The world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel. – Horace Walpole
Wow, has Dr. Jack Kruse ever kicked-up a firestorm with his Cold Thermogenesis hypothesis, and the associated claims. Even to the point that I’m beginning to field questions about it from clients who are well outside of the Paleo “inside”, as it were, wanting to know if I think it “works”. And of course what I have to tell these fine folks is that it depends heavily upon what they mean by “works”. Training, diet — and hell, life in general — just seems to orbit around that little “it depends” clause. Problem is, most people don’t want to entertain that notion; soundbite-free moderation just ain’t sexy enough for most. But back to Jack and his firestorm — damn! I haven’t seen this level of mouth-foaming-vengence vs. fervent apology since back in the Dr. Scott Connelly days. Remember the heady Muscle Media 2000/MetRx era my friends? How about the ol’ Cybergenics craze? Yeah, well this just feels like 1991 redux to me. Different magic and mojo, maybe — but damn if it doesn’t have that same ol’ WWF feel. Let’s look at a couple of things.
Cold Immersion vs Core Cooling
So here’s the deal: I certainly do not claim to be an expert on Jack’s version of Cold Thermogenesis (CT from here on out). I have been a time or two around the ol’ S&C block, though, and I am a former athlete who’s used cold immersion and cold contrast quite extensively as a post-workout recovery aid. I’ve also received intravenous cold saline drips (old school core cooling) at a few points during my career as an immediate, during-competition, recovery tool. To the extent that these interventions “worked” for their intended purpose, I’d have to say that, hell yes, indeed they did. Enough so that I still partake in cold immersion/contrast when the opportunity presents itself, and I would certainly employ new-school core cooling methodologies (as opposed to a saline drip; see below) if I had access to such a device. But did those interventions work to the point of bestowing superpowers? No, certainly not…but then again nothing in-and-of-itself does. At least, these interventions pale in comparison to the longer-term effects of performance enhancing drugs, namely (and if we’re talking enhanced recovery), testosterone, with Winstrol and Deca being the most common in this class. But I diverge…
I’m also looking at this from the point of view of a person who is (1) not metabolically broken/leptin and/or insulin resistant and/or (2) not overfat to begin with. From what I can deduce, Jack’s CT protocol primarily centers around restoring normal metabolic function to those who are, at least in some form or fashion, “broken” to begin with. Fair enough, and a topic (if we’re concentrating on Jack’s CT approach) that’s well above my paygrade. My approach to someone in this condition would be to first establish a base of smartly programmed resistance exercise and proper diet, followed by medical/hormonal intervention if necessary — but only after the base has been solidified. However, Jack does delve into the performance realm now and again, a realm in which I do feel competent to comment on, both as an observer and as a long-time practitioner. So here it goes:
Cold immersion (and it’s kissing-cousin, cold immersion contrast) is an ages-old, S&C recovery tool. Now, there’s a very simple reason why these techniques have been around for so long, and that’s because they work. At a minimum, they work a hell of a lot better than doing nothing at all. Or sitting idle on the couch, nursing a beer. Do they work better than pharmacological intervention? Yeah, right. As to the whys and hows behind these intervention’s efficacy, well, that can be debated, but my guess is that they simply go a long way toward arresting localized (and systemic, too) inflammation. And like I say, I’ve spent much more cumulative time up to my neck in ice baths than I ever did at frat parties (and that’s saying a hell of a lot!) during my college days, so I feel somewhat qualified to opine on it here.
First off, I can say that cold immersion (or contrast therapy) results in a totally different feel, and produces a decidedly different result than does core cooling. Cold immersion/contrast produces a relaxed (after the fact, of course 😉 ) feeling of pending and enhanced recovery (maybe totally psychological?), whereas core cooling produces a “refreshed”, “yeah man, I’m ready to hit it again” feeling (definitely not “all in the mind”). Fresh legs and a clear mind, as it were. I can say this about core cooling: the effects are real, noticeable for sure, and quantifiable (see the linked clips below). Halftime of a football game bestows no favors upon the players, as that 15 minutes of idle time simply serves to initiate the shutting down of a body in serious recoil from the trauma of the previous two quarters. Weather extremes just exacerbate this problem, with extreme heat and extreme cold both adding their own special brands of misery to the mix. Most of my experience with a cold saline drip was during halftime of hot weather games. And though I didn’t necessarily feel like superman coming out of the tunnel for the 2nd half, I damn sure had some new spring in my legs, and my body didn’t have that “just blottoed by a locomotive”, systemic ache that is natural after the first half. My head was relatively clear, and I was, well…in a word — fresh. Not first half fresh mind you, but not too damn far off that mark either. The few cold weather drips I took still “worked”, though I don’t remember the effect being nearly as pronounced. This lead me for for a long time to speculate that the positive effects of the intervention were due mostly to rapid and more adequate re-hydration. There was definitely something else going on, though. Placebo, maybe?
Now I’ve always been fascinated as to why the phenomena of core cooling worked, and I’ve often wondered, too, if it was by any means a “safe” (not that that would have dissuaded me from employing it at that time in my life) thing to do. Does the cooling effect short-circuit some built-in, natural protective system designed so as to keep dumb-asses like myself from driving our bodies over a cliff? I’m not sure, and after a good bit of following and researching this phenomenon, I’m still not exactly sure what mechanisms are at work (or are blunted?) here, and I’m not so sure that anyone really knows either. That an intervention is field-proven is good enough proof for those in the S&C trenches; that said, this would seem to me to be a very cool (heh…) area of study for an up-and-coming exercise physiology PhD to latch onto.
This Stanford Alumni article speaks to the positive effects of “new school” core cooling. I find the physiology behind how the body shunts heat via the palms and soles of the feet utterly fascinating, and the override mechanism — effectively, forcing the body into a continual “heat-dump mode” — employed in the design of the Avacore device super friggin’ intriguing as well. I think that Skyler Tanner ought to take a break from his foray into Molecular Gastronomy and help a bro design a ghetto version of this device. I mean, seriously — how much can a vacuum pump, a cuffed sleeve, and a couple of cold packs run?
These Core Control videos (part I, part II, and part III) are certainly worth the watch. One thing that is really interesting is that the performance gains realized over a succession of “cooled” training sessions seem to stick. In other words, these PRs then become the new normal for “un-cooled” sessions — at least for the short term. Notice how the differentiation is made between the performance effects realized by core cooling vs CT. Something I can attest to as well. Again, these are two totally different interventions.
As far as weight loss attributed to CT, well, I just never witnessed it — certainly not in my self and, maybe more telling, not in any of my “in the trenches” teammates. I can tell you that the last thing a coaching staff would allow to happen is the wasting away of prime offensive and defensive line beef, and these beefalos spent some serious time dunked like a herd hippos in stainless steel therapy tanks. Not a pretty sight, mind you — not at all. And come to think of it, I’m still a little scarred from the experience.
So I don’t know. Maybe the weight loss Jack attributes to CT has more to do with following a Paleo diet, utilizing the high-protein in-the-AM “leptin reset”, and the cold immersion winds-up being simply a red herring. Or just another (of the many possible) ways to increase NEAT. One way or the other, it would be interesting to see before and after DEXAs to see just how much fat vs muscle is lost during one of these interventions. That these folks apparently don’t workout makes me think that they must be shedding muscle as well during the process, a condition that would be easily fixed with some moderate resistance exercise. But hibernating animals don’t do this, though, so why should we? Ugh, here we go down that rabbit hole…
Now admittedly, a hibernating animal does emerge from its winter hidey-hole come springtime all jacked and lean. True, at least as far as I comprehend the phenomena. Ergo, (and if I’ve got this right), if humans are looking for the same swole/ripped body composition, we too need to subject ourselves to periods of intense cold, preferably in a seasonal-appropriate manner. One contradiction I see here, though, is that these same animals also spend all spring and summer getting fat as all hell so as to be able to endure that long, cold winter. Kinda like their close relatives, the off-season bodybuilder. And this is the problem I have with the types of anthropomorphism that would have humans mimic selected animal characteristics. One of the things I’ve never bought into, for instance, was the idea that athletes shouldn’t have to warm up before working out because, hey, has anyone ever seen a lion “warm-up” before walking-down a wildebeest? Exactly. Now, head out to your nearest track immediately and bust out your best hundred meters. That searing pain you feel? Yeah, that’s a pair of pulled (if you’re lucky) hamstrings. Have fun walking on those polio legs the next couple of weeks. Cheer up though, bro! You’re a friggin’ lion.
Problem is, of course, we are not these species, even though I agree that we did have some common distant ancestor. However, we evolved, as such, to fill distinct and independent niches. That I evolved from the same distant ancestor as the buffalo does not make me a herbivore. Yeah, my Indian “spirit guide” may be a bad-ass cheetah, but my ass, in fact, needs to warm up a bit before I sprint balls-out. Just sayin’.
So where does this leave me with respect to Jack’s version of CT, and it’s purported benefits? Essentially, I remain an open-minded skeptic on the question of weight loss and health improvement. Recovery enhancement? Sure, along the lines of deep-tissue massage, eating sensibly, and seriously containing the other stressors in one’s life. Looking for superhuman recovery? Sorry, you’re gonna have to go the pharmacological route for that, my friend. Core cooling on the other hand, is an intervention that I’d like to explore in much more depth, as I believe this is something that can seriously boost an athlete’s overall performance.
In a recent Fat Burning Man podcast interview of Dr. Kruse, host Abel James brought up the idea of “directional accuracy”, a notion that I always try to keep in mind as it’s the essence of being an epistemocrat. That is, the totality of the message (theory, etc.) might be flawed, but there may just be certain nuggets within the message that do have validity. Essentially, this means that if you’re in the business of panning for gold, you can’t effectively do so with a backhoe and an indiscriminate — or worse yet, a seriously biased — eye. This is just another way of stating Bruce Lee’s maxim “absorb what is useful, discard what is not”.
Arthur Jones, of Nautilus fame, was mad as a hatter, and yet he did develop one of the most effective resistance training machines that I have ever used — the Nautilus pullover. And though I never agreed with his single-set-to-failure idea, what Jones brought to the table regarding intensity in one’s training regimen I have found invaluable in my own journey as an athlete and Physical Culturalist. So it may very well be that Jack has missed the mark on CT, but has inadvertently drawn attention to the core cooling phenomenon. Oh, the irony. Time will tell.
In health, fitness and Ancestral Wellness –