If you have ever seen a locker room after an intense game of football or sat down with a marathon runner after they finish their run, you’ve probably also seen an ice bath somewhere in the vicinity. When you see professional athletes lowering themselves into these ice baths, they probably look frigid, unforgiving, and overall miserable. With all the wincing, whining, and shivering that can come with an ice bath, you might even question if they’re worth all the trouble in the first place!
So, why do athletes take ice baths, and why does that matter for you?
The short answer is that ice baths can help your body recover faster from intense movement and improve performance in many fitness areas. However, that’s only scratching the tip of the iceberg, and if you want the long answer, all you have to do is keep reading.
We’ll go over the best uses for an ice bath and when to use them so you can figure out for yourself if this chilly trend is for you!
Ice Bath Recovery
To start things off, let’s examine how you can use an ice bath for some post-workout recovery. Sports medicine tells us that if you hurt yourself, you should probably ice the area that you hurt to help it recover. The same principle is what drives ice baths, but instead of one concentrated area, you chill your entire body.
When our bodies enter cold water, our blood vessels naturally constrict. Doing this pulls the blood away from our extremities, such as our fingers and legs, and moves it closer to our vital organs to protect them. Having the blood flow so close to our vital organs also helps bring richer, nutrient-filled blood to these areas in order to keep us warm.
When we get out of the ice bath, however, is when the real magic happens. The gradual heating of our bodies naturally “re-opens” our blood vessels, increasing our blood flow once again. This has been shown to improve circulation and provide the body with more oxygenated blood.
Similarly, a part of our bodies called the lymphatic system contracts and expands when we’re exposed to cold water. This system is in charge of your lymph nodes, which in turn help us with immunity. When the lymphatic system contracts and expands, it acts as a sort of pump, flushing the system and helping to boost your immunity.
When to Ice Bath for Recovery
If you want to use an ice bath as a recovery tool, the best time to do it is right after you finish your exercise. Once you complete your workout or game, you can hop into an ice bath for 2-5 minutes, from temperatures of 40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on your level of comfortability.
For the best possible results, try combining cold water immersion with some form of active recovery, such as yoga, dynamic stretching, or a short, slow walk. This will help your body wind down from your workout before exposing it to the shock of the cold.
Ice Bath for Feet
If dunking your entire body sounds daunting, you can also look into using ice baths for your feet. However, for your feet, an ice bath is best combined with alternating dunks in a hot bath. The back and forth between hot and cold can help with both circulation and foot pain, making it a potent two-for-one. The ice bath aspect will help decrease swollen feet, and the hot bath aspect will help expand the blood vessels and improve blood flow.
When to Ice Bath for Feet
As opposed to taking ice baths for recovery, you can soak your feet whenever you feel the urge. Of course, like any activity, it is best in moderation, but a daily foot soak can bring out the health benefits of cold water.
Ice Bath for Mental Wellness
Using ice baths for physical recovery is excellent, but here at Plunge, ice baths have become a routine for boosting our mental wellness. Looking beyond our physical reactions to cold water, our brains have some unique responses as well.
At the first sign of exposure to cold temperatures, our body begins to release a hormone and neurotransmitter called norepinephrine. As a hormone, norepinephrine helps our blood vessels constrict, as noted in the physical recovery section above. As a neurotransmitter, however, norepinephrine is involved in maintaining our mood, attention, and energy.
Studies have shown that a lack of norepinephrine can sometimes contribute to depression and ADHD, both of which are often treated with norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. Instead of using a pill, however, you may be able to get increased levels of norepinephrine just by using cold water therapy!
For some people, this has lead to studies about the benefits of cold showers and their effect on depression, and for others, it has translated into a fantastic mental wellness routine. For example, our co-founders Michael and Ryan follow a daily cold therapy routine to get a burst of energy, master their willpower, and get their days started on the right note.
When to Ice Bath for Mental Wellness
The actual timing of the ice bath can be up to you, but we would recommend it on the earlier side of the day. Dunking into a cold tub will genuinely give you a boost of energy, and unless you are a hardcore night owl, your cold therapy will work best in the morning.
Since the beginning, our mission has been to discover mental and emotional resilience by jumping out of our comfort zone and into freezing water. Plunge seeks to make the experience of ice baths accessible without sacrificing luxury or innovation.
The Plunge isn’t just a great way to wake up. A routine of cold plunges can help you on numerous mental and physical levels. Read up on our blog for more tips on cold plunging, try for yourself today, or check out our website for FAQs and more.
How often should you do an ice bath? ›
Ice baths can be used as needed after intense workouts or once or twice a week if you are training regularly, King noted. One thing to keep in mind is that for athletes who do this more frequently, this is part of their job, King said, and they have a whole team helping them.Are ice baths good after a workout? ›
Taking an ice bath soon after your strenuous workout will help your muscles recover faster. It lowers the chances of microtrauma and also speeds up the recovery of such injuries to the muscles. Being active uses energy and oxygen.Should you take an ice bath before or after a shower? ›
Shower off before your ice bath to prevent skin conditions.
Before your bath, take a short, lukewarm shower to soap up so that you'll be clean when you get in the bath. If you are sharing an ice bath with fellow athletes, it's especially important that you wash off beforehand.
A recommended ice bath should not exceed 10 minutes. You can start for a few minutes and work your tolerance toward the 10-minute mark. If you start shivering excessively or notice your skin changing color, get out of the ice bath.What should I do immediately after an ice bath? ›
Avoid taking a shower right after an ice bath. It is better to let the body warm up on its own instead of shocking it with hot water. If after several minutes you cannot seem to get warm on your own, take a warm shower to raise your internal body temperature.What does a 2 minute ice bath do? ›
When you take an ice bath, the cold temperature narrows your blood vessels. This decreases blood flow to your muscles, which may reduce inflammation and swelling. And research suggests that the cold-therapy technique lowers post-exercise inflammation better than other methods like compression socks.How long do athletes sit in ice baths? ›
Cold-water immersion, also known as an ice bath, is a recovery regimen usually done following intense exercise where you dunk yourself in a tub of cold water for 10 to 15 minutes. From pro athletes like Lebron James to mega superstars like Lady Gaga, it seems like everyone is plunging into the ice bath trend.Who shouldn't take ice baths? ›
Who shouldn't take ice baths
- Heart disease.
- High blood pressure.
- Peripheral neuropathy.
- Poor circulation.
- Venous stasis.
- Cold agglutinin disease.
However, ice baths may decrease gains in strength and muscle growth. A 2015 study in the Journal of Physiology showed decreased long-term gains in muscle mass and strength, which is in line with a 2014 study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research which showed decreases in strength using cold immersion.How do I prepare myself for an ice bath? ›
If you're ready to get into the tub for a cold bath, you can start out by filling it up with the water set on the coldest possible temperature. If you want to go even colder, Walding recommends placing two to three ice bags in the bathtub before filling it with water. You can buy ice bags at most supermarket retailers.
Is it OK to ice bath at night? ›
While stepping into an ice cold bath might be a shock to the system, the melatonin output that follows has an amazing calming effect. Time your ice bath less than 20 minutes prior to your bedtime for the best results and the deepest possible sleep.How long is too long in an ice bath? ›
SOLOMON says: The maximum time for an ice bath is 20 minutes. More than that might cause frostbite. After 20 minutes, the blood vessels constrict and the body experiences decreased circulation.Should you ice bath in the morning or at night? ›
The actual timing of the ice bath can be up to you, but we would recommend it on the earlier side of the day. Dunking into a cold tub will genuinely give you a boost of energy, and unless you are a hardcore night owl, your cold therapy will work best in the morning.Is a 5 minute ice bath good? ›
How long should I ice bath? If you are trying it for the first time, starting low and going slow is best. At first, you should limit your time to no longer than five minutes. If you feel comfortable, you could test out staying for 10 to 15 minutes at 50-59 degrees Fahrenheit in the following session.Is 5 minutes in an ice bath enough? ›
The optimal ice bath temperature is 10 to 15 degrees Celsius or 50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Ice Barrel recommends soaking in an ice bath for 5 to 10 minutes, with a cap at 15 minutes. Spending longer than 15 minutes is spent in an ice bath at the suggested temperature increases your risk of hypothermia.Do and don'ts of ice bath? ›
Do: Aim for an ice bath time of around 2-5 minutes maximum. You don't have to sit in there for a long time to reap the benefits, and unless you're using it as a recovery tool, your ice bath doesn't need to be longer than 5 minutes! Don't: Be careless about staying too long in an ice-cold tub.How long should I sit in a ice bath? ›
The general consensus from the literature is that the ideal length of an ice bath is 11-15 minutes. This maximizes the cryotherapy benefits of cold water immersion without inducing excessive stress or putting tissues at risk of frostbite or the body at risk of hypothermia.Do ice baths burn fat? ›
A new study suggests that ice baths may help burn body fat. Cold water exposure also appears to protect against insulin resistance and diabetes. Other health benefits were less clear, however.Is it better to take a hot bath or ice bath? ›
While cold water is the best way to avoid inflammation and potential aggravation of injuries, hot water relaxes muscles, joints, tendons, and all levels of stiffness, allowing for better stretching and movement, and increasing blood flow, which stimulates healing.Should I wear clothes in an ice bath? ›
#3 Do: Wear clothes to regulate body
When taking an ice bath, make sure that you wear a long sleeve sweater and shorts. While this might not keep you completely warm, it helps regulate your body temperature.
Are ice baths healthy? ›
Ice baths are good for you when done safely. Just one ice bath can help soothe your muscles, reduce inflammation, regulate your breathing, lift your mood, and even increase your energy level.What is the danger of ice baths? ›
Safety. There is agreement in the medical and scientific communities that ice baths can pose serious risks to health. Risks include hypothermia, shock and the possibility of sudden cardiac death.What temperature should an ice bath be? ›
The Basics of Ice Baths
Your ice bath temperature should be below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, with experienced bathers getting down to about 40 degrees.
There's some evidence that cold water therapy can stimulate your body's immune system. This would theoretically improve your ability to fight illness.Do ice baths help anxiety? ›
When you're stressed, the vagus nerve signals your body to release stress hormones. When you take an ice bath, the cold water has a calming effect that activates the vagus nerve to decrease stress levels and to help reduce tension and anxiety.How many ice baths a week? ›
When it comes to the number of times one should go for cold water therapy in a week, there is no definite answer. However, studies have linked health benefits with performing CWI at least four days per week on average. Just remember, if you are new to cold water therapy, start slowly.Why do I feel sleepy after ice bath? ›
When you take a cold shower or spend a few minutes in your cold plunge, your body's temperature will dramatically decrease. As a result, your body will release chemicals—such as melatonin—which researchers believe induces sleep.Should I stretch after ice bath? ›
Don't stretch when you are cold, immediately after the bath. I also stress the importance of moving around a bit throughout the day or evening post-race. Don't get stuck in the same position for extended periods of time, as this hinders recovery and tightens muscles.How painful is an ice bath? ›
“It's really painful when you get in, but it feels so good afterward,” she said. That sense of triumph is earned—an ice bath hurts. You can't ease into it, one toe at a time, because the natural reaction to this kind of cold is to recoil.Can you ice bath too often? ›
Spending too much time in an ice bath can have adverse consequences. That's why you should limit your time to no longer than 10 to 15 minutes.
Is a 10 minute ice bath good? ›
How long should I ice bath? If you are trying it for the first time, starting low and going slow is best. At first, you should limit your time to no longer than five minutes. If you feel comfortable, you could test out staying for 10 to 15 minutes at 50-59 degrees Fahrenheit in the following session.How long is a healthy ice bath? ›
Cold-water immersion, also known as an ice bath, is a recovery regimen usually done following intense exercise where you dunk yourself in a tub of cold water for 10 to 15 minutes.How long can you leave water in ice bath? ›
How often you should change the water depends on whether you're treating your cold water or not. Some people and manufacturers recommend changing it every four weeks or so, while others will only change the ice water in their tub or cold plunge every three or four months.How do you prepare for an ice bath? ›
- Fill a Bath Tub with cold water so it covers your legs and waist.
- Dump 1-2 bags worth of ice in the tub. ...
- Sit in the water for 10-15 minutes. ...
- Wear a long sleeve shirt or sweatshirt to help keep the top half of your body warm if needed.
- Bring a magazine or book with you in the tub too to help pass the time.