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XPT Homemade Ice Bath by Cory Heitz

Written by XPT Experience Attendee, Cory Heitz

In May 2017, I attended the XPT Experience in Malibu. Of all the XPT offerings, I felt least intimidated by the ice bath and sauna cycling. I take a lot of cold showers, so cold doesn’t scare me. I felt prepared. But seconds after I submerged into my first ice bath of the trip, my fight or flight response screamed, “FLIGHT!!”  The sensation was more painful than I thought it would be and this totally unnerved me. Thankfully, XPT Coach Bryan Diaz was there to guide my breathing—breathe in for four seconds, pause, then take four seconds to breathe out, all through your diaphragm. When the two minutes ended, I shivered over to Gabby and Laird’s famous barrel sauna. I had to ask the sweaty group waiting their turn for the ice if the sauna was even turned on. Turns out, the temperature was around 200 degrees.  I took one more three-minute ice bath during the experience. It still was no less uncomfortable than the first, but Laird was there this go-round to time it, and his calm coaching method made the time seem to go by quicker.  The feeling after taking an ice bath was exhilaration.

After XPT, I thought long and hard about all I had learned. I ended up incorporating many of the lessons and trainings into my daily life, but the one I really wanted to include, was cold exposure via ice. I’d have to figure out how to set up my own, personal ice bath.

I live in Washington DC in a neighborhood of row houses. I have a one car garage and tiny back yard. I researched Laird and Gabby’s ice machine and steel tubs, but thought that setup was too premium for my needs. I discussed the idea of incorporating an ice bath on my property with fellow XPT Experience Malibu participant and now XPT certified coach, Taylor Somerville. Taylor sets up ice baths in Memphis and uses a 150-gallon plastic tub that he fills with individual bags of ice he buys from nearby convenience stores. Taylor said this tub would work perfectly for my size—I’m 6’7’’, 215lbs.

Before I invested in the tub, I looked for a suitable icemaker. I began searching on eBay and Craigslist to get a sense of what was out there and at what price. I looked online for restaurant supply stores and actually found one located within a mile of my house.  I went there to get educated on used icemakers before potentially making a blind purchase off the internet. The owner and I quickly bonded because we both grew up playing basketball in Kentucky.  We even knew many of the same people!  He normally never carries used ice machines, however he received one the week I visited and it had quite the history; it had just been removed from the White House. President Trump wanted to redo the WH kitchen and he wanted new equipment.  Since this equipment supply store originally sold this icemaker to the White House, they got it back to sell on consignment. It was a Manitowoc water-cooled unit that included an ice storage bin and it could make 350 pounds of cubed ice every 24 hours. Perfect! Plus, it was a piece of history, right? It was offered at $775. I got the price to $725 and bought it as-is. The supply store connected me to their best restaurant equipment maintenance contact, so he could install it for me. All I needed to do now was make some room for it in my garage near the main water line. Simple enough, right? Not so much.

We spent the next four months trying to just get the ice maker installed. When the installer finally came, there were parts missing. And then more parts missing. After a lot of hassle and still no functioning icemaker, I came to the conclusion that I needed to find another option.

Right about this same time, I saw an article on Mark Sisson’s site called, “The (Maybe Not So) Definitive Guide to Cold Therapy.”  The article included a video of his friend, Brad Kearns, showing off his chest freezer setup. I also saw a video with former XPT partner, Brian MacKenzie, which showed his chest freezer. Maybe this was the better way to go. Less back and forth, no moving parts, cheaper, less risk of something going wrong.  I reached out to Brad and he quickly got back to me with some ideas. I talked to my wife and her suggestion was to go for it and get one big enough the first time around.

The next day, I put the icemaker and 150 gallon tub up for sale on craigslist and got $725 for both. I immediately ordered a new chest freezer from Home Depot, the GE 15.7cu unit.  It would be delivered in 7 days and cost $580 with taxes and included free shipping. One week later, it arrived.

I placed the unit in my garage and proceeded to fill it up, leaving 6 inches between the water surface and the top edge of the freezer. This was only after I put a silicone sealant along the interior seams.  Once it was full of water, I fired it up. Much to my chagrin, I noticed a leak on the side where the defrost drain is located. I couldn’t risk having this leak flood my garage, so I drained the entire unit using a hose and a deep inhale. Once empty, I got mariner’s glue to seal the drain on the bottom of the inside. I also got a larger rubber cork to plug the defrost drain.  After 24 hours, the sealant was cured and I filled the freezer up again. This time was a success! It took 48 hours to get the water down to 36 degrees. The water was covered with a layer of ice. After breaking it up, I got in for the first time. I only lasted for 2 minutes.  I tried my best to breathe the four seconds in and out, but it was too much.  The next day, we went on a weekend trip.  When I came back, I opened the unit and saw it was a solid block of ice. It took two days of constant chipping and drilling to get the ice broken up. I put large chunks in different buckets and bins in my driveway to have the hot August heat melt it.

Now, I don’t have to worry about it turning to a brick of ice because I have since ordered a temperature sensitive timer to turn the unit on when it warms to a certain degree.  I am still working on the calibration, but it stays around 36 degrees. I have taken numerous baths at this temperature.  It has definitely gotten easier over time. I take 20 full diaphragm breaths, 5 seconds in, 5 seconds out. If I do it in the morning I am charged for the day and feel I can accomplish anything.  Baths taken at night help me sleep like a bear.  There is more research available to give all the additional benefits that cold exposure can offer. That’s my ice bath journey! If anyone has any questions, please feel free to let me know. You can reach me at coryheitz@gmail.com

Links:

Mark Sisson:  https://www.marksdailyapple.com/definitive-guide-to-cold-therapy/

PJ Nestler:  http://bit.ly/2Rno4fH

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