Wim Hof Method

6 Ways to Warm Up After Cold Exposure

We all love our cold showers, ice baths and outdoor cold plunges, and their wide range of benefits. But what is the best way to wrap up a cold exposure session, once you’re out of the water?

Here are 6 things to consider when warming back up.

1. To Dry or Not To Dry

Your ideal warmup strategy depends entirely on how cold you are and how desperate you are to get warm. 

When you’ve just hopped out of an ice bath or winter lake, your main concern is to preserve body heat, and those innocent looking water droplets preening on your skin are your worst enemy.

This is because water is a great conductor of heat. If you leave them sitting there, those droplets will quickly suck up heat from the surface of your body, and in turn lose it to the surrounding air as they evaporate. The fancy term for this is “evaporative cooling”.

So if outdoor swims and ice baths are your modus operandi, the first thing you want to do is slap on a towel to stop all that heat from seeping out of your skin.

2. Let the shivers run down your spine

If you’re mainly taking cold showers in an otherwise warm bathroom — where any lost body heat is negligible — you may want to skip the towel altogether.

When you simply walk around and let the air brush your damp skin, you will invariably start to shiver. And that’s a wonderful thing, because shivering results in a four- or fivefold increase in metabolic rate. This happens in part thanks to a hormone called irisin, which in turn stimulates the metabolically active brown fat. Brown fat is your body’s built-in, break in case of emergency furnace, and you can set it to full blast by letting those goosebumps go to work.

Not only does this warm you up, you’re also burning off calories at a greater than normal rate as a nice little bonus!

3. Dress for the occasion

You may want to further counter the outside cold by reinforcing your insulating skin with extra layers— again depending on just how cold you are, as well as the surrounding ambient temperature.

If you’re in balmy outside weather and at no risk of hypothermia, all you need is sunshine and a warm breeze to ease you back to a state of comfort. During the Summer Expedition, participants will exit ice baths and do nothing but soak up the energy of the Spanish sun.

When you’re in colder climes, where your natural surroundings would continue to further cool your body to unhealthy levels, you’ll want to curb that by putting on a dry set of clothes. You want to stop as much cold from getting in, and keep as much warmth from getting out.

(And if you’re really cold — hypothermic or close to — the ideal remedy would be a warm bath or shower. This goes back to the previous point of water being a greater conductor of heat: just like you lose heat more quickly via post-plunge water droplets or cooling sweat, a hot bath is also more effective at warming you back up than are clothes or the sun. However you should not be willfully undergoing any cold dip that puts you anywhere close to hypothermia.)

4. Shake what your momma gave you

Besides holding on to your remaining heat reserves, you can also generate extra heat by moving your body.

Any movement you make requires energy, which as a byproduct creates heat. Therefore any light exercise is a great way to cap off an ice bath or ocean dip, and get your internal engines going.

A popular way to do this in Wim Hof Method circles is by performing the horse stance. This is a simple yet effective exercise that allows you to focus on rhythmic movements instead of your freezing cold body, as you warm up.

You can do the horse stance the moment you get out of the water, or if it’s really cold out, after first donning some clothes.

5. Restock your fuel supply

A great way to fuel both those shivers and your horse stance is with some carbohydrates. 

You use up glucose much faster during cold exposure, and consuming carbohydrates gives you the biggest and fastest bang for your buck when it comes to shivering, compared to fat or protein. Meanwhile you only have a limited supply of this stuff tucked away in your muscles and liver.

While you don’t strictly need to eat or drink anything, it’s not a bad idea to restock your glucose supplies shortly after your cold session with some fast carbs, such as a banana or a sugary drink.

6. Slow and steady wins the ice bath

A final word of caution for those who feel lightheaded when eagerly exiting an ice bath: this is likely due to something called hydrostatic compression. When you’re (partially) submerged, the water around you pushes on your body, reducing the demand for work by the heart, and causing it to relax a bit. Then once you get out of the water, that pressure suddenly falls away, and those heart pumps can have a little trouble quickly lifting enough blood to the head, causing you to feel faint.

So while you may feel the urge to jump for joy when that timer hits zero, better to be safe than sorry and slowly rise out of the water.

You now have all the tips you need to build your own optimal post-cold exposure routine! 

Whether you brave the waves of your local beach, or simply turn on the cold tap at home— each practice can be fine-tuned to reap the maximum benefit.

If you’re new to the Wim Hof Method, check out our free Miniclass for an introduction to our warm friend the Cold.