment and you likely remember more about that experience than other ones.

Over the years I adapted to wearing more layers because that’s what you do in the cold weather.  Although staying warm is necessary to survive, it’s something we start to force more and more, to the point where we don’t want to leave our houses because it’s “too cold”.  

I’d put on my coat just to grab an item from my car outside, or to go out to a movie or dinner.  The funny part of wearing a coat for going to dinner? We leave a heated house, get in a heated car, and eat at a heated restaurant.  Usually with only a few minutes of cold exposure in between. Why do we need a coat for 3 minutes in 32ºF weather? Because that’s what we’ve been trained to do.

Opening my eyes to cold weather training

One day in 2015 I started reading a book that changed my world in more ways than I could have ever imagined.  The book is by Wim Hof, the foremost authority on all things cold training, and Justin Morales who trained with him.  Wim has swam under ice with nothing other than a swimsuit and ran a marathon above the arctic circle in just shorts in the bitter cold temperature of -4ºF, among 21 other world records.  If cold training has a godfather, it’s Wim Hof. Here's an in-depth video about Wim's lifestyle and techniques for cold weather training:

This book opened my eyes to possibilities.  Really, the possibility that we can essentially gain superhuman powers.  The ability to withstand cold unaided.

This defies preconceived notions and because of this, opens our mind to truly limitless possibilities with what we can do in life.  Once we accomplish something that everyone thinks is impossible or only for certain people, we realize that our potential is far greater than we will ever even know.

My ventures into cold weather training

I started off slowly by taking short walks in the cold.  At first, it would be just below freezing and I’d start a walk in my coat.  When I was back to a close enough distance from my house, I’d take the jacket off and walk back while focusing on my breathing and warmth.  The shocking part? I wasn’t shaking or cold when I got home, and the only time my skin ever felt cold was when I had been back inside for a few minutes.

This eventually turned to leaving the house without a coat for the whole walk, going for longer walks, and facing colder and windier air.  Sometimes as cold as 2 degrees F although these had to be shorter than 10-15 minutes at first because my ears and hands would become too cold.

At the same time I began experimenting with cold showers.  These are really tough to start and took some time to get used to.  I’d get nice and warm in hot water, then drop it all the way down and stay in for 3 minutes while turning around to keep the cold water all over.  It grew easier with time and I incorporated it into my daily showers.

My walks become longer in colder weather and soon I realized that if it was 25 degrees or warmer, I could be out in shorts, t-shirt, and flip-flops for as long as I wanted, fully comfortable.  The more time you spend in cold with less layers, the better your body handles the cold and it truly becomes natural.

Around this time I had a great realization.  In Spring, 55ºF feels wonderful and almost anyone who went through winter can be outside in minimal clothing and still stay warm.  But 55ºF in Fall? That’s a different story. It’s cold and we bundle up. This is proof that our bodies can and do adjust to the colder weather, even if we don’t actively practice cold weather training.

Pushing further

I knew I had to see what was possible and am still learning more to this day.  Although it took a few days, I finally got the courage to jump straight out of bed into a full cold water shower.

It was one of the toughest things I’d tried in cold training, but once I was in, not nearly as bad as expected.  It became easier over time but was occasionally difficult even after over 5 months of never taking a hot shower.

The best part was how great I felt after.  I’d face this huge discomfort every morning, and then felt ready to take over the world.  A lot of very successful people do this same practice and swear by it, Tony Robbins probably being the most recognizable.  

It’s essentially a mental cleanse that refreshes your mind just as much as your body, and the shock wakes you up faster than any other process while providing many health benefits.

My best cold weather training moments

The best moments have come from real world experience.  One evening it had snowed around 8 inches in my neighborhood and was still blizzarding.  A prime opportunity to test out my new skills.

I went fully barefoot and in nothing but athletic shorts for a 15 minute jog.  It was one of the most liberating and powerful things I’d experienced. I passed a few people standing on a path wearing layers on top of layers and realized how far I’d come.  That used to be me, and is how most people have to dress for the cold. Even in all the layers they are still often uncomfortable and don’t seem to enjoy the experience.

One of my other highlights was climbing a 14er in Colorado at 4AM with new snow on the ground and strong winds.  I started off in a few layers, but realized right away that I wanted a challenge. The cold was calling me. I dropped into just shorts and hiking shoes and spent the next 2 hours in weather that was around a 10-15ºF wind chill with strong gusts.

Although it was tough at times, I always recovered the warmth by focusing on breathing and  thinking of my core as a warm fire, and my breath as warm air entering my lungs. Breathing out I focused my thoughts on cold air leaving my body.  It sounds crazy but when you really concentrate on this you’ll find it makes a huge difference and can warm you up at any time.

Why Cold Weather Train?

Cold training to me is about exercising your mind, body, and soul.  It’s a way to grow as a person and to pass the preconceived societal norms we all abide without questioning.  No great discovery comes from believing what everyone else believes!

We all spend so much of our lives trying to better ourselves.  In my opinion, if we aren’t growing or trying to improve, we are missing out on the things that make life most exciting.  Cold training has led me to a complete mental shift and I believe that I’m healthier because of the process and the cold itself, and as you’ll read later, science backs this up.

Breathing technique for mastering the cold

By slightly hyperventilating (taking in more air than we let out) we can warm our bodies when we start to feel cold through strong oxygenation.  I typically take in 4 or more breaths and go deeper with each while letting very little breath out. Then I hold the last breath to fully oxygenate my lungs, the warmth effect is instant.

When you are feeling slightly cold and try this, you’ll notice that the blood rushes to your fingers and feel warmer immediately.  It’s such a simple and amazing technique that also works when you’re cold at your office desk.

The science of cold weather training

Over the past several years studies have been performed on Wim Hof and participants in his cold weather training, the “Wim Hof Method”.  This training involves breathing techniques, concentration, and cold exposure. The results have been incredible.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Through an endotoxin test administered to over 100 participants, it’s been shown that the Wim Hof Method makes it possible to influence our immune systems through our autonomic nervous system.  In short, participants were given strains of E.Coli and Influenza and monitored. Wim Hof was given the same strains and practiced his cold training with an 80 minute ice bath and concentration/breathing techniques before exposure.  Wim showed almost no symptoms while the remaining participants that had not practiced his method became ill from the tests (the typical result from this test). This was followed up with several people that were trained using the Wim Hof Method who had similar results to Wim.  This changed all preconceived notions that we have no influence over our autonomic nervous system and could potentially lead to scientific discoveries that will help us with chronic diseases.

  • There’s a type of fat in our bodies that produces heat known as brown fat.  Using cold training methods has a positive effect on brown fat production. Overweight people have more body fat, but less brown fat than skinnier people.  Therefore producing more brown fat has been shown to help with weight and obesity.

  • Energy levels are increased through cold training.  The cold water or air stimulates our blood streams which in turn increases metabolic rate.  

  • Cold weather training is believed to be helpful with autoimmune diseases like rheumatism.  This training lowers our bodies stress hormones in the bloodstream, which helps limit the inflammation bodies produced by an overactive immune system.

  • As cold weather training is still somewhat new, there’s a huge amount to be learned about the effects it has on our bodies.  One interesting note is that it has been practiced by monks for centuries in Nepal, who will sit and meditate in the snow for so long that it will completely melt in a circle around them.  

Final thoughts

The benefits I’ve personally experienced from cold weather training are far reaching throughout my life.  Cold training has given me heightened levels of clarity and focus, helped me to accomplish more and greater things on a day to day basis, and taught me how truly little we know about our minds and our real capabilities as humans.  

In this day and age where we feel like we know and understand everything in the world and nothing is a real mystery, it’s powerful to realize that we know very little.  What we do know is often proven completely wrong years later. Keeping an open mind and doing the things that challenge us and push our limits will help us grow and better mankind as a whole.

About the Author:  Born and raised in Denver, CO, Connor Walberg has always had a strong obsession with all things snow related.  He currently resides in Denver with his beautiful wife, kids, and dog.  Connor continues to practice cold weather training to expand his mind and maintain a healthy lifestyle and is an active PepPod contributor and advocate.


The Wim Hof Method

Wim Hof and Justin Rosales Book : Becoming the Ice Man

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