The Benefits of Heat and Cold

All the problems I have in the daily world subside when I do that. The cold and exposing myself to the worthy cold. It is a great cleaning purifying force.
— Wim Hof

One of my favorite sayings is “We live in a nerf-ed world.”

It feels like we live in a baby proof house, all the edges are covered in soft foam, and anything that could be harmful is locked away by Mom.  There is no risk of losing, because everyone gets a trophy.  There is no risk of being offended because we’re not allowed to speak honestly. 

There’s very little chance of pain because everything’s been made ultra-comfortable. 

This ability to safeguard ourselves against the dangers of nature, disease and our own clumsiness is a good thing.  It means we live longer and experience less avoidable pain.

When taken too far, avoiding resistance and “danger” works against us. 

Being uncomfortable can yield amazing results.  Facing danger can only make you stronger.

In order to change your body you have to learn how to be uncomfortable in the gym, and push through that discomfort.  The only way to instigate change is to work hard against resistance.

This also applies to our environment.  We like to live in a comfortable temperature.  Our homes, our offices, and our cars all have systems that fight against the outside temperature to keep us cozy.  When it’s too hot outside we can make our personal environment colder, when it’s too cold outside we can make it warmer.

Regular exposure to extreme temperatures has amazing benefits. 

Our ancestors were regularly exposed to excessive heat and blinding cold.  It helped transform their bodies into resilient machines capable of excelling and functioning at the highest level.  Our biology is remarkably similar to our early ancestors. We can still use their strategies to build stronger bodies.

You can easily tap back into this genetic potential by taking daily cold showers and using a sauna 2 or 3 times a week.  Heat and cold can help optimize your hormones, speed recovery time and help you think faster.


Disclaimer: Be smart with your sauna use.  20 or 30 minutes is a long time to spend in extreme heat.  Start slowly and leave if you begin to feel uneasy or lightheaded.  Always hydrate during or after use.

Sweating in public sucks, but short bouts of intense heat exposure can have many benefits.  Regular sauna use can help you build muscle, burn fat and make you smrter.  

A 20-minute sauna session will release a surge of Growth Hormone into your system. 

Growth Hormone stimulates growth and cell regeneration.  It is a powerful hormone that you must utilize in order to build muscle.  Studies have shown that sauna use for as little as 20 minutes every other day after your workout will double Growth Hormone release for a few hours.  This will allow your muscles to repair and grow and will exaggerate the muscle building aspects of your workout.

Sauna use can increase your sensitivity to insulin dramatically.

As I pointed out last week, Insulin Sensitivity contributes to fat gain. Insulin sensitivity is the relationship between how much insulin needs to be produced in order to deposit a certain amount of glucose. You are insulin sensitive if a small amount of insulin needs to be secreted to deposit a certain amount of glucose, and insulin resistant if a lot of insulin needs to be secreted to deposit the same amount of glucose.

The more sensitive to insulin you are the less likely you are to store excess calories as pure fat.  Insulin resistance, which is the opposite, is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

A study performed on obese rats demonstrated that 30 minutes of sauna use 3 times a week led to a 31% decrease in insulin levels and a significant reduction in blood glucose levels, both of which suggest an environment more sensitive to insulin. 

Heat exposure in conjunction with a robust exercise regimen can vastly increase your metabolic health, strength and even appearance.

And that’s not even touching on the mental benefits. 

Regular sauna use increases storage and release of norepinephrine and prolactin.  These two compounds focus attention, focus and brain processing speed. 



Roald Amundsen was a Norwegian explorer who led the first expedition that reached the South Pole in 1912. 

Despite the many hardships faced by his expedition the one he most often wrote about was the “morning peevishness” that plagued his men right after waking.  They were lazy, pissed off and not willing to get out of bed. 

Sound like anyone you know?

Amundsen thought long and hard about how to motivate his men to leave their warm, soft beds and willingly venture out into the unforgiving expanse of ice and snow every day.  Eventually, he created a competition.

He awarded daily prizes to the man who could correctly guess, or come close to guessing, the temperature first thing in the morning.  He also promised an expensive telescope to the man with the most correct guesses during the expedition.

He soon found the men charging out of bed and into the tundra.  When they returned they were energized, awake and motivated to face the day.

According to Amundsen it wasn’t the prize that kept his explorers awake and motivated, it was the exposure to the cold air.

I find this little morning visit out in the open so beneficial. Even if it is but for a minute or two, it is unbelievable how that short time helps to wake a sleepy man and bring feelings into equilibrium before the cup of nice, warm coffee. Even the best-humoured person in the world has a touch of morning peevishness and that has to be removed as unnoticeably as possible.

Amundsen knew that morning exposure to cold would increase your energy and sense of wellbeing. 

You can replicate this effect by taking a cold shower in the morning.  You’ll leave the shower feeling awake and ready to go, your heart rate will increase and help shake off the normal morning cobwebs.  You’ll feel centered and ready to conquer the day.

Cold showers improve circulation, which helps key nutrients reach your muscles and help them recover from tough workouts. 

Researchers also noticed that daily cold showers helped improve patient’s immune systems by increasing the number of white blood cells in the bloodstream.  They theorized that the increased metabolic rate, initiated as your body attempts to warm itself up, activated the immune system and released more white blood cells.

Cold showers increase testosterone levels.  Heat is a killer when it comes to testosterone levels in men, on a cellular and anatomic level.  The increase in testosterone might not be huge or sustained, but any increase (like during big compound lifts) will have a beneficial effect on body composition.

Cold showers increase the amount of brown fat in your body.

A lot of people don’t know that we have two kinds of fat in our body.  White fat, which is the fat you picture when I say “fat” and brown fat.  Brown fat is almost a vestigial organ, because we have so little of it due to our comfortable lives.

Its purpose to generate heat in the body.  Think of it like this- white fat stores energy (calories) whereas brown fat burns it. 

Brown fat is only produced as a result of environmental stress (cold exposure).  The average human has very little brown fat, but regular exposure to cold water can increase your brown fat exponentially.  Studies have shown that daily exposure to cold temperatures can increase your brown fat by 15%. 

An increase in brown fat will elicit a significant caloric burn and can greatly contribute to weight loss.   By taking a cold shower daily you are both building your brown fat reserves and causing it to activate and burn excess calories.

The best way to get used to cold showers is to start slow.  Try to finish your shower with a 30 second blast of frigid water, and increase by 30 seconds every couple days until you feel comfortable.  The first few times your body and mind will be shocked and scared, but you will quickly get used to it.  Remember to breathe and try to fight your instinct to shiver.

One common benefit of both heat and cold exposure is an increase in will power.  Both will force you to be in uncomfortable physical situations.  Purposely feeling uncomfortable on a regular basis takes disciple and determination. 

During your first cold shower you will try to take the easy way out.  Your mind will tell you to turn the tap back to hot.  You have to fight this instinct to see any benefits.  The longer you can act against your mind and desire to quit the stronger your will power will become.  Can you imagine how much you can increase your will power if you do this every day?

The modern world works against our physical health.  We don’t need to be physically capable to survive.  We can live a life of comfort and wealth without every seeing the outside.  As our creature comforts and technology evolve we are less reliant on our own bodies and minds. We can easily be robbed of our physical potential by our soft, comfortable world. 

In order to fight against the rising tide of laziness and coziness you must reclaim some of your physical past.  

Regular exposure to extreme heat and cold will have amazing benefits for your body, mind, and sense of wellbeing.

You are unique.  Your training should be too.  Get a personal program.


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Patrick Henigan