By Sean P. Ray | Managing Editor
SPRING HILL — Lying down in a frigid tub of water may not sound like fun to many people, but that’s exactly what a group that meets every week at Waisenhaus Park is all about.
Pittsburgh Tub Club gathers at the park in Spring Hill every Wednesday to take turns sitting in tubs of ice water for up to five minutes at a time. The group was co-founded by Eric Tenpas and Tyler Butler, and began three years ago when their respective wives got them tickets to a cold water workshop in Cleveland, Ohio.
After finding the experience surprisingly enjoyable, they bought a 100-gallon tub the very next weekend after the workshop, and also began inviting their friends to join in. Unknown to the two at the time, this would be the start of a club which has grown to around 40 to 50 regular attendees every week.
“We started inviting our friends, and our friends started inviting their friends,” Tenpas said of the experience.
As for why someone would want to submerge themselves in freezing cold water, Tenpas said there are numerous benefits which can result from the practice, including improving someone’s circulation, increasing their metabolism and boosting production of T cells, which are part of the body’s immune system.
There are actually some scientific findings to support Tenpas’ claims. A 1996 study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology found that while a single cold water immersion had a “minimal” effect on the immune system, continuing the practice three times a week for a duration of six weeks led to an increase of T cells, as well as monocytes and lymphocytes, which are white blood cells that are part of the immune system.
Further, a 2019 article by Healthline, a medical information website with articles reviewed by doctors, said studies in 2007 and 2009 found cold water showers can help improve the metabolism, though the article also cautioned that people with underlying health issues may not want to take up the practice.
However, for members of the Tub Club, the benefits are beyond just purely physical health. Tenpas said one reason he enjoys cold water immersion is because it “teaches you to deal with a stressful situation.”
“You have to focus on your breath,” he said. “It is very intense.”
Butler, for his part, said taking up the ice cold baths has helped him deal with anxiety and stress.
“I feel much more cognizantly clear more often,” he said. “I’m much less anxious in any situation.”
He also said he enjoys how the practice involves the “pursuit of understanding the limit of human capability.” In fact, he can remember feeling “terrified” about cold water before he started performing cold water immersion. While he admitted he feels a little apprehension before getting in nowadays, he’s much more used to it and enjoys the practice regularly. Both Tenpas and Butler partake in cold water immersion beyond just when the club meets.
As it is in the middle of the summer, Tenpas and Butler said the club meetings are at their most popular of the year. However, despite what people may think the Pittsburgh Tub Club actually meets year round, including in the winter. And many attendees have been with the club through thick and thin.
One attendee, who gave his name as Fungi Flows, spoke with The Chronicle at the July 5 meeting of the club about why he enjoys the group’s cold water baths.
“One of my favorite things is challenging my comfort zone,” Flows said.
For Flows, the immersion is a kind of “spiritual” and grounding experience. He said the cold baths helped to hone his personal discipline.
The club also continues to attract new members. At that same July 5 meeting were Julia Lazzaris, of Elizabeth Township, and Susana Qiao, a student at the University of Pittsburgh, who were attending for the first time. The two had learned of the club through a neighbor, and ended up having contrasting experiences for their first immersions.
“Easier than I thought it would be,” Lazzaris told The Chronicle after getting out of the water. “You’re not cold all over. You feel the coldness in specific places.
Qiao, meanwhile, said she felt the first two minutes of the five minute bath were “pretty nice.” Later, however, she started shaking and couldn’t get herself to stop.
Nevertheless, the two felt like they would like to try the experience again some time, though Lazzaris mentioned only on a warm day.
For anyone interested in giving a cold water bath with the club a try, the group meets every Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Waisenhaus Park. Tickets to attend are $11, and can be purchased ahead of time at pittsburghtub.club. Tickets can also be purchased at the event itself, though organizers prefer pre-purchases.