Taking Cold Showers

This post is about why you might want to start taking cold showers.

I’ve been doing it for over a month now and I really like it.

The seed was planted in my mind after reading an article about it on a blog called Getting Stronger. The thesis behind Getting Stronger is that rather than damaging you, that stress can, in the right conditions, make you stronger by forcing you to adapt and thrive under tougher conditions. Its an interesting premise and one I can easily get behind.

By the way, I love taking really hot showers and hate being cold in general so when I first read the lines:

Want to experience the benefits of hormesis very directly? Take a cold shower! And don’t just try it once, make it a habit and take cold showers daily. I have been doing it daily for the past six months and am loving it!

I was like “This guy is nuts. Why on earth would you take a cold showers every day?” But then there was a little voice inside my head that said “Well, if you don’t want take cold showers and he likes them, then maybe he’s just tougher than you.” Then of course I’m like “No freaking way. I’m not afraid of a little cold water. Maybe the guy IS crazy, but you know what, you have to be a little crazy to win“. And so a few days later I pumped myself up enough to try taking one.

It sucked.

I was gasping for air the entire time, my skin felt freezing. I was shivering. I couldn’t think about anything except how cold it was. At one point I honestly wondered if this is what it was like to die in the freezing cold water after the Titanic sunk. Yes – it was that bad.

Eventually I had to turn the water to warm because I couldn’t stand it.

And then I noticed something interesting – the act of warming up felt really really good. Way better than just in a regular hot shower. It was like defrosting. And because I was all tightened up from the cold water, I was able to relax twice as much when the water got warm.

After that, taking a regular shower just was never the same.

If you do a Google search for cold showers, you’ll find all sorts of articles about why they’re good. They supposedly boost wakefulness, increase your metabolism, make your skin better, etc. I don’t know about all this – I think for a lot of these claims, the data is just not there.

What I do know is that I like cold showers because I am actively putting myself in an unpleasant and uncomfortable situation. Like Rejection Therapy, I am actively exposing myself to a stressor and thereby building up my tolerance for it.

As Sebastian Marshall says:

Give me strife and suffering. And once I have grown stronger, tempered, hardened by the strife, give me MORE.

Cold showers suck, but every time I do one, I grow stronger. I can feel my self-discipline increasing. To be successful as an entrepreneur, I know I will have to make hard decisions, do things that are uncomfortable and work under stressful conditions. Cold showers are like pushups for my self-discipline.

It also helps me temper my emotional responses to things. I no longer have the panicky feeling that a ton cold water on your skin gives you for more than a few seconds when I take my cold showers – I’ve trained myself to calm down and overcome this natural response. And I’ve noticed this ability to temper my response overlap into other areas of my life.

The other day I was in a bit of a rush in the morning and when emptying out my coffee filter, hit something and dumped wet coffee grinds all over the floor. I felt my heart rising to my chest and I started to get really pissed at myself for being so clumsy – but then instead of exploding and swearing profusely – I suddenly felt calmer. I realized that my body had recognized this growing outburst and applied the same tempering response that it uses to help me relax during my cold shower.

So you could say I’ve become a cold shower believer.

You should give it a try. You don’t have to end cold – I don’t. I start cold and after a few minutes, switch over to warm. (I tried finishing cold but after getting out, I was more than just uncomfortable – I felt hypothermic – not a good feeling.) Anyway, I think the key is steeling yourself for that moment when you’re standing in the shower and you switch it on, knowing that cold water is about to blast onto you. That’s how you get stronger and build your grit and determination. And that leads to more ass-kicking.

So give cold showers a try and let me know how it goes in the comments!

Edit – August 8th 2011

There was a heated discussion of this on Hacker News.

As an update, I’ve continued to take cold showers all through June and July. I keep it on cold for two minutes before warming up – every single time. And yes, because it is warmer, it sometimes is more refreshing than miserable, but if I take them late at night or early in the morning, I am still sometimes shivering to the point of shaking because it’s so cold. It’s been great and I don’t anticipate stopping anytime soon.

Edit – December 28th, 2014

I ended up taking cold showers regularly (almost every day) for about two years and I think it was a valuable experience. They get better over time — it is really the first 30 seconds that sucks the most. I’ll throw one in here and there when I feel like toughening up a little. Still recommend it!

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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and talent expert. He is CEO of a performance hiring platform called Headlight, a Fast Company contributor, and an advocate for Asian American men. Follow him on Twitter at @jasonshen and subscribe to his private newsletter.

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  1. I don’t know about making your skin better, but I know for sure that taking a cold shower will wake you up. I just can’t see myself taking a cold shower in the dead of winter in Syracuse, but in the summer.. Maybe. It’s not so bad though, you get used to it. Have you tried going cold the entire shower? Instead of turning it back to warm?

  2. Hi Jason, Anne here, community manager intern at Livefyre. I know I’ve taken cold showers in the past (mainly to wake myself and make sure I take the shortest shower possible — amazing how I can do everything in under 5 minutes if I’m freezing!), but every day? That’s commitment. I might just have to give it a shot, though, after reading your post. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? :)

  3. > It was like the cold was permeating all the way to my organs/bones.

    Pretty sure the’s exactly what was happening. =^] I tried a cold shower today. Yikes, it was TERRIBLE!

    … Can’t wait to do it again tomorrow. Apparently, I’m a bit of a masochist >=^D

  4. A reader comment shared over email:

    Recently I was watching a documentary about BUD/S (Navy Seal training). It seemed to me that the worst part of this training is the constant subjection to the cold. They jump in the freezing water, jump out into the freezing air, and do that for a week straight during Hell Week. One recruit who was interviewed said “You can’t prepare for this. How do you prepare for a [metaphorical] kick in the balls?” My reaction was…well…start taking cold showers, and do it until you’re no longer phased by it. The BUD/S instructors agree…it is all mental.

  5. @jfeldstein Haha – you’ve been caught with the bug! Did you end cold or warm? I find it much easier to keep doing this because I’m ending warm.

  6. @annedreshfield You got it. =) Let me know how that goes! Every time I think about not doing it I start goading myself with things like “what, are you being a pansy now?”. Yay for aggressive self talk! Haha.

  7. @jasonshen I actually started warm, and then get colder. There was a moment where I’m standing in the shower, it’s off and I’m just staring down the shower head like, “I’m about to turn you on and you’re going to punch me in the face with cold.” Couldn’t do it.

    Found it much easier to start warm, not hot, then tell myself “What?! No, colder. Turn it down. Keep going. Yes, that’s it a little more.” Eventually it was a cold shower and I hustled through it. Going to go for more agressive self talk and just do it for real tomorrow. Kinda fun to poke holes in one’s own internal resistance.

  8. Everyday? Damn man…

    Like you, toughening up was the first reason I took on cold showers. But I also do it due to the paleo/primal lifestyle I’ve been adopting—the fact that we didn’t evolve bathing with the convenience of hot coals or temperature faucets and and that our bodies are probably designed to buck up and shower in less-than-ideal conditions.

    I don’t do it everyday though. I think you’ve convinced me to have a go at it though, despite our winters giving me more than enough freezing temperatures than I like to deal with in a year…

  9. @jasonshen hahah I sure did yesterday. Fact is, I’m used to taking cold showers.. In the Singapore Army, they don’t have hot water in the showers – which is fine, because it’s summer all year round in Singapore. The only time they have hot water is at 12 noon when the sun is high over the water tank. But we’re usually at training and no one takes a shower at that time.

    Having said that, it’s been awhile since I’ve taken a cold shower on purpose. What I did was turn on the cold water, and then let it run on my legs before I step in. Soon your body gets acclimated to the low temperature. I started cold and finished cold, it was pretty refreshing. However, I would never do this in the winter :) Perfect for the hot summer heat though.

  10. @brandontan @jasonshen Good tip about starting with it just on your legs. Turning the cold water on myself, or stepping in is the hardest part IMO, I’ll find out tomorrow if it’s a good workaround.

  11. @brandontan @jasonshen This tip was 100% clutch. My feet didn’t seem bothered by the cold water, and having the water already on me made it easy to creep in. You almost don’t notice it’s cold until it hits your abdomen, but by then it’s too late.

    Showering cold turns a groggy slow shower into an exciting adventure.

  12. I once took cold showers for a week in college when my roommate forgot to pay the natural gas bill. :)

  13. I once took cold showers for a week in college when my roommate forgot to pay the natural gas bill. :)

  14. I once took cold showers for a week in college when my roommate forgot to pay the natural gas bill. :)

  15. It’s so interesting to find this article. This is something I recently started doing myself, and now I see it on HN. About six months or a year ago I had switched to a biphasic sleep cycle, and lo and behold a few weeks later I saw that on HN. This global consciousness (the idea that once a single person has an idea that it becomes more likely for other people to have the same idea, etc) thing is a weird, real phenomenon. Very interesting.

  16. I’ve recently been reading the book “The Four Hour Body” by Tim Ferriss. He recommends cold showers for three purposes: weight loss, increasing testosterone, and improving sleep. I haven’t checked the endnotes to see if there’s a scientific basis for those recommendations, but it’s another interesting data point.

  17. I’m a baby when it comes to showers. I stay out of the shower to turn the water on. Then I make sure it’s juuuust right before dipping my toes in.

    So I’m going to try this, and have fun going from one extreme to the other. Step in shower first, and then turn on JUST the cold water? I must be nuts.

  18. I’ve been taking cold showers daily for over ten years and people comment that I look unusually young for my age. (this could be coincidence or have other reasons)

    My initial aversion to the cold has actually grown into an appetite for it where it’s to the point that I feel the maximum cold water coming available in summer is simply not cold enough anymore to get my blood circulation kick that I crave and that I wish the colder tap water temps availabe in winter (around 4 degrees Centigrade (= 39Fahrenheit) were available year round. Recently I have found myself thinking about way how I could create ice baths with an ice cube machine at home without much effort, but the loistics involved just seem to cumbersome at this point. This is not to brag or anything but to show that your body will really come appreciate it over time.

    I do contrast showers, meaning I switch between hot and cold several times during a shower. Usually starting with hot and always ending with cold. Ending cold is not bad because your body will automatically and quickly compensate by producing heat when you get out of the shower. Whenever I finished hot I noticed I felt a bit tired. Finishing cold on the other hand makes me feel rejuvenated, it’s a feeling similar to the one you get after working out.

  19. @Judy Give it a try man. It’s like jumping off a pier into a lake. Really cold but you’ll adapt. And yes – you must be a little nuts. =)

  20. @jonathanquigley Interesting. So are you doing anything other new things that we might want to check out?

    Alternatively it’s possible that after you start doing something, you are more likely to notice it in other places – like after you buy a product, all of sudden there seem to be more of them around.

  21. @ESWAT Way to go man! An alternative is to start cold and end warm, or some combination of the two.

  22. Most of the world doesn’t have hot water. I take cold showers to remind myself how “cushy” our 1st world life is (I assume if you are reading this on a computer, you have a decent standard of living).

    I lived in Nepal for 4 months in the mountains below Everest (see blog below). No one in the village had hot showers.


  23. What a fucking world we live in when douchebags think that taking cold showers will “toughen” them up. A cold shower is strife and suffering? Un-fucking-believable.

    Do us all a favor and keep taking warm showers and just don’t post stupid shit like this.

  24. @tstoneman4 Try it before you knock it. Tomorrow morning, take a cold shower.

    But be ready to feel yourself hesitate. You’re probably already trying to convince yourself it’s a dumb idea, and that you don’t need to try.

    That’s you ego trying to protect itself. Now do it anyway.

    Exercise deliberate control over yourself. There’s strength in that. That’s the point. Obviously, this isn’t the worst struggle anyone’s been through but it doesn’t have to be. it’s just a little more than you’re used to handling.

    Until you’ve proven to yourself you can do it, you have to admit that you haven’t.

    But don’t beat yourself up over it if you aren’t able to get yourself into the water the first time you try, or just chicken out and decide not do it. =^] It’s OK, maybe you’ll manage it next time, after you toughen up a bit.

  25. Hi Jason!

    I’ve taken several in my life… I don’t like them, but occasionally gives an edge to some low energy days.



  26. I liked your related article “Push harder and leave some in the tank.” It’s totally awesome. The only recommendation I could add to this would be to increase the amount of fiber you get in your diet. This way when you push harder, a lot more gets left in the tank.

  27. you are so much tough that you delete comments. Ccan’t you take criticism of your post . now go take a cold shower and toughen up a bit.

  28. @brandontan I regularly go from the steam room in the gym straight into a cold shower. Incredibly refreshing, and my muscles recover almost immediately from the exercise – no aches and pains the next day either. PS: Don’t do this if you have a heart condition…

  29. @MarlinForbes I guess that’s why athletes use ice baths, I always knew there had to be something good about it for them to use it so often..

  30. Cold showers became a part of my daily 2 months ago and I have not missed a day. I love them and completely agree about the increased ability to control my instant reaction to a stress stimulus. I do a quick breathing exercise before and during the shower that helps make for a calm transition. Mine are 100% cold…no warm. Let’s see if my attitude changes when the weather changes in the Fall. Thanks.

  31. As an ex Outward Bound Scotland instructor, I can vouch for the cold water regime! We used to start the day for our 3 week classic course students with a run and dip…into the icy waters of Loch Eil. Of course, on day o wit was a huge struggle to get your students out of bed, running round the centre, and then into the occasionally ice covered loch. But as time went on, the students took to the idea, and they were the ones getting the instructors out of bed for the dips! I swear that it was an incredible start to the day, and had you singing for the rest of the day.

  32. As an ex Outward Bound Scotland instructor, I can vouch for the cold water regime! We used to start the day for our 3 week classic course students with a run and dip…into the icy waters of Loch Eil. Of course, on day one it was a huge struggle to get your students out of bed, running round the centre, and then plunging into the occasionally ice covered loch. But as time went on, the students took to the idea, and they were the ones getting the instructors out of bed for the dips! I swear that it was an incredible start to the day, and had you zinging for the rest of the day.

  33. I find cold baths sharpen me up both mentally and physically. After about 10 minutes in a 90 degree C sauna I go directly to a ~15 degree C bath and spend up to 5 minutes there. It’s great and it means you don’t sweat profusely for ages after coming out of the sauna!

  34. It’s really not too bad if you start out with a warm setting and gradually get colder. You get used to it as the water gets colder and there’s no shock factor to the temperature change!

  35. @webbactivemedia That’s awesome – getting the kids to push the instructor for cold showers. That’s a feat!

  36. @StephRWong Yeah – that works too and if people want to go that route, I think it’s great. I’m a little crazy and like the shock but to each their own!

    • @nataanii Good question. I still take cold showers almost everyday. Some weekends, days when I’m really rushed or feeling sick, I don’t take them. But without a good excuse, on a normal weekday, I’ll take it.
      I randomly just read a post on this and agree with a lot of the points: http://www.reddit.com/r/seduction/comments/13rgvx/start_taking_cold_showers_especially_if_you_have/
      The link is targeting guys who are afraid to approach girls, but in general its true. Lots of things are scary and you gotta swallow hard and do it anyway. Taking cold showers gives you regular practice into feeling the fear and doing it anyway – and I think that’s incredibly valuable.

  37. That was awesome! I’m just after my ‘cold shower therapy’. It took me about an hour of procrastination wanting to do it but being too chicken. So eventually, I set the shower to 0 and shoved myself under it. What an indescribable feeling… torturous yet exhilarating. My heart raced and in an instant I felt ALIVE. I shook and I shivered. I tried to fight it off, punching the water and trying to contain my screams until I could no longer bear it. I felt a little shame when I had to pop out, feeling my strength limitation. Could I have stayed under longer? I’d like to think I’ve done some good in increasing my mental fortitude and resilience but its hard to tell… I think real strength requires you to surpass your limitations and survive past what you thought you could bear. So time will tell. One thing I know is that building courage and strength takes time and perseverance. At the start of last year, I had a severe social anxiety disorder that made it almost impossible for me to leave my room. These days, I can work 45 hours/week in a call centre that requires masses of interaction between both customers and employees. At least for now, I’ve overcome the anxiety and depression. My strength is the result of jumping thousands of little hurdles, which each felt like mountains at the time.

  38. brandontan I cannot say taking cold showers are good for your skin but taking hot showers are bad for your skin. The steam from the shower dries your skin out.. and in turn it just does not look good.. 

    I know that cold water can tighten your pores, which I guess that means it is good for you.

  39. How I got started was I turn the water and get in the shower. Then I face the front wall and place my hands on it. Then I slowly inch my feet backs. This causes the cold water to slowly go up your body as you keep inching back until finally cold water is running down the entire length of your back. The I rotate so I am facing the back wall and my back is being hit directly by the water. Finally I slowly back into the stream of water to get my chest wet.

    At first this process took me 5 minutes. Everyday it got a little faster as I got use to the cold water and now I am able to jump right into the shower without easing myself in.

  40. Lol as an Asian (not living in the West), we’re required to take cold showers about 5 in the morning, EVERY. SINGLE. DAY before school, RAIN or SHINE. It’s true, I think this has an effect on a kid’s tenacity (over the next grueling hours?). But never did I appreciate it then! Will try it back before facing tough days! Thanks for sharing!

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