Editor Liz Potasek tries a quick dip in a freezing lake.
At age 22, Lakeville native Christopher Mosier was in great physical shape, training with body builders and competing in karate, yet he felt puffy and inflamed, and he couldn’t sleep. When he stumbled upon Minnesota’s first cryotherapy clinic in 2010, he felt immediate relief. “The first time I tried it, I was hooked,” he says. “As I got into healing, cold just became a part of it.”
About four years ago, he took his first polar dip, walking into Lake Marion in Lakeville on a late November day. “I came out, and I felt completely connected to nature, euphoric and relaxed,” he says.
Mosier isn’t alone. Many people extol the benefits of polar dipping, claiming that short intervals of cold water submersion can increase energy, reduce stress, regulate sleep, improve mood, decrease inflammation and more. The scientific research on the subject isn’t definitive, and as any Minnesotan knows, cold water can potentially be dangerous. A consultation with your doctor is recommended before taking a plunge. (Mosier wears neoprene booties and gloves, as well as a hat. He also never submerges his head or chooses to submerge in water that’s deeper than his waist.)
Since that first dip, Mosier’s daily winter routine involves a polar dip in local lakes—Lake Marion, Crystal Lake in Burnsville and Alimagnet in Apple Valley are a few of his favorites—and he says the practice has changed his relationship with winter. “Winter doesn’t feel so daunting,” says Mosier, who has a day job as a Realtor.
Mosier was on one of his daily dips at Crystal Lake Beach last winter when Katie Dettmann and Kim Burggraaf, coaches from the Lakeville/Burnsville Moms on the Run, crossed paths with him and struck up a conversation. Mosier invited the group to join him on a dip and offered to coach anyone who was interested through the process.
Which is how I found myself in a swimsuit on a frozen lake in late March questioning my life choices.
Full disclosure: I am a newbie when it comes to doing things outside in winter. Last winter was my first time running with Moms on the Run, which offers classes and outdoor running meet-ups year-round. Getting up every morning and running 4 to 5 miles at 5:15 a.m. a couple of times a week totally changed my perspective on winter and definitely boosted my mood.
So when Burggraaf asked if I wanted to try a polar dip, I thought, “Why not?”
We gathered around 8 a.m. and used an axe to break through a layer of ice in a shallow section near the shoreline of Crystal Lake Beach, creating a hole large enough to fit the four of us. We peeled off our sweats (keeping our hats on, of course) and slid into the water, crouching to submerge ourselves up to our shoulders with our feet on the sandy lake bottom.
After an excruciating and exhilarating two minutes, I was slightly surprised by how much pain I didn’t feel. I was shivering, and the cold was intense—numbing in some areas, prickling in others—but the anticipation was worse than the reality.
Mosier advised us to focus on our breath, taking deep, slow inhales and exhales.
Afterward, once I was back in cozy sweats and a warm car, I did feel a rush of energy, and my muscles were very relaxed. I slept well that night.
If you’re looking to take your first plunge, fall and spring—when the ice is off the lake—provide some of the best opportunities, Mosier says. As long as the water temperature is still between 40–45 degrees F, it’s possible to get the benefits of a polar dip.
Mosier also advises acclimating to polar dipping by taking shorter dips and working your way up to a three- to five-minute dip, depending on temperature and weather conditions. “It’s a free, abundant resource that we all have access to,” he says.
Freezing for Good
While it might not have the same health benefits as a polar dip, the Polar Plunge for Special Olympics Minnesota will leave you refreshed—both from the cold water and the knowledge that you’re supporting a nonprofit dedicated to inclusion. “The inspiration behind the polar plunge is first and foremost to raise funds and awareness for Special Olympics Minnesota,” says Katie Howlett, director of marketing for the Special Olympics Minnesota.
The plunge started in 1998 at Como Lake in St. Paul, and since then, it has expanded to more than 20 locations, including Prior Lake and Burnsville. This year, the organization hopes to host more than 18,000 plungers and raise $5.3 million for Special Olympics Minnesota. “The plunge is Special Olympics Minnesota’s biggest fundraiser, and without it, we would not be able to provide life-changing programming to thousands of Minnesotans with intellectual disabilities,” Howlett says.
Plungers raise a minimum of $75 to participate and can even show up on the day of the event. Advance registration is encouraged.
On Jan. 12, the Polar Plunge season kicked off with Viking Lakes’ inaugural Polar Plunge in Eagan, but there’s still a couple more local opportunities to make the leap:
February 17: Prior Lake Plunge
Sand Point Beach, Prior Lake
February 24: South Metro Plunge
Crystal Beach, Burnsville
Plungers must fundraise a minimum of $75 to participate in the Polar Plunge and can even show up on the day of the event. Advance registration is encouraged, though, to make the most of fundraising and participate in giveaways and challenges throughout the season. Register at plungemn.org.
If you’d rather not break through ice to get the benefits of polar dipping, there are a few local places to reap the benefits of cold therapy without actually braving the elements.
Last fall, I tried the cryotherapy chamber at Restore Hyper Wellness in Apple Valley. It was a gray, dreary afternoon, and I felt like I needed a post-lunch coffee boost to get through the rest of the day. Instead I found myself in a changing room at the med spa, stripping down to my underwear and a towel, along with a hat, gloves, face mask, warm socks and fuzzy slippers.
After gearing up, I walked a few steps to the cryotherapy chamber, where I had my temperature taken and picked “Hey Ya” by Outkast from a list of suggested songs. Then I walked into the frosty air bowing in the two-person cryotherapy chamber, which felt like a very small version of the walk-in coolers at the restaurants I worked at in my late teens.
Music played over the speakers while I watched a two minute and 30 second countdown clock on the side of the chamber. I had to fight by instinct to huddle up as I felt my eyelashes freeze.
By the time Andre 3000 was shouting “What’s cooler than being cold?,” my time was up and I was starting to shiver. I exited the chamber and another temperature check confirmed that my skin temperature had dropped just over 30 degrees, exactly the results we’d hope for to gain the most benefits from the treatment, according to Suzi Koemptgen, general manager of Restore Hyper Wellness.
I changed back into my clothes, and although I felt slightly chilled, I also felt a burst of energy and an alertness that had eluded me prior to entering the chamber. Koemptgen advised me to avoid taking a hot shower or working out for the next few hours in order to allow my body to naturally warm itself, which would allow me to reap the biggest benefits from the treatment.
Cryotherapy can be used to improve focus, reduce anxiety, boost metabolism, manage pain and reduce inflammation, Koemptgen says. “Everyone benefits in a different way and uses it for a different reason,” says Delaney Edwards, a registered nurse who works at Restore Hyper Wellness.
While cryotherapy can have health benefits, it’s not a bad idea to consult a doctor before completing a cryotherapy treatment, Edwards says, adding that people with heart issues or Raynaud’s Syndrome, which limits blood flow to extremities, might not be good candidates for cryotherapy.
Alexis Lebahn, the CEO of Advanced Body Sculpting Clinic and Cryotherapy Med Spa in Apple Valley, says they don’t use a cryotherapy chamber at her clinic and med spa, instead opting for CryoSculpting (not to be confused with CoolSculpting).
A CryoSculpting treatment involves a technician manually using a wand with cryogel to target different areas of the body. “It feels like a warm and cold massage,” Lebahn says. “It’s a very relaxing treatment.”
Cryosculpting can reduce pain and inflammation, increase circulation, boost collagen production (leaving skin with a glow) and relaxes muscles. It can also be used to target fat cells by shocking them with the cold and helping to flush fat cells, Lebahn says.
Restore Hyper Wellness
15662 Pilot Knob Rd., Suite 120, Apple Valley; 952.236.8497
Advanced Body Sculpting and MedSpa
7373 147th St. W., #140, Apple Valley; 651.235.8762