Can a plastic pool of freezing water really give you a giant energy boost? Gracie Taylor dips into the world of immersion therapy to find out.

The promise

Ice water immersion therapy promises mental clarity, energy, stamina and an overall sense of heightened wellbeing, both mentally and physically.

The history

Ice water immersion therapy was developed by Wim Hof, also known as The Iceman. An extreme athlete from the Netherlands, Hof is known for using his breathing technique, The Wim Hof Method (WHM) to withstand icy temperatures for long periods of time.

He holds 26 world records, including enduring the longest ice bath. He's climbed Mount Everest wearing nothing but shorts and shoes and ran a marathon in the Namib Desert without a single sip of water: all feats he attributes to his immersion therapy.

Gracie kept track of her heart rate on the Samsung Galaxy watch.
Gracie kept track of her heart rate on the Samsung Galaxy watch.

The theory

Hof claims immersion therapy can treat or alleviate the symptoms of numerous illnesses including arthritis, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and even cancer.

He says by immersing yourself in icy water, your body is pressured into a state known as "controlled discomfort", which activates your fight or flight instincts. While early humans often experienced this through exposure to extreme temperatures and dangerous situations, modern humans don't tend to find themselves trekking through ice or running from savage beasts on a daily basis.

Because we are physically so "comfortable", we've forgotten how to reset priorities when something derails us. The theory is once you've experienced "controlled discomfort" via immersion therapy, you'll cope with stressful situations better and experience a boost to your sense of wellbeing.

The technique

There are many variations of the Wim Hof Method. The basic version consists of three breathing phases which you need to use during an immersion session.

* Controlled hyperventilation: This involves 30 cycles of breathing. First, take a powerful breath in, fully filling the lungs. Breathe out by passively releasing the breath, but not actively exhaling. Repeat 30 times at a steady pace. This may lead to tingling sensations or light-headedness.

* Exhalation: Next, take another deep breath in, and let it out completely. Hold the breath for as long as possible.

* Breath retention: When strong urges to breathe occur, take a full, deep breath in, hold for 15 - 20 seconds and let it go. The body may experience a head-rush sensation.
These phases can be repeated for three consecutive rounds.

Nigel Beach takes Gracie through the breathing techniques.
Nigel Beach takes Gracie through the breathing techniques.

The reality

Our instructor, Nigel Beach, explained the process and got me to lie on a yoga mat. He talked me through some WHM breathing exercises, which were pretty straightforward. We did these for about five minutes then I repeated them while doing push-ups.


When he decided I was ready for my immersion, I stripped down to my gym gear and stepped into a plastic tub full of icy water. A timer was started and once I was sitting down, so my shoulders were under the ice, he talked to me, encouraging me to continue with the breathing exercises.

I felt very cold and shivery. But after 30 seconds I felt a wave of blood and heat swelling in my body. I didn't feel like I needed all the breathing techniques, but as a distraction from the cold, I did like talking to other people who were watching.

I felt sort of numb and warm for most of the session. When the time was up, I felt like it had gone really quickly and I could have stayed in longer. Stepping out I instantly felt warm, very energetic and optimistic. Despite being dripping wet I felt super happy and decided I needed to high five everyone. I definitely had some pretty big endorphins pumping afterwards and felt very alive.

The verdict

I liked it and I'd do it again - maybe a weekly ice dip to keep me on my toes! I continued to feel happy and kind of 'jazzed' for the rest of the day and was back to normal by dinner time.

While I wouldn't recommend it for elderly or children, if you want an instant de-stress and an unparalleled energy boost, definitely give ice water immersion therapy a whirl.