Why an Ice Bath Could Be the Key to a Cool Head—and Fit Body—This Summer

4 months ago 58
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It's a brisk spring afternoon, just days before New York's stay-at-home mandate, and I am standing in nothing but a swimsuit on the roof of the Brooklyn Athletic Club. “You're learning how to be comfortable with the uncomfortable,” says Danielle McCallum, the yoga teacher behind New York's popular Five class, which includes asana flows, breath work, and what she describes as “cold exposure”—in this case an energy-boosting outdoor ice bath. “Cold is the new Ayahuasca,” insists Jimmy Martin, a former Division I college wrestler and the cofounder of Brrrn, a buzzy Flatiron fitness studio, which, in addition to its three strength-building workouts hosted in rooms set to a crisp 50 degrees, offered a monthly 90-minute series that also included glacial water immersion. Now, with Brrrn's freezer-sealed doors temporarily shut, Martin and his partner, Johnny Adamic, are encouraging clients and the cold-curious to reap the mind-body benefits of a burst of cool from home with a #ColdShowerChillenge.

But before the flash-freeze treatment gets written off as yet another manifestation of the wellness industrial complex (polar plunges were the focus of a recent episode of Gwyneth Paltrow's The Goop Lab series on Netflix), there is medical merit to their purported benefits. “Ice baths are fairly commonplace in sports locker rooms across the world,” explains Riley J. Williams III, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon and the medical director for the Brooklyn Nets. “They're inherently anti-inflammatory and can help the body to secrete proteins that have very good effects on circulation and metabolism.” Former NBA center Joakim Noah has even passed on the practice to his fiancée, supermodel Lais Ribero, who considers the ritual “relaxing”—as does one of fashion's favorite trainers, Joe Holder. While Holder encourages clients such as Naomi Campbell to endure cold pools ahead of a photo shoot to reduce puffiness, the mental gains, he says, may be even more enticing: “Something clicks when your body realizes it can handle more stress than you thought,” he asserts of purposefully exposing yourself to bitter temperatures. It's a revelation that resonates: I made it 120 physically and mentally exhilarating seconds in McCallum's body-numbing bath, and while I did not emerge looking like a professional model, I did feel ready for anything.

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