What the hell is a Biohack you might ask ? I quiet dislike to use the term Biohack as it became a real cliché. It is just a now trendy self-expression expression, that yeah, I am a Biohacker. I would describe it this way: Biohack – weird but extremely beneficial life-long practicable health and performance habit. Something like this, but either ways, in my understanding and in my undertaking, general and long term health takes a big part of it. As conclusion, drinking quality herbal tea, walking barefoot for bio-electric recharge, cold showers, meal periodisation, fasting and much more are fantastic “hack” tools, but micro-dosing on lithium or silasiven, vomiting your guts out during an ashwagandha ceremony, hormone correction therapy or intravenous master-antioxidant recharge are scratching the barriers I would step over. Some of these would might be even on anti-doping lists. I would not go out of my way just to get any of these and would not focus my energy to research or to source out proper ways of practicing them.
This is why the title, Free Biohacks. Free, I mean completely 100% free. Some of you might not even think of these as biohacks, but we became so detached from our human selves, that real life completely average and normal practices are scarce. For a rock climber, a cold water swimmer or a trail runner, being in contact with nature, inhaling B12, being grounded, getting in the necessary sunshine, fresh air and much more is normal. However there are humans out there who have never touched bare earth for a decade. Do your own research, don’t just listen to me; type in google: “barefoot walking, grounding and health” – for instance.
That will be another topic, but this was a needed introduction to this article. Lead up texts are mostly necessary to result in grand public understanding.
Cold is your Master
Search google if needed, but here is my version.
What do I get from cold ? When swimming winter time, what I do more often than summer, I get an enormous recovery boost. It feels like a full body compression and then a blood flush. The uncontrollable shivering while dressed up into 4 layers of clothing is a good sign, that I reached very deep into the bone marrow with this cold exposure. This often starts delayed, even up to 20minutes after getting out from the water. With time, you can manipulate this. My brain increases my circulation very drastically in all parts of my body, to reheat it from the core to the outside. After a while even if spent 20minutes in sub 10°C water, you would not shiver. However it is like endurance or strength training. With lack of practice, see summer, gains are lost. I restart from nearly zero after every single summer. Cold showers keep some physiological adaptations, but keep all mental fortitude. Even after a full 6months of no “ice bathing”, I have no problem entering easily the freezing water, with breath control and minimal gasping. This is why I recommend the “Cold Practice” to everybody. (Alpinist would benefit enormously from regular everyday cold exposure !)
What can you do with this freeze experimentation ? Decrease inflammation in your entire body. This is just crucial. Those small imperfections what you have all over your systems including cardio-vascular, muscular and neuromuscular, lymphatic and digestive, might prevent you to heal a tendonitis or a muscle tear. Decreasing or removing those will brutally accelerate your recovery rate. (Crohn’s disease or IBS, varicose-veins and bad lower body circulation, regular plantar injuries and much more can be effectively treated with cold to trigger long-term absent muscle contractions)
Do I think, that post workout ice cold baths are beneficial ? It depends. You wanted to get the most out of your workout ? Forget it ! Time it to the next day or at least 10hours apart. You need that small inflammation time-frame to benefit from the rest and repair process. On the other hand, if you wanted to profit for a week of pushing the edge real hard, in case of a multi-day race or just because finally you have time to enjoy long days of adventuring. Hell yeah. Cold swims and cold showers every day.
The N°1 benefit for me personally: Control over body, mind and emotions. Most people will say, I cannot get into a cold shower, it is way too cold. Imagine putting it this way. You know that this would be very beneficial for you, you know that it cannot cause you harm and cannot kill you, on the contrary, it is 100% positive, but you still cannot get your mind around it. This is a perfect sign that your life is out of control. A very small 1 to 2 minutes of daily discomfort for lifelong benefits. People still cannot do it. That is huge. How do you want to solve family problems, find a way to get a better job, or push harder in training and racing, when you cannot get over that 1.5minutes of beneficial discomfort.
Why only 1.5 to 2minutes of discomfort ? This is the time to adjust. Afterwards, all feels like a normal swim or a normal shower.
I started out badly with this experiment during lifeguard practice in Ireland, when swimming in the Dublin Docklands in -5°C tempereatures, while snowing, in 4°C water temperatures. First entry was less than 5minutes in wetsuit, followed by being cold for 4days. In about 1month I was able to swim around for 30minutes with no wetsuit and completed a 6hour surf lifeguard exam outdoors in February wetsuited in 5°C water temperature, while snowing. Adaptations come fast, but don’t push it too far, too soon !
You don’t have to really take it to a training level, like doing more, colder, longer, but can just enjoy an every day cold shower. However mixing it into your training routine is a brutal way to get amazing benefits and to increase metabolic efficiency.
- contrast showers: 3minutes hot, 30second cold, 30second hot, 30second cold…
- long contrast shower 5 x 2minutes cold and hot
- cold showers 5min
- 3-4min open water cold swim, 10minutes of exercising
- 10minutes of cold water swim, 10minutes of exercising
- 3-4min swim, breathing and focus
- 10minutes swim, breathing and focus
This is just an example of how you would progress, but can use these any time. If you were able to swim for 1hour in an ice-cold lake, it wouldn’t mean you have to abandon cold or contrast showers. Use it as an endless journey and don’t look for a destination.
Cold integrated into training
A new era of exercise routines came into the picture this decade. Regardless what kind of sport you are doing, the principle is always the same. Causing mental and muscular confusion and distraction to adapt ! Interval sessions, the peripheral training of upper and lower body, vertical and horizontal positions, a squeeze and a long eccentric contraction at the end of each biceps curl set, switching between heavy-slow deadlifts and box jumps, fast directional changes while catching a ball. Doing something for a week or a month and then flip it over. Periodisation of speed, endurance, agility, explosiveness, stability and so. You want to trigger adaptations.
Recently, environmental exposure came into training, with pool workouts, breathing, meditation, yoga, balance drills, cold and heat and much more. For instance, you start out with foam rolling, then get into a 10minute focused box breathing session, followed by 20minutes of pilates, then plunge into an ice-pool for 2minutes , do 12minutes of high intensity training, 20minutes of sauna, 20minutes of weighted pool workout underwater, 3 sets of Wim Hof breathing, another 2 minutes of cold plunge, 10minutes of rowing, finished by practicing a new kettle-bell skill for 20minutes and 10minutes of mediation with focused breathing standing on one leg. What you got here is a mixture of strength routines, breath hold and breathing techniques, cold and hot exposure, endurance training and learning. I am into mountaineering and rock climbing now as it needs new strengths, new skills and a lot of technical knowledge. What I can do is, when coming out from the cold shower with frozen body and hands, I set up a properly balanced relay with a dynema sling and 3 carabiners and I prepare my harness with the necessary rope attachement knots (figure 8) and tie 5-6 glacier crossing butterfly knots onto my rope. Then I continue with dead hangs for forearm and wrist resitance while doing light fire-breathing on the bar. At the end of the workout-session I check that I did all the security measures correctly, even when having a heavily pumping heart ! Learning and skill development can be integrated easily into any training session, big time.
Even if you used only cold at the beginning, it will trigger enormous adaptations. Let’s say you do 6 x 2000meter repeats on a running track with 4minutes of recovery. The first 2 of that four minutes can be jogging to the shower room and opening up the cold tap. Doing crossfit near a lake ? Run out and plunge into the frozen water, before you get back to the next routine.
However be very smart about this ! Doing explosive movements with cold joints and muscles can lead to injuries. I highly recommend, that when coming back from an inter-training cold exposure, start out slowly with rowing, airdyne bike, ski-erg or similar to get back your body heat. Cold showers will not be as violant as a full blown ice-bath immersion. It might take up to 10minutes to recover after that.
Cold showers or immersion are not pleasant. When you came back from a winter run and all your muscles are frozen, the last thing you want to hear about is another cold experience. My advice is, to keep your warm clothes on and start exercising. You’re gonna get so hot in under 10minutes, then you’ll enjoy every minute of your cold shower. A mixture of standing and lying exercises will bring back blood-flow very fast. Push-ups, Jefferson curls, foam rolling, some pilates movements, swiss ball hip routine, squats and lunges, you name it. Do not do anything stupid, when came from the cold. Starting out with jumping jacks or burpees can injure you. You are cold !
I really like to begin my showers with straight cold into the face, so my body adapts in a matter of seconds. Starting from toes, slowly up on the body is a painful and non-exciting process.
Winter time I still use cold exposure, but often switch it up with contrast showers instead of full-blown ice cold baths. Just 30sec or 1min on and off method is enough to trigger amazing feelings.
Second advice is to learn to breathe. You can get into some bizarre but effective routines, but a simple way of super deep nasal belly breathing with long exhales, is already a good way to control your gasping for air. Once you are in control and start asking and answering inner questions, you’ll know that you are on the right track.