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Why Cold for Recovery?
With Danny King
Cold plunges, cryotherapy, ice baths, cold application — the use of cold therapy for physical and mental gains has risen to popularity of late. In this mini episode, Danny King shares the benefits of cold therapy and tips for getting started if it’s something you’re looking to add to your regimen.
Danny King is a Master Trainer and the national manager of personal-training experience at Life Time.
In this episode, King shares a few tips for those considering cold therapy as a complement to their health or fitness efforts:
- Go cold enough. To reap the benefits, your tissue temperature needs to swing about 10 degrees F, which will take too long or won’t happen if the temperature of the mode of cold therapy is too high. Typically, you’re looking for temperatures around 45 to 60 degrees F.
- Start slow. If you can control the temperature, start a little warmer to get used to it. If not, try easing in with part versus all your body. Even a minute or two of a plunge up to your waist can offer some good benefits.
- Consider your goals. If your goals are purely aesthetic or centered around muscle growth, it’s best to refrain from using the cold immediately post-exercise — this can shut down your body’s needed signaling.
- Test your timing. King says you can start to see benefits at about two minutes and advises not going for longer than 10 minutes. He suggests working up your tolerance to five minutes, noting that any time beyond that is more of a mental game.
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Transcript: Why Cold for Recovery?
Season 6, Episode 6 | May 24, 2022
All right, another episode of Life Time Talks. I’m Jamie Martin.
And I’m David Freeman.
And we are here with our friend, Danny King. He is going to be talking with us about cold recovery. Danny is a master trainer at Life Time as well as the national manager of personal training experience, and he’s been working with clients for more than 15 years. Danny, thanks for coming back.
Thanks so much for having me back. Super excited.
Yeah. All right, let’s dive in. What is cold recovery, and why should we do it?
Yeah. Well, I guess it’s a popular topic now. And we want to talk about cold recovery as a big general thing, right? And we think of it– that could be cold plunge, that could be icing, that could be things like cryotherapy. There’s a lot of stuff in this broad topic. All of it fits in this umbrella, but there are some unique advantages to each one of those.
So the simplest way is it’s obviously applying cold to the body somewhere. Again, that could be one location– an elbow, eye– of pain. You’ve maybe heard to ice it. And now you’re seeing a lot more people, and it’s getting a lot more popular, that someone might actually do a full cold water immersion where they can sink in the cold, and they’re going to hang out there for a while and try to get those benefits.
So that’s really big– I guess, globally, what it is. Most people are doing it from a pain relief standpoint. And the main property, I guess, that you’d say it works on is it’s really anti-inflammatory. So cold shuttles fluid out– so, blood and inflammation out, which helps to shut down that inflammatory process. So if you are in current pain, it can work great to block it. It’s a little painful at times, but it does work really well to do it. So that’s the big kind of overview of where we’re going.
When you think about that– a lot of times we look at the physical benefits from it. When we go a little bit deeper, it’s a mental piece to it, as well. So that was a lot as far as pain relief, how I can recover quicker. What have you seen or heard when it comes to the mental side of it?
Yeah. There’s a lot there, especially when we start to think about something like cold water immersion. We’re getting in, and we’re going to stay there for a while. You can see everything from in the short-term mental, you’re going to get a great dopamine release, especially when you get out. So you actually come out with a bit of a feeling of euphoria, and you feel good. That’s actually, if you look at something– cryotherapy, it’s the primary thing it’s doing. Just that quick flip makes you feel good when you walk out, and it makes you feel like you’re doing something.
There’s also, though, this whole side of mental toughness and the fact that everything in your body is telling you to get out of the water, get away from the cold. And fighting that discomfort seems to have a real benefit for a lot of people in that idea of mental toughness, or being more comfortable pushing through adversity, or something like that. It can really help in that category for people.
I want to take a statement– a quote from Wim Hof. So everybody knows Wim Hof as far as the Iceman. And he ended up saying, “In the absence of environmental stress, the things we have built to make our lives easier have actually made us weaker.” What’s that mean to you?
Oh man, that’s one great quote. In general, Wim Hof is great. You know, I think there’s a whole book on this idea of being antifragile or some of these things. And things have gotten probably too easy over time for a lot of people. And so when you get some level of discomfort, you just don’t know how to respond.
And so your threshold for that– hey, I can’t get the treadmill I want in the gym, right? It has the right view, I like it, that’s my treadmill– I mean, that’s the hardest thing in your day, potentially. It can throw us off a little bit, where as we start to get better at fighting through some of that, it can make everything in life just a little bit easier. And cold is definitely one of those things that does that.
OK, how cold? How cold is cold for cold therapy?
Colder than most people want, unfortunately. This is one of those things that in order for it to work well, it does need to be pretty uncomfortable. So a cold plunge, usually, you’re going to see temperatures from just above freezing. So you’re looking at 45 degrees to maybe up into the 60ish degree area. When you get above that, it’s probably just not quite cold enough.
What you actually want to do– most of the research, when you look at the pain relief, the inflammation side of it– it needs to swing the tissue temp about 10 degrees. So if you’re too high, it’s just going to take too long, or it’s not going to work quite as well to get that tissue swing. So we need it down there in those colder temps.
Coaching. I think a lot of times, individuals now are hearing what it is that we’re saying. How would you coach someone to get into this, as far as building the tolerance for it? What would you say there?
Start slow. So if you’re lucky enough to have access– let’s go, again, this idea of cold plunge. So if you’re lucky enough to have access to something like that, try a couple– if you can control the temp that are a little warmer, just to get used to it. If not, then just do part of your body. So only legs, or up to hips. And you really don’t need a lot of time right away. So even a minute or two waist in is going to have some great benefit.
Because it is, again, this mental side, and it’s a system-based thing. Your blood is pumping through your body, so even if you only have your legs in, that is having a cooling effect on the body. It’s not going to maybe help a shoulder feel better, but you are going to still get a lot of the whole body system benefit.
Got it. OK, so you’ve talked about pain relief. But I know that at Life Time, specifically, we’re talking about this a lot in the terms of recovery. So talk to us a little bit about that, and who is it for in that case?
Yeah. And that’s great because there’s actually been two really big meta-analyses. So meta-analysis is when they take a bunch of studies on a topic, and they look at how it performs overall. So you’d say, hey, this study says this, this study says this. They look at the whole kind of research that this helps in that world.
And one came out about a year ago that said that cold recovery can actually interfere with muscle gain. And so all of a sudden, there’s all these articles– don’t do it, it’s not great. There’s another one that came out, honestly, I think three weeks ago, so hot off the press for this, that said that cold recovery works great from an exercise recovery, and especially for strength or endurance sport. So one thing to look at is there does seem to be some timing things in there.
So when we think of, hey, what’s your goal? The more health focused you are or the more performance focused you are, the more it’s probably going to help. Because it’s going to, again, shut down some of that inflammation. It’s going to help your muscles kick-start that process of recovery.
The more you’re looking at purely aesthetics– you’re looking for muscle growth, muscle hypertrophy– the more you want to be at least cautious about when you’re doing it. And they were looking at it directly post-exercise, where you might just want to spread it out a little bit more so we don’t maybe shut down some of those signals.
But in general, especially if you’re trying to increase the amount or the frequency you’re exercising, it can be great in between those bouts of exercise to, again, help accelerate that recovery. So what it’s doing is it’s pushing all the blood out, and then as soon as you step out, blood pulls in. So we pull it in. So we’re increasing the frequency of nutrient we’re getting to the muscles and, again, shuttling that inflammation out. So it can really help in between bouts.
Let’s say that we’ve been going through a lot over these past few years when it comes to mood and mindset, once again. And a lot of things could be associated to depression when it comes to cold. And I think people are associating the cold, but it’s really lack of light. So when we talk about how mood can now be influenced in a positive way when it comes to cold recovery, what do you know in that space?
I mean, I think you hit it really well there that the cold in itself isn’t necessarily a problem. And actually, the ability to switch between temperatures does seem to have a big effect on people in a good way. In that same kind of vein, when we talked earlier about the idea of discomfort and all those things, is there’s some interesting research that the more your temperature swings, there’s some benefit to sleep and a bunch of other things in your life.
And most of us actually get to live in a really temp-controlled environment. We’re here in Minnesota, and it’s cold out. We spend most of our time in a hot car coming from a garage to a– you know, I’m always at 72 degrees. So there really does seem to be something to having that variation to help your brain, and to just help your overall well-being.
So you mentioned sleep there for a second. I want to touch on metabolism because I know there’s been some stats around that, as well– cold plunge, whatever, for that.
– Yeah. I think probably the most commonly cited study saw like a 16% increase in metabolism, which is pretty wild if you think the average person burns 2000 calories. 16% of that is a significant portion. 200 calories, that’s a workout. And it’s truly the act of the body physically trying to warm itself up. There is a shivering effect. There is this effect of trying to hold that pain.
And again, that happens at those colder temps. The body has to work really hard to try to get back up and generate heat because it doesn’t like being down there. And it does seem to have that type of an effect. So there is a real metabolism-boosting benefit to it.
OK. I just want to make sure we touch on, who is this not for, and who should be cautious about trying cold therapy?
Yeah. Well, I mentioned, at least timing of it– if your goals are really purely in that muscle growth standpoint, keep it as far from your workouts as you can. And maybe look at when you’re bringing it in and when you’re doing it.
The other category, probably, I would put in that realm is a newer exerciser. And I hesitate when I say that, because everybody has a journey and a path in. But when the act of showing up to the gym or showing up and working out is intimidating, saying, hey, I also need you to do something that’s incredibly physically uncomfortable might not be great.
So that would be the main category. There’s not a lot of other contraindications. Or there’s no major– hey, you know, anyone with any major things, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, talk to your doctor first when we’re putting stress on the body. But it’s not necessarily inherently going to be an absolute hard no for those things.
I want to say, based off of the conversation we had prior to jumping on, is for individuals who might have a little bit of resistance to doing this. You shared a little bit about your personal experience. And I want you to walk some of our listeners through how– granted, it was something that was uneasy at first– how you still were able to eventually get to the point of getting yourself into the cold water.
I thought we were kind of the trust tree. I want you to know that I’m really bad at it, personally. And I thought I’d be good. I’m from Minnesota. I exercise in the cold. I love to cross-country ski. I run outside. But my first experience– when I got in, first thing I did is stick my toe in really quick. And that was a terrible idea because you got to feel it, right?
So you kind of just got to go for it. And I did. I started with up to the knees and just breathe through it, and– if someone needs it, look into Wim Hof’s work talking about that idea of breathing and sending these signals that you are OK– and just slowly started to work myself in. Luckily, there was a coworker of mine in the temp at the time who was way more comfortable with it than I was, which made me kind of get to that point of like, all right, I got to get over this and get in.
But it wasn’t easy. Again, I thought I’d be pretty good at it, and it took quite a bit before I got to a point of relative comfort where I could get in and do it without looking like I was in full panic mode.
I get in full panic mode if my shower gets cold, so I have some work to do. I know you talked, David, earlier about that you had done that as well.
The interesting thing, though, that I’ll say is it’s really different. And shower is hard, because once you get, again, spoiled with a real cold plunge, the shower– because you’ve got to get in there, and you’re trying to move around. And it’s actually worse for me than just kind of getting a– submerge and deal with it actually seems to be easier for me, at least.
Well, I know we have to wrap it up. I want to ask one question. If I’m going to do a cold plunge, how long do I have to stay in for? Is it up to you?
It’s a little bit. I wouldn’t go longer than 10 minutes. And really, honestly, you start to see benefit at about two minutes. So 2 to 10 minute. It is probably a good idea to work that tolerance up a little bit into, at least, probably those 5 minute ranges. But past that five-ish minute point, it’s kind of up to you and what the goals are. You’ve got a lot of the anti-inflammatory benefits. Now you’re looking at some of the mental toughness and other things with that longer hold.
Alright, David, anything else?
No, I think that was a cold one for us.
It was cold. Danny, thank you for coming on again.
Yeah, thank you both.
The information in this podcast is intended to provide broad understanding and knowledge of healthcare topics. This information is for educational purposes only and should not be considered complete and should not be used in place of advice from your physician or healthcare provider. We recommend you consult your physician or healthcare professional before beginning or altering your personal exercise, diet or supplementation program.