Written by Zach Lee - The University of Sydney
I press play on ‘Present Tense’ by Radiohead, the song that I have decided will make these next five minutes of my life suck the least.
As I lower myself into the freezing cold water, my whole being goes into survival mode. Adrenalin courses through my veins, and my brain comes up with the most creative reasons as to why I should retreat to the warmth of my bedroom.
With my eyes closed I force my mind to focus on the music, not the fact that my fingers and toes feel like they’re about to fall off. I try to steady my breathing, and slowly it morphs from a sharp shaky gasp that stops in my throat to a more stable inhale that reaches deep into my lungs.
When my body begins to numb, the pain doesn’t stop, but it becomes more manageable. Now with the slightest bit of composure on my side, I’m able to think of more than just the piercing discomfort. The first thought that comes to mind is-
Why on earth have ice baths become so popular?
Two years ago, it seemed as if no one knew about the benefits of cold exposure. Just last year, people were beginning to learn about the positives, but they were content with taking cold showers. In 2023, the rise of ice baths has been meteoric.
Of course, it is impossible to talk about cold exposure without talking about Wim Hof. The Dutch ‘Iceman’ has greatly expanded our beliefs about what the human body is really capable of. His doctrine of regular cold exposure combined with breathwork has helped him achieve ludicrous feats like running a barefoot half marathon above the Arctic circle, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts, and standing in a container filled with ice cubes for 112 minutes.
Through his work, Wim Hof has turned thousands of sceptics into fanatics. These converts learn the unexpected benefits of ice bathing and feel compelled to spread the gospel, so they post about it on social media. The movement gains momentum as more people continue to learn and post about the effects and eventually the increase in popularity becomes exponential.
Sophie Pettitt, co-owner of Icebolt Recovery, is just one example of these Wim Hof ice addicts. Along with her partner, she started her ice bath journey around two years ago, and now runs one of the leading affordable ice bath manufacturers in Australia.
Having just received an incoming shipment of the latest batch of portable baths, Sophie sits down to discuss the rise and benefits of cold plunges.
She thinks one reason why ice baths have become the most popular wellness trend of 2023 is because no one believed they would.
“When you look at it, it's not really something that you think would be safe. People were so surprised when they started to learn that it is really good for you… and the health benefits are pretty much instant”.
Ice baths have been proven to do wonders for physical recovery. They reduce inflammation, relieve sore muscles, and support immunity. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, because the greatest benefits are to do with mental health.
Cold exposure sets off the feel-good hormones in your body- serotonin, adrenaline, norepinephrine.
Sophie lauds these effects, “it raises your base dopamine level by up to 540%... it gives you that natural high that we all chase.”
In addition to these tangible positives, ice baths help build the grit and determination that’s necessary in so many other parts of our lives.
Recalling when she first started out, Sophie realises just how much she’s developed.
“I was a wimp. I was only using a few bags of ice… But now I crave the cold. I feel like it sets me up for the day.”
She agrees it’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s a worthwhile way to improve your self-confidence.
“You know all the tools you have to get through it, like focussing on your breath and zoning out. I always say to myself before it- ‘your higher self is on the other side of that ice bath’, and I don’t think much can compare to that. It’s just such a powerful, powerful thing to do.”
As the popularity of ice bathing ramps up, it’s hard not to think about the future. Is this not just another passing fad destined to be forgotten in a few years?
Sophie is convinced it’s here to stay.
“Once people implement it in their lives, it’s really something they can’t go without… it becomes a lifestyle.”
It’s not something that’s just for at-home use either. As the health and wellness industry continues to grow, Sophie believes we’ll start to see ice baths popping up in different places.
“I think a lot of gyms and schools will start to offer it because it’s going to become the norm… and those that don’t offer it will end up falling behind.”
The benefits of ice bathing are so astounding that this is a very real possibility. As awareness spreads through social media, it’s not difficult to imagine a future where ice bathing is just as common as any other healthy habit like going to the gym or eating a balanced diet.
I open my eyes and return to a bitterly cold reality. ‘Present Tense’ has just come to an end which means my five-minute cold plunge is over. I lift myself out of the tub, paying close attention so my fully numbed legs don’t give way beneath me. I wrap myself up in a warm towel and let out an involuntary whoop of satisfaction. A wave of delight flows over me, a visceral sense of joy. The natural high. I can’t wait to do it all again.
Zach Lee - firstname.lastname@example.org