7 Ways on How to Warm Up After Cold Plunges

Joey Randazzo

Published: Oct 29, 2023

Last Updated:

Is this you after getting out of a cold plunge?

Part of me wishes it was (just because he’s a pretty good-looking guy).

Anyway, getting sidetracked here. 

While shivering can be your body’s natural way of warming up, there are other things you can consciously do to help your body warm up.

And nope, horse stance isn’t your only option!

Keep reading to learn how to effectively warm up after a cold plunge.

The “After Drop” Can Cause Intense Feelings of Cold and Unwellness After a Plunge

The Wilderness Medical Society wrote an extensive guide on how to treat hypothermia. In their guide, they mention the word “afterdrop” more than 20 times. 

They say that afterdop is:

“Core temperature afterdrop refers to continued core cooling after removal from cold exposure. Afterdrop is caused by a combination of conductive heat loss from the warmer core to cooler peripheral tissue and convective heat loss from blood as a result of increased flow to cooler tissue and subsequent return to the central circulation and heart.”

Here’s the afterdrop in more simple terms:

During deliberate cold exposure, your body does its best to keep your vital organs warm by constricting (narrowing) blood vessels in your skin and extremities. This helps to conserve heat and maintain your core body temperature.

When you're in cold water, your body loses heat to the surrounding environment, and this can cause your core body temperature to drop. To counteract this, your body shunts blood away from your skin and extremities to keep your organs warm. This can lead to cooler blood accumulating in your limbs and skin.

Now, when you exit the cold water and start to warm up, your body starts dilating (widening) those constricted blood vessels in your skin and extremities. This allows warm blood from your core to flow back into these areas. 

Here's where the afterdrop comes into play: the cooler blood that had pooled in your extremities while you were in the cold water starts mixing with the warmer blood from your core as it circulates back.

This mixing of cooler and warmer blood can potentially cause your overall body temperature to temporarily drop a bit more before it begins to rise again. Essentially, the cold blood from your extremities mixes with the warmer blood from your core, which contributes to the sensation of getting even colder, even though you're out of the cold water.

It’s important to note that afterdrop isn’t guaranteed to happen. It’s more likely to happen after an intense plunge where you push it beyond your limits.

What Are Afterdrop Symptoms?

Here are a few:

1. Chills and Shivering: As your body temperature drops further during the afterdrop, you might experience more intense chills and shivering as your body tries to generate heat.

2. Goosebumps: Your skin might develop goosebumps as a response to the cold. This is a natural way your body tries to trap a layer of air to provide some insulation.

3. Numbness and Tingling: Your extremities, such as fingers and toes, might feel numb or tingly due to the cooler blood circulating back into them.

4. Muscle Stiffness: Cold afterdrop can lead to muscle stiffness and reduced coordination as your muscles respond to the cold and reduced blood flow.

5. Confusion or Disorientation: In more severe cases, a drop in core body temperature can affect cognitive function, leading to confusion or disorientation.

6. Fatigue and Weakness: As your body works to rewarm itself and deal with the afterdrop, you might feel more tired and weak.

My First After Drop Experience: It’s a Little Scary

I decided to do a proper Wim Hof shirtless hike on Mt. Hood.

Yep, shirtless. In the middle of November. With wind chills in the single digits.

Here’s the video explaining how I got into the afterdrop situation:

If you can’t watch the whole video, here’s a quick breakdown of what happened:

  • I pushed it too hard with the cold exposure, beyond my limit
  • Because I started the first ~30 minutes of the hike without gloves, I couldn’t quickly put back on my clothes towards the top of the mountain, adding additional sense of panic
  • Once I got my layers back on and started heading down the mountain, it was probably ~10 minutes too late and the symptoms of afterdrop were causing lack of mental clarity, decreased motor skills, and more
  • The 45-minute hike down the mountain was pretty brutal and I experienced some very mild frostbite.

Without sugar coating it, it was terrifying. I honestly thought I was going to die.

The point in sharing this… I wasn’t properly prepared to warm up. And I didn’t know how scary the afterdrop symptoms could be.

So please, be careful!

A checklist for warming up that I use:

I have 2 slightly different warm up techniques that I use when doing cold exposure, depending on whether it’s indoor or outdoor.

Indoor cold exposure (at home):

☐ After exiting the cold plunge, I lightly towel off

☐ Immediately do between 60-120 seconds of horse stance

☐ I’ll often then do about 10-15 push ups (not always)

☐ I’ll shake it out a bit more for 30-60 seconds (just freely move my extremities - arms and legs, maybe walk around, etc)

☐ Then, I’ll have pre-warmed up my sauna so after naturally allowing myself to warm up for 3-5 minutes, I’ll jump in the sauna for 20-30 minutes

Outdoor cold exposure (river, lake, etc):

☐ After exiting the cold plunge, I lightly towel off

☐ Immediately do between 2-3 minutes of horse stance

☐ I’ll then aggressively towel off and change into warm clothes (depending on how cold it is, that includes gloves and a beanie)

☐ Depending on the plunge, potentially go for a 5-10 minute walk to keep the blood moving

☐ I’ll then sit and sip on hot tea that I pre-packed in a Thermos (my favorite is a lemon ginger tea with honey)

7 Ways to Warm Up After a Plunge

1. Hydrate, Eat Food, and Plan Ahead 

Penn State University says that:

“Proper nutrition and hydration are important to ensure our bodies can generate enough heat to maintain a healthy body temperature as well. Although it may not seem like a cold drink will help keep you warm, hydration is essential to the body's ability to prevent hypothermia.”

Before a plunge, make sure you’re drinking plenty of fluids and getting enough calories.

Stay away from extremes! For example, if you’re fasting, then it’s probably best to avoid cold plunges.

2. Horse Stance

Wim Hof shares how to do the horse stance in his post above. He says:

“To get into a horse stance, stand up straight, then spread your feet apart, about one and a half times the width of your shoulders. Make sure that your feet are facing forward, your spine is straight, and your posture is upright and aligned. Now bend your knees into a squat, lowering your upper body as if you were on horseback. Keep your knees in line with your toes. Place your hands on your hips. And hold.

Doing deep breathing will help. I also like to add arm movements and sounds — pushing my right hand away from my body to the left side, then switching to push out with my left hand to the right side, making “Hoo-Hah” sounds as I breathe. We often use this exercise to stay warm after being in cold water.

Try it our and share below which version do you prefer. With or without the “Hoo-Hah” sounds?”

He also shares a video below:

3. Allow your body to shiver

Dr. Andrew Huberman says:

“Allowing your body to shiver may enhance metabolic increases from cold.”

This one is a little more abstract as it’s not very easy to consciously shiver. It’s just something that I keep in my mental back pocket after an intense plunge - if I start shivering, it’s okay!

4. Drink warm fluids, such as tea

A study called “Evidence of viscerally‐mediated cold‐defence thermoeffector responses in man” found that drinking hot water at 126°F (52°C) can reduce shivering for 10 minutes.

So, I highly recommend finding a favorite tea that you like and bringing it with you on your cold plunge adventures.

5. Move, Don’t Sit Still

This one seems pretty straightforward, but sometimes it’s hard when you’re cold after a plunge.

Think about it logically though:

When you move, you’re using your muscles. When you’re using your muscles, you’re increasing heat in the muscle as well as blood flow to the muscle.

WebMD says:

“Not only will [moving] warm you up, it helps build and keep your muscles, which also burn calories and make body heat.”

6. Get in a sauna

Dr. Andrew Huberman says:

“Ideally they are done on the same days with cold done first. A simple protocol is four minutes of cold exposure followed by 20 minutes of sauna three times a week. THE EXACT TEMPERATURE DEPENDS ON MANY FACTORS: I suggest using heat or cold that is uncomfortable but safe; there is no specific Rx for all.”

I have a sauna in my backyard and it is incredible. I love it so much. This is definitely a huge ritual for me after my cold plunges!

sauna cold plunge warm up

7. Quickly change into warm clothes

This may seem obvious but I’ve gone on plunges with many, many people. And the amount of folks that have shown up in shorts and a t-shirt (when it’s 40F outside) has been shocking.

When I ask them “do you have warm clothes?” they say something like “I’m channeling my inner Wim Hof! I’ll just warm up naturally.”

While this might sound like a great idea, it’s really not.

Bring extra warm clothes. Socks, beanie, gloves, thermal undergarments, etc.

If you don’t have to use them, then great! But it’s best to have them with you.

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