For a long time, I just thought I liked to do foolish things. Like doing 5,000 push-ups in one day. Or doing 1,000 pull-ups in one day. Or deciding to train like Nascar champion Jimmie Johnson for a week. (At least I think I trained like JJ for a week; I've tried hard to repress that experience.)

Now I realize I'm part of a movement: The "positive stress" movement embraced by a number of tech entrepreneurs and "regular" folks, too.

Positive stress practitioners embrace some combination of radical diets, extreme temperatures, and brutal exercise routines in the hope they will be able to work longer and better...and maybe even live longer and better.

But one thing many positive stress practitioners seem to agree on is total body cryotherapy: standing nearly naked in a walk-in cold chamber--think minus 250 degrees--for three minutes. 

So I tried it.

I stepped into the cylinder-shaped freezing chamber--your head remains above the chamber, like a hot dog sticking out of the bun--wearing socks, gloves, and a bathing suit. When the tech threw the switch, it got cold fast. She told me to turn slowly to make sure the cold air reached every part of my body.

It did.

While it felt really cold, it didn't feel as cold as a dip in the ocean in wintertime. (Yes, I've done that. And yes, it sucks.) And I did feel some of my soreness from the previous day's workout disappear, which is one of the benefits claimed by total body cryotherapy aficionados.

But maybe that's just because I was distracted by feeling pretty freaking cold.

While plenty of athletes (Hi Lebron!) and celebrities believe it helps, empirical evidence of the benefits of cryotherapy is hard to come by. Cold therapy--think ice packs and dunking body parts in ice water--does help reduce inflammation and help treat soft-tissue injuries, but even some of the makers of cryotherapy devices stop short of claiming medical benefits: Mark Murdock, managing partner at CryoUSA, says use provides "comfort," not medical assistance.

And in many ways, that's OK. To me, occasionally doing foolish things (oops: embracing "positive stress") has greater mental than physical benefits.

So I decided to lay in an ice water bath for five minutes a day, every day, for two weeks.

Partly I did that because whole body cryotherapy is fairly expensive. A single session costs about $40, a two-week plan approximately $300. More than that, though, I didn't want to spend an hour each day driving back and forth.

So I went to a nearby convenience store, bought five 10-pound bags of ice, emptied them into a large tub, and filled it with cold water. I let the mixture sit for 20 minutes so the water--and the tub--could get as cold as possible.

Then I set a timer for five minutes and eased in.

What was that like?

The first moments stung. Then the sharp pain quickly went away, but the cold didn't. (Especially where my body touched the tub.) I closed my eyes and tried not to focus on the clock while I searched for my Zen place.

I never found my Zen place. Five minutes felt like forever. When I got out, just as with cryotherapy, the soreness I had felt was gone. (Again, though, I might have just been distracted by feeling really cold.)

So then I took an ice bath every day for the next 13 days. 

Did it make me feel better? Did it improve my performance, both physically and mentally? Did it make me better prepared to conquer the tech world...or whatever world I decided to conquer?

In most ways, no.

Granted, I did feel less sore after particularly difficult workouts. That's a proven benefit of cold therapy. But I'm not sure the discomfort of lounging in ice water outweighs the discomfort of soreness.

But in other ways, my ice baths did help. It's fun to do something you aren't sure you can do. The confidence boost that comes from competing against yourself--and winning--extends into every other part of your life.

And it was a great reminder that I can always do more than I think. I didn't want to take ice baths. I never stopped dreading those five minutes. The sound of ice clinking into the tub made me cringe. But I did it. If I can do that...what else can I do that I don't think I can do? 

That was the real benefit. We always have more in us. Ice baths helped remind me of that. "Positive stress" helped remind me of that.

After all, most limits are arbitrary and self-imposed. When we think we're out of strength or energy, when we think we're out of brain power or willpower, we're not.

We just think we are.

Remembering that you are capable of more? Thinking, "OK, this will be hard...but shoot, if I can take ice baths, I can do this"?

That's the first step to achieving more.

Published on: Mar 21, 2018