Tips For Burning More Fat With Cold Thermogenesis (And Why Icing Really Does Work).

wim hof

As I write today’s post, I have just finished my usual 5 minute morning cold shower, followed by 10 minutes of morning yoga in my chilly backyard – and I’m currently wearing a cool fat burner vest.

I may be no Wim Hof (the “Iceman”, who is pictured above and featured in videos like this), but this type of cold exposure has become a morning ritual for me, and I typically do it in a fasted state – trying to accumulate at least 45-60 minutes of “goose bumps” in the AM.

Compared to doing a rigorous morning workout in a fasted state, this kind of cold thermogenesis achieves a similar fat burning effect, but is less stressful on my body and joints than exercise – and let’s face it: I can’t exactly write this article while I’m riding a bike, but I certainly can while wearing an ice-packed vest.

And lately, my chilly adventures don’t stop with morning cold exposure…

Later today, following my afternoon workout, I’ll go shut down post-workout inflammation and rapidly cool my core by jumping in the nearby 56 degree Spokane river for a 15-20 minute soak while I catch up on my daily dose of NPR’s “Science Friday” podcast.

So why do I expose my body to this kind of treatment, and what are the benefits? You’re about to find out, see 3 things I’ve been using to enhance cold thermogenesis, and also get a glimpse into why the argument that “icing doesn’t work” is complete bunk.

If you listened to my interview with Jack Kruse about cold thermogenesis, then you know that we discussed a host of benefits from frequent cold exposure done the right way, such as:

  • Lowering body fat
  • Increasing hormone levels
  • Improving sexual performance and fertility
  • Lowering blood sugar
  • Cutting food cravings
  • Improving adrenal function
  • Fixing thyroid issues
  • Enhancing immune function
  • Improving deep sleep quality
  • Increasing pain tolerance
  • Reducing inflammation

So why does cold exposure achieve some of these benefits? Here how (and for you science nerds, I’m going to include a list of studies at the end of this post):

Some Benefits of Cold Exposure

BAT Activation

Brown adipose tissue, or BAT, is primarily found around your collar bones, sternum, neck, and upper back. It is a unique kind of fat that can generate heat by burning the regular white fat (adipose tissue) found on a your stomach, butt, hips, and legs.

Cool Fat Burner Vest
Me wearing the vest to activate BAT while I work at the computer.

In most cases, you’d need to exercise or engage in caloric restriction to first burn glucose (blood sugar) and then move on to glycogen (stored liver and muscle sugar) before finally beginning to utilize fat as fuel source. But BAT can immediately and directly burn white fat.

Although BAT is found in all mammals, babies or individuals exposed to frequent bouts of cold temperature tend to have higher levels of brown fat to generate heat and help to keep them warm. And while exercise and fasting can also both increase BAT, they don’t hold a candle to cold.

Before we move on from BAT, there’s two important thing you should know:

1) via a process called “mitochondrial uncoupling”, cold exposure can also cause an metabolic upregulation and production of heat in not just fat, but also skeletal muscle…

2) just recently the journal Nature Medicine discovered that a protein called sarcolipin, that, similar to BAT, can burn storage fat to maintain temperature.  But research on this protein is limited…

To get started with getting your BAT churning away storage fat, you can use something like the Cool Fat Burner vest (see right) to keep your primary BAT areas activated.

Adinopectin Activation

Adinopectin is a hormone released during cold exposure that breaks down fat and shuttles glucose into muscles (which can lower blood sugar). This not only has an anabolic, muscle repair effect, but can also enhance recovery. Interestingly, low adiponectin levels have been associated with obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Adinopectin chalks one point up for getting exposed to some cold post-workout (more on that later).

Enhanced Immune System

Cold therapy has been proven to enhance the immune system, primarily by increase levels of immune system cells that help fight disease and infection.

Specifically, cold exposure – likely due to it’s ability to stimulate norepinephrine release – can induce leukocytosis and granulocytosis, an increase in natural killer cell count and activity, and a rise in circulating levels of interleukin-6, all of which can massively improve your immune system integrity.

Increased Cell Longevity

mTOR is a protein found in humans. Perhaps you’ve heard that worms, fruit flies and mice live longer when exposed to caloric restriction, and it is hypothesized that this is caused by downregulation of the mTOR pathway.  Inhibition of the mTOR pathway can bring about cell autophagy, which is basically how your body cleans out  metabolic “junk” within the cells – and this is the method via which cells may live longer and healthier lives.

Cold exposure has an effect on cellular longevity by similar mTOR pathways as caloric restriction and intermittent fasting. Basically, you can think of it as a combination of simultaneously increasing your cell’s hardiness and health.

Higher Metabolism & Lower Blood Sugar

Cold exposure can cause blood glucose to be burned rapidly as fuel to assist in heating the body or stored in muscles to enhance recovery or performance – before that blood sugar can potentially be converted to fat via the liver. So while I’m not trying to give you an excuse to cheat on your diet and then use cold thermogenesis, it can come in handy should you slip up and eat too much ice cream.

When the metabolism of human BAT is studied using a combination of positron emission tomography (PET) combined with computed tomography (CT), glucose uptake has been observed to increase 12-fold in BAT by exposure to cold temperatures, along with a significant increase in metabolism and energy expenditure.

Getting the idea that cold exposure might be helpful? The benefits don’t stop with what I’ve listed above, but I thought I’d at least give you a taste of just a few of the upsides to cold exposure.

So Should You Ice After A Workout?

In the meantime, however, despite all the benefits of cold exposure, when it comes to using cold or icing post-workout, there seems to be a sudden doubting of icing’s efficacy across the internet and in several magazines.

The argument goes something like this: when an injury occurs, your body creates inflammation as a healing response. So if inflammation is the body’s natural way to heal an injury, why would you want to block this inflammatory process with ice?

Although I have a more comprehensive response to this argument against ice, forthcoming in Lava Magazine, I’ll give you 4 good reasons why, in addition to the cold thermogenesis benefits listed above, you actually should ice after a long or especially hard workout (and why I wear my tight, stretchy geeky pants post hard run or bike ride, filled with ice):

Click here to see why I wear stretchy pants filled with ice post-workout.

1. Ice does not completely reduce inflammation based swelling. But ice can prevent excessive swelling from occurring for a long period of time after the initial injury occurs. While some swelling certainly does important healing components such as white blood cells and other chemicals involved in the healing process to migrate into damaged tissues through increased vascular permeability, and also physically protects an injured area through decreasing it’s potential range of motion, there is no physiological reason to allow swelling to freely progress for hours or days after an injury occurs, especially if you’re smart enough to have ice around.

In fact, prevention of excessive swelling is important because fluid that has escaped into the tissues from excessive swelling can create a low oxygen (hypoxic) environment that can lead to additional tissue damage and delay healing. In addition, swelling can cause distention in joint capsules and other tissues, and excitation of nervous system components called mechanoreceptors – which can increase pain. Ice simply reduces this effect by causing vasoconstriction (shrinks blood vessels) around the vasculature surrounding an injury.

2. The cold temperature of ice can slow down nerve conduction velocity and shut down the activation of your muscle spindles, making it a highly effective pain reliever and muscle relaxant. If a muscle is in less pain and is more relaxed, then mobilization and movement become a reality, and a return to functional training status can occur much more quickly, which can limit muscle atrophy or loss of fitness.

Another cool way to ice (or heat) – a Moji wrap. I keep one of these in the freezer too.

3. Ice also reduces metabolic activity in the tissues that you ice, making them better able to resist the damaging effects of the impending loss of oxygen from inflammatory swelling pressure. In other words, lower tissue temperatures from icing means less oxygen is required by your muscles to sustain their integrity.

4. Finally, as you learned in point 1, ice causes vasoconstriction, or shrinking of blood vessels. But unless you’re in extreme conditions where you must shuttle blood to your brain and vital organs to survive, your body will avoid tissue death by not allowing the body part you’re icing to cool excessively. Through a process called “reactive vasodilation” (also known as the Hunting reflex or Lewis reflex), your vessels, while being exposed to cold, create a negative pressure in the capillary system, which causes a pumping of inflammatory and metabolic byproducts out of an injured area, while allowing additional healing components such as  macrophages and white blood cells to mobilize into the area. When combined with pressure and elevation, this “pumping” action of ice can be an extremely effective rehabilitation tool (and you can observe this in nature by simply jumping into a cold lake for about 20 minutes and watching your skin slowly turn red as reactive vasodilation occurs).

How You Can Learn More About Cold Exposure & Other Tricks

The fact is, sitting around on my computer while wearing a cool fat burner vest, wearing stretchy pants that combine pressure and ice, or keeping quick wraps in my freezer, are just a very few of the little things I do to enhance physical or mental performance.

So in my next live BenGreenfieldFitness Inner Circle webinar video, which is coming up in just 1.5 weeks, I’m literally going to whip out my camera and walk you through my office, kitchen, bedroom and garage – revealing every little thing I have lying around to help me bounce back faster, keep me mentally sharp or give me a shortcut to enhancing fitness – and answer your questions live along the way.

Here’s  a video that tells you about that cool opportunity (and by the way, getting into my Inner Circle costs one buck when you click here):

OK, so enough of that prancing around half-naked in my bicycle helmet. If you want into the Inner Circle for a buck, click here (and yes, I’m serious, inside the Inner Circle I am literally giving you my entire diet and personal workout program if you simply want to do my workouts and eat what I eat).

And finally, as promised, here’s a list of studies for you to peruse if you’d like to study up more on the benefits of cold thermogenesis.

If you have questions, comments or feedback on burning more fat with cold thermogenesis, or anything else, just leave them below this post.


23 thoughts on “Tips For Burning More Fat With Cold Thermogenesis (And Why Icing Really Does Work).

  1. Ben, I live in Hope Idaho and am about to change physicians. I am a 57 year old male and have an annual physical, but would prefer someone who really understands the Christian holistic athelete. I have been seeing a Dr. in Spokane at Integrative Medicine for 10 years, but would like to take it up a notch. Any suggestions? Thanks, You are awesome.

    1. I don't know anybody in hope, Jamie – but my personal physician is Dr. Todd Schlapfer in CDA, Idaho. He's been on this podcast before and is a really wonderful and caring guy. He's helped me and my family many times and he is very good. He's not an "athlete" specialist per se, but heck, he works with me! And then of course, you could do something like join the Inner Circle or do one-on-one consults with me when the advice you need becomes more specialized to athletic performance and less medical related. Hope that helps.

  2. Thanks for clearing this up Ben! It seems like proponents of no ice are glossing over much of the actual physiology of inflammation and benefits of decreasing it with ice. Great list of studies to look review too, thank you:-)

  3. Impressive stuff. I've known about the benefits of icing for a while now, but have yet to try it—my aversion to anything cold has stopped me. You bring up so many benefits though, it's time I give it a try.

  4. Hi Ben, I ordered two ice-packed vest, or The Cool Fat Burner. It has to be the worst product I have seen for a long time. The ice bags are water based, not gel based. So they are rigid when frozon. The vest is made with such cheep material, poor design and lousy workmanship that it seems to break up anytime. I think one would be better off to buy this:… + this:

    What do you think?

    1. First, thanks to Ben Greenfield for profiling the Cool Fat Burner. It's good to see someone on the cutting edge, getting the word out. I suspect in a few years, everyone will be incorporating some form of thermal loading into their personal approach to health and fitness.

      To Longbow: then return it. I'll give you a 110% money-back guarantee, just as it says on the website (minus shipping, and assuming no damage to the device).

      By the way, the vests were made by professional seamstresses and the material was left from what was used in specialized garments for professional firefighters in LA (irony that it was then used in the Cool Fat Burner). It was anything but cheap.

      The gel packs are hybrid cold/gel packs. Why? So as to get maximum cold and last a long time, upwards of 2 hours. It would be easier, and more profitable, to make regular old generic 'gel packs' that only last for 20 minutes or so. (then offer to sell more just to get to the 2 hour mark)

      I made the Cool Fat Burner first and foremost how I like to use it. As it is, you can take a session all the way to a shiver-level intensity if you desire, and maintain that for 2 hours.

      Those chatanooga pads you linked, and others like them? We tested all those. They're lucky to hold cold for 30 minutes, and the cold is 'mild' at that.

      Anyhow, if you're not pleased with it, or if you'd rather have regular gel packs that don't hold the cold for around 2 hours, you're welcome to return it for the guarantee.

      1. Let me start by saying I purchased a Cool Fat Burner roughly a little over a month ago and I have had zero issues with it. I'm currently forward deployed overseas and use the thing on a nightly basis. Used in conjuction with working out and eating semi-healthy, I was able to drop nine pounds of fat in just under a month. Yes, the vest is constructed without bells and whistles and isn't the "prettiest" thing out there, but it works. Plain and simple. As a matter of fact, I quit before the gel packs do. You want something fashionalbe go to mall. You want something that helps get the job done, buy one of these things.

    2. I have actually found the exact opposite, regarding the cool fat burner. I wrote a short review of the CFB on my blog ( and said as much! I think it's constructed great and haven't had any problems with the ice-bags (except when I didn't lay them flat in the freezer – user error!).

      Also, wanted to say this is a great blog post! I really enjoyed reading it. I'm going to add it to my list of CT resources on my blog. Thanks for sharing your routine and the studies you've uncovered.

  5. Can running in colder temps (upper 40s) be of any benefit if you keep clothes to a minimal and definitely get cold during the run? I realize the body is heating up so it may negate any benefits. I have been trying to still run in the early mornings with only shorts and short sleeves thinking being cold might be beneficial. Thoughts?

    1. Thermal loading expert Ray Cronise — who Ben has interviewed in the past — talks of exercising outside in the winter. I think he tends to advise light exercise, just enough to "get the blood flowing," so as to increase vasodilation and blood and heat flow… which will then be vented out. Being in a cold environment, that will create a thermal load (and corresponding calorie deficit). Ray is known for his "shiver walks" (I'm thinking Ferriss mentions that in the "4 Hour Body.")

  6. im a 15 year old girl, 5 5 , about 150 lbs. I’m active in dance for 5 hours a week and chlnreeadieg for 8 hours a week. I have been struggling to lose weight for about 2 years. I know im not fat, but i have a lot of room to lose. i have tried weight watchers and since i have such a busy life with school and more different activities, i cant seem to stay on track. i have changed my diet that consits of whole wheat grains opposed to white, only egg whites opposed to the whole etc. i feel if i really work on my diet the weight will come off quicker. I have fairly large thighs, which is where all my weight goes to, i know i cant spot reduce but is there anyway that is effective to slim down (NOT BULK UP) my legs? and my big legs is genetic so it wont just come off like regular people. i was thinking if i run about 35 min on a treadmill with no incline they will slim down in about a month. also i have noticed i started gaining my weight in my lower stomach and i have a pouch if i run, what else can i do for my lower abs? i do 400 crunches a night at dance and that helps my upper abs but i need something that wont take too long and doesnt require any machines, to specifccally tone that area. (as well as lose the fat) like i have tried reverse crunches but i have trouble doing them by knowing if i do it right so i need something better. thanks so much!

    1. I would skip the whole grains, all kind of grains, and eat the whole eggs. Avoid processed foods and industrial vegetable seed oils, and keep sugars to a minimum. Then just make sure you are eating enough natural protein and good fats and vegetables. This should help and it is not complicated.

  7. hey man question do you just need the ice packs against your body to burn fat? Do you need to be sitting in a cold room as well?Can you get away with just cooling off the upper body to get the effect that you are looking for. Or do you need a actively light shivering?

  8. Recently I started walking with just some light clothing outside. 15-30 minutes per day plus 15 minutes of yoga poses outside in the chilly morning. Besides the terrified looks I'm constantly getting from people, the other change I noticed is that I feel more tired and need more sleep. Can this extra cold cause this? (The amount of walking didn't change, I just take my jacket off while walking for the same distance.)

  9. The prospect of a second hand store offering discounted apparel is brighter than ever before in troubled economic times.

    * Ask your family, friends and peers to help spread the word.
    And that was when an elegant blonde from Germany crossed my path’.

  10. There is inconsistency among CT'ers on whether to do this on an empty stomach (Russian scientists) or after a high fat or high protein meal (Jack Kruse). Anyone care to weigh in or provide more information? Thanks!

  11. Hello Ben,
    Cool article ;)
    I suspect this may be more of a medical question, but I'm wondering if you know whether cold thermogenesis can be made to work for people with Raynaud's phenomenon? I love the idea, and have tried the cold shower/baths and jaunts in the cold, but my fingers (and just my fingers) inevitably lose circulation and go blue, so I'm thinking it can't be good for them, even though the rest of my body feels amazing (… afterwards). I haven't found much in the way of CT literature about this, but I'm sure this issue is relatively common. Also, if I am taking cold baths instead of showers, is there anything that could be added to the water for additional benefits, in your opinion?
    Cheers :)

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