When it comes to ice baths and even wild swimming, there’s one thing you should be mindful of… the after-drop. We’ll explore what exactly the after-drop is, why it happens to our bodies and what we can do to avoid it.
What is the ice bath after-drop?
Have you started excessively shivering or feeling unwell after an ice bath or wild swim? It’s likely to be the after-drop! The after-drop can occur if your body detects a warm environment too quickly after exposure to the cold. As the cold of the ice or certain natural bodies of water is so extreme, this is more common in ice baths and wild swimming and doesn’t affect other forms of cold water therapy as much, such as cold showers.
Why does this happen?
When you submerge yourself in ice water, your body undergoes vasoconstriction, where blood vessels narrow to reduce heat loss. This mechanism helps preserve your core temperature during cold exposure. However, once you exit the ice bath, blood vessels dilate as blood flow increases to the extremities.
After drop is caused when the body senses warmer temperatures and dilates the blood vessels too quickly. This releases the cold peripheral blood back to your heart too quickly, mixing with warm blood and creating a sudden drop in core body temperature. This usually leads to a severe shivering response that typically lasts around 10-15 minutes after cold exposure but can be as long as an hour or more.
Staying in cold water too long has the same outcome as severe shivering is triggered if the core temperature drops too low.
How can the after-drop be avoided?
It’s potentially dangerous, very uncomfortable and well, not fun. Here are our top tips for avoiding it altogether:
Warm up slowly and naturally.
As tempting as it is, making a beeline for the sauna, a steamy hot shower or cranking up the car heating after an ice bath or wild swim… isn’t the best idea. After exiting the cold, we’d recommend avoiding any sudden exposure to warm environments or whacking on loads of layers of clothes. You need to allow your body the time it needs to adjust and gradually warm up.
We’d recommend patting yourself dry and moving your body with Wim Hof’s “Horse Stance”, a controlled movement to stimulate brown fat and the cardiovascular system. Pop on a Dryrobe or similar and keep your body moving with light movements such as walking or air squats for the same amount of time you were exposed to the cold. Now’s not the time to run or weightlift, your grip will be significantly compromised so dumbbells are a bad move.
Always listen to your body.
Your body will tell you through a huge wave of catecholamines that it’s time to get out. Don’t try and beat your friend’s PB or spend longer in the cold than you feel comfortable. This is something that should be worked on gradually over time as your body becomes more accustomed to the cold (if that’s something you’re aiming towards of course!). Ice water is no place to be led by the ego. Always exit consciously.