Did taking a cold shower every day for a month turn me into a CrossFit Titan?

The digested read #2: Tools of the Titans by Tim Ferris
One month of using titan like tools… would I be a titan, too?

WARNING! This is not a CrossFit book but something I was interested in and hoped to be able to transfer the lessons to my CrossFit life. What follows is not a ‘digested read’ either, as it’s more of a random collection of things that appealed to me and that I thought I’d try out.
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Tim Ferriss is the bestselling author of numerous books and prolific podcaster, too. His books include  The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Body, and The 4-Hour Chef. I’ve read all of them and although I am not working (or working out) 4 hours a week, I have found many useful tips and habits in each book, so I was hopeful that the same would be true of this one.
Over the last two years, Ferriss has collected the routines and tools of world-class performers around the globe. He has looked for commonalities and tried them out on himself. The result is Tools of the Titans.
What follows is a record of what happened when I tried some of the ideas on myself in January 2017. The first section covers the development of a ‘morning routine’, the second looks at using checklists / tracking your habits and in the last section, I give my verdict… One month of using the tools of titans – would they get me closer to being ready for the CrossFit Open? [about me].

MORNING RITUALS THAT HELP TITANS WIN THE DAY

“After asking 100+ interviewees about morning routines, I’ve tested a lot and figured out what works for me. Here are five things that I attempt to do every morning. Realistically, if I hit three out of five, I consider myself having won the morning. And if you win the morning, you win the day.” T.Ferriss

Ferris makes the argument of seizing the morning with examples of CEOs and Navy Seals like Jocko Willinck (see his argument for early rising here and Tim’s podcast with him here). Jocko gets up at 4:45am but I’m hoping to incorporate the routines in TotT at my normal get-up time of 6:45am!

Ferriss also celebrates the usefulness of checklists, so I started to use the ‘Way of Life‘ app to track my adherence (like Tim, a minimum of 3 out of 5 would be my aim)…(see more of this in the KEEP CHECKLISTS section, below)

“Invest less than a minute daily to track, identify and change your habits with Way of Life’s unique color system.” Way of Life website

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Tim’s 5 Routines

#1 Make Your Bed

Ok, this wasn’t going to be a good morning routine for me. First I’d have to kick the wife out and that wouldn’t end well… and anyway, why would it make me better at CrossFit?

“If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.” US Navy Admiral William McRaven.

This one action, leading to another, appears to have led to the capture of Osama Bin Laden (McRaven was head of the Joint Special Ops Command at the time of the raid); maybe I needed to find a good substitute…

I decided on drinking a glass of water upon waking and re-filling it ready for the next day. I often only drink coffee until mid-morning, so hydrating after sleep would hopefully be a good habit, kickstart the rest of my morning routine and be a task ticked off on waking.

Results

Day 1: I never feel like drinking water when I wake up but it does feel like the day has started well. The key to this will be remembering to have a full glass next to my bed each day. Doing this has also meant I remember to take my pulse (which I always mean to but forget) to see how well I’m recovering.

Week 1: Good compliance until Sunday, when I got up for a pee and never went back to grab my drink (6/7 days).

Half-way: This is becoming a habit and I’ve added the following to my water after reading a great article on recovery:

  • Half of a lemon squeezed into my water to aid liver support and wake the body
  • added amino acids
  • Sea salt for aiding adrenals and waking the body

Full-time: Scroll down to the conclusions section to see the full-time results of each habit.

#2 Meditate (10 to 20 minutes)

“At least 80% of all guests profiled in this book have a daily mindfulness practice of some type.”

Tim recommends using an app like Headspace (paid after a free-trial) or Calm (online – 7 days of calm = free week long intro). Alternately, you could google a guided meditation by Sam Harris.

I decided I’d like to incorporate meditation but move more towards visualisation in a sports psychology vein as I recently read The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive by Jim Afremow. He suggests the following:

“Visualize positive performances and picture the ideal steps for achieving the successful result. Create a crystal clear mental image and powerful physical feeling of what you want to accomplish. Include the sights, sounds, smells, tactile impressions, and powerful emotions…strive to experience the action in 3-D from the first-person point of view (through your own eyes), “see it, feel it, and enjoy it” (SFE).

Day 1: I decided to start with straight forward mindfulness to get my head in the right place before visualising my chosen CrossFit specific sports skill (the Snatch).  I started out with the aim of a couple of minutes of mindfulness everyday and two to three 15 minute sessions, as described above, per week. Day 1 was simple breathing awareness using the Sam Harris link and I stuck at it for 3 minutes.

Week 1: This was not going well. As it doesn’t fit into my actual ‘morning routine’ and I was trying to fit it in where I could, it was being forgotten. I needed a trigger. I decided to aim low – 2 mins of focused breathing – and set an alarm on my iphone to remind me. 2/7 days.

Half-way: My aiming low wasn’t low enough 2/14 days. I needed to redouble my efforts. Would I succeed by full-time? 

Full-time: Scroll down to the conclusions section

#3 Do 5 to 10 Reps of Something

 “The 5 to 10 reps here are not a workout. They are intended to “state prime” and wake me up. Getting into my body, even for 30 seconds, has a dramatic effect on my mood and quiets mental chatter.”

I normally can only work out in an evening but I love the way I feel after starting the day with exercise and feel loads more energetic and productive. The hope would be that I could stimulate this effect in a minimum of time. I decided I could fit in 10 minutes once I got to work (I’d be exercising in my shirt and tie but not hopefully not getting vigorous enough to sweat!).

At the same time as committing to this, I saw a video by Ben at wodprep and thought I could combine the two. With a bit of tweaking my morning routine became:

  1. 20x Air Squats
  2. 20x Cossack Squats
  3. 20x Banded Pass-through
  4. 20x Banded “Windmills”
  5. 10x Cat-Cow

Results

Day 1: Skipped the Cossack Squats as I have a strain in my hip area that’s been causing me some discomfort. I did the rest, though, and it felt good to be moving and my shoulders needed the band work after some pressing yesterday.

Week 1: Did this every day at work but not at the weekend as I’m going to the box early doors anyway. 4/7 days.

Half-way: On a roll. 8/14 (8/10 if you take out weekends when I wasn’t aiming to do this).

Full-time: Scroll down to the conclusions section

#3a “…I’ll often take a 30- to 60-second pure cold shower after this”

Wow! It’s January and I’m going to commit to this? Sounds like a terrible idea. I know how refreshing it can be and how it can kickstart your system from taking cold showers between sauna sessions before. First thing in a morning, though? Sounds brutal…

Wim Hof (the Iceman) suggests taking a cold shower after a hot one…

“The first thing you should try doing is taking a cold shower after a hot one. Try to control your breaths as you face the impact of the cold on your lungs. Try to consciously control the lungs to not gasp and breathe at ease. When you are able to do this, you have taken a gigantic step in being able to consciously control the vascular system around your vital organs.
Regularly practicing cold showers can lead to muscle development in your arteries. The entire vascular system altogether will be conditioned as you exercise, but let things adapt and don’t force yourself though it. Stay determined, yet patient. Once the adaptation process is complete you can move on to the next phase, which is taking a cold shower without a warm one.

He is even runniñg a January challenge, it must be karma…

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Claimed benefits:

  1. Improve circulation
  2. Relieves depression
  3. Burns fat
  4. Improves sleep
  5. Keeps skin and hair healthy
  6. Increases fertility
  7. Improved emotional resilience
  8. Speeds up muscle recovery
  9. Energy boost

If it helps with 1,4,8 and 9 it could help in my mission for CrossFit Titan status! (no.5 is a lost cause).

I decided to try Wim’s challenge but add in a transition (inching the temperature cooler between the hot and cold shower). This would be more English, the way I enter the sea at Cleethorpes at the height of Summer – inch by inch, controlling my breath as the sea laps over my nether regions and then finally plunging my upper body in one act of final bravado.

Results

Day 1: Not as bad as I thought! Took my shower at midday (still on Xmas hols) and it did take me about 5 minutes to hit fully cold, but I did it. Can’t say my breath was fully under control for the full 15 seconds I managed but it’s a start. Felt very refreshed / energised and went and did some household DIY (definitely not the norm) before heading off to the box. Win!

Day 2: I haven’t given up on this (which was distinctly possible) and moved on up to 15+ seconds today. My breathing is more controlled (my mantra of “shit! shit! shit!” is getting shorter). I also shortened the transition.

Week 1: 100% compliance. Actually finding this pretty easy and have already gone up to 30secs. 7/7 days. I also found myself using the more conscious control of my breath encouraged by the showers during a workout on the Ski Erg. I still start with a hot shower but have no transition.

Half-way: Upped it to 45 seconds and checked my counting with a stopwatch. My one-elephant, two-elephants had been slow, I reckon I’d been doing 45 secs for the past week! Finding this surprisingly easy – 100%.

Full-time: Scroll down to the conclusions section

#4 Prepare “Titanium Tea”

“The below combo is excellent for cognition and fat loss, and I use about 1 flat teaspoon of each: Pu-erh aged black tea, Dragon well green tea (or other green tea), Turmeric and ginger shavings”

Woah, not coffee? I need coffee… I have a Nespresso machine in my office and I’ve tried the Bulletproof coffee thing many times (minus the exorbitant branded coffee – I know this is supposedly a key point but I won’t pay the money) and I don’t enjoy it that much and I can’t say I feel supersonic or any better for having drunk it; so let’s give Titanium Tea a chance…

Results

Day 1: No Pu-Erh Tea in Tesco so I went online and used my Amazon Prime.

Day 2: Pu-Erh delivery! Couldn’t find any loose green tea either, though, so bought tea bags which I ripped and poured with the Pu-Erh into my new Ikea tea-pot. Left it to steep (brew as we say in these parts) and then poured it over the coconut oil and grated fresh Ginger and Tumeric

Didn’t look too appetizing but tasted surprisingly good! Not as rich as bulletproof Coffee (a good thing in my opinion), the ginger / turmeric cuts through the coconut oil nicely. It is a bit of a faff, though. Need to think how to simplify the process, can’t see me peeling and grating Ginger and Turmeric every morning before work. Leaves an unappealing yellow residue in the cup, too.

Update! Decided to try freezing and putting in a small tub (bonus – also found some ready frozen ginger in their freezer!)

Week 1: Left my Pu-erh at work so nothing on the weekend but I had it everyday at work. 5/7 days.

Half-way: Same issue as week one – pu-erh left at work – so 10/14. Also, bought some matcha green tea to try with the Pu-erh for the next week.

Full-time: Scroll down to the conclusions section

#5 Morning Pages or 5-Minute Journal

I opted for using the 5 minute journal app (I love an app!). In it you can add a feelgood photo that you captured hitting your goals yesterday or just something that makes you feel happy (family, dog, first Muscle Up etc). Next you enter 3 things you feel grateful for and a daily affirmation. At the end of the day you finish by adding 3 ‘amazing’ things that happened today.

Results

Day 1: I kept my journal starting with a morning reflection of reasons to be grateful (the photo I chose was of me in my Xmas pressie weighted vested by Dynamic Aptitude – still smiling about this!) and setting out what I would do to make the day great. It did set me out in a very positive frame of mind and all the things I had to do to ‘make the day great’ were in my daily todo list (see KEEP CHECKLISTS section, below) so I did them… made the 3 amazing things that happened today section easy to fill out (the bar for ‘amazing’ is set pretty low!). Pretty cheesy? Yes, but the app has a passcode lock to protect you from the haters (don’t shake them off, lock them out).

Week 1: 100% compliance, enjoying this despite the cheesiness. It has given me a rather nice gallery of photos from the last week to look back on… It’s been a pretty titanic week! How can a photo of a dog in a blanket fail to make you happy to be alive?

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Half-way: Still keeping the morning journal up but not doing the end of day reflection. As it’s a morning routine I’m establishing, I decided to count this as another 100%.

Full-time: Scroll down to the conclusions section


KEEP CHECKLISTS

Alongside my 5 step morning ritual, I decided to employ checklists to ingrain these as habits and improve my adherence.

Ferriss references a book by Atul Gawande titled The Checklist Manifesto. In the book, Atul (a surgeon) argues that experts need checklists – written guides that walk them through the key steps in any complex procedure.

“Gawande shows how his research team has taken this idea, developed a safe surgery checklist, and applied it around the world, with staggering success.” – Book blurb on Amazon.

It certainly seems some days that I have a lot to remember to do to become a Titan, so I decided that checklists would be a pretty smart move. The ones that I started using are recommended in the book – Way of Life app (to track new habits) / Todoist (an online / to do list / app) and momentum (a chrome web browser extension).

Results

Day 1: I typed all of my to do’s into Todoist (I’ve set them to repeat everyday). They’re in chronological order and I’m ticking them off one by one once I’ve done them. Pretty satisfying really.

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Busy day! (and all before 8am – watch out, Jocko!)

I  used ‘Way of Life’ before bed to track progress and give me some measurable metrics of my success. I’m not logging everything on my to do list (currently 20+ items) but just the key habits I want to ingrain.

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Let’s start a winning streak!

Lastly, I’ve set up momentum. Every time I open up a new tab on chrome it opens with desktop wallpaper I’ve chosen (Mikko Salo today), an inspirational quote and the next thing I have to remember to do on my checklist (it syncs with todoist). I have also set up a countdown to the Open to heighten my motivation.

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My momentum dashboard – 56 days to the start of the Open! The quote is from big Arnie.

Conclusions

Before anyone else points it out, I know that to get to better at CrossFit I need to do CrossFit, not find a million little tricks to give me an edge. However, the tools that I chose were about forming habits and developing commitment to them. One of my favourite CrossFit Journal articles is about developing what the author called a ‘Hard Routine’:

The principles of setting up a hard routine are simple. Following  them is too, but it takes total commitment.
1. Recognize that there is a benefit to not getting everything  you want.
2. Understand that mental toughness is born of adversity;  that it will atrophy if not consistently engaged; and that it  carries over to everything you do.

Jason Dougherty. CF Journal 69, May 20018

I set out to do two things. One was to try out some ‘tools’ / routines / techniques that the so-called ‘Titans’ used. Did they work? The second thing was to ingrain some habits, using the apps I listed above. How was my adherence?

#1 Water on waking. The hardest thing was to not jump out of bed at the sound of the alarm in a daze and forget the water on my bedside table.

This was a simple thing to do, seemingly too simple but it did make my first action part of a ‘morning routine’. My brain was thinking “What’s next?”, I was on a roll. It’s a habit now and I’m going to keep it up.

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Way of Life Tracker

#2 Meditation. This was by far the hardest thing for me to fit in. Despite being part of my ‘morning routine’, I was never going to be able to do all the other routine tasks and meditate in one morning block of time before life interfered. So this became much more miss than hit and simply didn’t happen. Two things learned:

1. Don’t bite off more than you can chew – pick an achievable (2-3) new habits to ingrain; if you can pick up 2-3 new habits a month that’s pretty good!

2. Plan exactly when you’re going to do it and schedule it. If you don’t know at the start of the day when you’re going to do it, you won’t do it at all!

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Not quite a habit!

#3 Five to Ten reps of something. I did this at work (in my suit – jacket off!) in the spacious disabled toilet rather than my office (I didn’t want someone walking in on me doing the ‘Cat-Cow’). It only takes a couple of minutes and means I’ve added some movement and mobility work in before the day gets going. I’m going to keep this up and will switch up the movements to keep it fresh.

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#3a Cold Showers. I surprised myself with my ability to force myself under cold shower and by the end, it didn’t feel like a chore at all. The incremental approach really worked and I was taking a shower every morning anyway. This will be a keeper and I think Jock would be impressed; I’m starting my day by kick-starting my system. Next month will be taking a cold shower without starting off in a hot one!

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“HooHaa!”, Jocko Willinck

#4 Titanium Tea. This is a fair amount of work for cuppa, but I did prefer it to Bullet-proof Coffee. I kept it up on weekdays (where I had all my paraphernalia in my office) despite the extra washing up but the test will be when the pu-erh or frozen ginger runs out… 

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#5 Five Minute Journal. I enjoy this, it’s a very positive thing to do. You can add a photo each day summarising what you’re grateful for. That was my favourite bit – very few were photos taken at the time, but like everyone, I’ve a large photo archive on my iPhone! I found it harder to remember the reflection at the end of the day, though. I love scrolling back through the photo gallery and it reminds me of all the things I’ve achieved or make me happy. Win.

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Journal-ling like a titan

Overall, I enjoyed the month and I hope to have ingrained some habits.  I felt better, did more and felt ready to workout when I got home. Momentum is my go to hub to keep me motivated and organised. 25 days to the Open – you won’t be seeing me at the Games, but I’m ready to give it my all!

Anyone up for trying a tool of the titans? Let us know how you get on in the comments, below!


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In Part Two (coming to a blog near here soon) you can read how I try the following tools in February 2017 and the success (or not) that they bring:

1. Using single songs on repeat for focus.

2. Three movements that Gymnastic Bodies reckon everyone should practice.

3. Drinking apple cider vinegar for gainz.

4. Greasing the groove (nothing to do with abmat sit-up rash)

5. Using a sex-aid (sort of) to improve recovery. Yes, really.

6. My jar of awesomeness.

In the meantime, check out Digested Read No.1 (Ready to Run by Kelly Starrett).

7 Comments Add yours

  1. I love all this stuff! What an interesting round up. I’m looking forward to reading the next segment in the sequel.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. tomdolly says:

    Thanks JR. Hope the sequel goes down as well!

    Like

  3. Anthony says:

    Thanks for or sharing your experiences! Tim Ferriss 4 hr body is how I found Crossfit. Really like his approach and appreciate finding a kindred soul in you. Will be following your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. tomdolly says:

      Thanks Anthony! I love the way he factively experiments and incorporates what works. Looking forward to next month – even the cold showers!

      Like

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