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  • The Holistic Ape

Contrast Therapy for New Life!

Updated: Mar 24, 2023


japanese snow monkey

What is Contrast Therapy?

Contrast therapy is exposing your body to different temperatures in one session. A popular example often done by Wim Hof practitioners and other health enthusiasts is you could do cold therapy, such as a cold shower, and then a sauna. Another example would be putting ice on an injured knee and then putting a heating pad on it in the same session. The question is why would someone do this and does it work?


Contrast Therapy Protocols and Guidelines

You're probably wondering when should I do this, how often, for how long, and at what temperatures. If you're privileged enough to even consider those questions and implement a regular practice, here are some guidelines as said by neuroscientist and tenured Professor in the Department of Neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine Andrew Huberman and Ph.D. in metabolism, bestselling author, speaker, an expert with cold & heat contrast, Dr. Susanna Søeberg.


Benefits of Hot and Cold:

  • More efficient thermogenesis

  • Increased Metabolism

  • More comfort in cold

  • Dopamine Increase

  • Increased sperm and testosterone in cold

  • Decreased inflammation

Starting with Cold

How cold should your water be? Assuming you can control the water then simply start with something that is manageable. Everyone is going to be different on this. A general area to start could be around 55° Fahrenheit. You want to be somewhere between uncomfortable and comfortable enough to stay in the water. For example, we do our Wim Hof Method; cold Lake Dips every winter here in Lake Coeur d'Alene and start at about 55°-60° degrees and gradually build up to 33° degrees - right above freezing.


Usually the colder the water the less time you need to stay in. Another general guide is a couple of mins is plenty of time to reap the benefits but if you want to push your boundaries and develop some resilience and grit then stay in longer - as long as it's safe and tolerable. Stay in until you are uncomfortable but safe to build up resilience.


Drummer in Lake Coeur d'Alene
Val from the 'Life Drum Project"

How About Heat?

How warm or hot should your water and/or air be? If you're going to do a sauna then your temperature should be between 187°-212° Fahrenheit is good. For a hot tub, generally around 101° Fahrenheit, give or take a few degrees, is plenty because you don't want to burn or boil yourself alive. That wouldn't be good for anyone except maybe the wicked witch of the west. Maybe you could also toss in some carrots and potatoes if you want "beef" stew. If you don’t have access to a sauna a hot bath will work similarly.


When Should You Do Cold and Hot Therapy?

As the saying goes, do what you can, when you can, with what you have. I am not sure if that is an official saying but today, right now, it is. Cold exposure is great anytime but it’s more optimal to do in the morning or earlier in the day. The reason is that it has a waking effect on your body and mind. Think about it, try going to sleep when it's cold as heck. And conversely, when it's hot you probably feel more tired like all the big cats at the zoo - they always seem to be sleeping during the day. Both extremes can be waking though. If either one affect your sleep negatively then you should definitely do it earlier in the day.


A nice warm bath at night can be very relaxing though so keep that in mind too. There are so many factors and deliberate ways to use each type of heat and cold therapy.

Cold and Hot for Workout Recovery

If you’re not worried about hypertrophy gains then you can do cold therapy after a workout to reduce post-workout soreness and inflammation. The sauna has great effects on increasing growth hormone. Use the sauna once per week in 4-week cycles once per week 16 times increase in growth hormone. The Growth Hormone Factor (GHF) starts to diminish if you do this protocol more than once per week.

  • 30 Minutes

  • Break 5-10 Minutes

  • 30 Minutes

  • Break for the day and come back in the afternoon

  • 30 Minutes

  • Break 5-10 Minutes

  • 30 Minutes

What Should You End On?

Always end on cold when doing contrast therapy for reasons stated throughout this blog post.


More on Cold Showers

This cold shower study shows that if you go 30-90 seconds for 30 days in a row you will have fewer sick days. This may or may not be good for you depending on if you actually enjoy your job and need the money. But no one wants to be sick! The study shows that more than 90 seconds didn't decrease sick days off work by more than 30-second cold showers. This means that a 60-second cold shower is most likely sufficient enough. Of course, this is disregarding the mindset portion of it. We're solely talking about fewer sick days at work here; a stronger immune system.


Reproduction

Be careful if you’re a male trying to reproduce because too much sauna or heat will decrease your sperm count. Side note: the same goes for wearing tight underwear all the time - that shit gets hot in there sometimes. Cold therapy may help increase sperm count and testosterone.


Thermogenesis and Metabolism

If you really wanna push your body and increase the benefits you can warm up naturally and dry naturally. If you’re using cold therapy to increase metabolism, end on cold because your body has to heat itself up and use your thermogenesis metabolic system thereby increasing your metabolism. Your body has to shiver and use calories to increase the temperature of your body. It works by converting white fat; energy storage, to brown fat; metabolically active. This can be beneficial for people who want to feel more comfortable in the cold. This is coined by Huberman to be called the Soeberg Principle. Here's how it works:

"When using deliberate cold exposure to increase your metabolism, minimize hot showers & sauna after the last cold exposure. Forcing your body to re-warm on its own is a major component of the metabolism & brown fat (healthy, thermogenic fat) stimulation." — Dr. Huberman

SØEBERG Principle:

PROTOCOLS from Soeberg et al, 2021

  • Winter Swimming/Cold Exposure

    • 2-3x per week

    • 11 minutes per week

  • Sauna/Heat Exposure

    • 2-3x per week

    • 57 min per week total

All in all, using contrast therapy can be very beneficial for just about everyone. Make sure to ease into your practice. Please, always do these things safely and bring a friend.

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