Ice Baths: Everything You Need to Know
Whether you're an ice bath enthusiast, a beginner, or somewhere in between - here's some interesting, surprising, and helpful things you should know about ice baths.
- What is an Ice Bath?
- Benefits of Ice Baths
- Supporting Research
- Considerations For Ice Bathing
- How to Prepare For an Ice Bath
- How To Take An Ice Bath At Home
- Do's & Don'ts of Cold Plunging
- How to Create Your Perfect At-Home Cold Plunge Routine
- Safety Tips For Ice Bathing
- Potential Drawbacks of Ice Baths
- Alternatives to Ice Baths
- Common Myths About Ice Baths
- Frequently Asked Questions About Ice Baths
- History of Ice Baths
Ice baths have become increasingly popular in sports therapy and recovery and with its rising popularity, has come some myths and plenty of questions about its effectiveness and associated risks. So, what’s the truth behind ice baths and what’s the science behind it all?
In this post, we’ll go over everything you need to know about ice baths so you can have all the facts you need to decide if it’s right for you.
What Is An Ice Bath?
An ice bath is when part of the human body is immersed in ice-water for a limited amount of time typically as part of a recovery routine. Some people recommend 10 to 15 minutes but here at PLUNGE, we recommend 2-10 minutes.
An ice bath is sometimes called cold water immersion, cold water therapy, cold therapy, or cold plunging. Although mainly used by athletes for sports therapy, ice bathing provides many benefits in addition to aiding physical recovery which non-athletes can take advantage of too. You can read more about these benefits in the next section.
Benefits of Ice Baths
Ice baths are known for their array of benefits that can aid almost anyone in their health journey. From your mind to your muscles, plunging is a great addition to your overall health and wellness routine. Below are some benefits you can expect:
- Elevate mood
- Build discipline
- Increase mental resilience
- Decrease stress
- Energy boost
- Reduce anxiety and depression
Recovery & Pain Relief
- Reduce inflammation
- Reduce & prevent muscle soreness
- Boost performance
- Build physical resilience
- Reduce chronic pain
- Reduce eye puffiness
- Tighten skin
- Erase fine link and wrinkles
- Increase blood flow to create healthy glow
Our FREE protocols: reduce joint pain, lessen muscle soreness, boost mental and physical resilience, elevate mood, boost metabolism, increase energy and productivity, optimize digestion and reduce inflammation.
The National Library of Medicine (NLM) has done several studies about cold immersion and ice baths in great detail and their findings highlight various scientifically-backed benefits.
One NLM study found that athletes who took ice baths after exercise experienced less muscle soreness and were able to train longer following the ice bath. Similarly, two studies from other sources, one in 2016 and one in 2011, discovered that cyclists experienced less soreness after soaking in cold water for 10 minutes.
Another NLM study, found that cold water exposure creates an “immunostimulating” effect which basically means it stimulates your immune response. Multiple studies have proven that regular cold showers can boost one’s immune system and lower inflammation and anxiety levels. A Science Direct study showed improvement of depression symptoms after several weeks of hydrotherapy.
These are just a few studies we chose to highlight but the list goes on and on. As we keep finding more credible and relevant sources of information, we will keep adding to this research section to share our findings.
Considerations For Ice Bathing
Before plunging into an ice bath, there are some things you should consider first to make your experience are enjoyable as effective as possible.
- Consult with your doctor before cold plunging (especially if you’re sensitive to cold or have other conditions).
- Prepare mentally and physically with a cold shower. This will help you understand how your body will react to the cold on a smaller level and help you manage your reactions later.
- Consider your cold tolerance. It’s okay to start around 60°F and work your way down later. It’s also okay to start at 30 seconds to 1 minute and work your way up to 2 to 10 minutes.
- We recommend 2 to 10 minutes but even starting at 1 or 2 minutes is okay when you begin to get yourself used to the ice bath routine.
How to Prepare For an Ice Bath
There’s more to ice bathing than just filling your tub up with ice and water. You should do some preparation beforehand to make sure your ice bath experience is as smooth and enjoyable as possible. To prepare yourself to take an ice bath consider a few things beforehand, especially if it’s your first time.
First make sure you have the right materials to prepare your ice bath:
- For a DIY ice bath you’ll need a tub or container, a thermometer, bag (or two) of ice, and a hose if you’re using a stand alone tub without a faucet.
- If you’re using our tub, the Plunge, you’ll just need your tub and a hose.
- Learn a few breathing techniques for before, during, and after your ice bath sessions.
- Prepare your post-plunge towel and clothes (i.e. long sleeve shirts, pants, and socks) close by.
- Get your timer ready and within reach.
- Change into your ice bath clothing. You should at least wear shorts and a t-shirt but some people choose to also wear a sweatshirt, booties, and gloves. It’s up to you.
- Plan to get out of the ice bath slowly and some light movement to warm up.
For more tips on how to take the best first ice bath at home, check out this post.
How to Take an Ice Bath at Home
After you take the steps above to prepare, now it’s time to set up and take your ice bath.
1. Fill a Tub With Cold Water & Add Ice Until At Your Desired Temperature
After gathering your materials and post ice bath clothing (from the section above), start filling your tub up with cold water to your desired level then slowly add ice until it’s at a tolerable level of cold. It’s totally okay if you need to start around 55-60°F and move down later.
If you’re using the Plunge, simply fill your tub up with water to your desired level then set the temperature and it will automatically adjust.
2. Set a Timer Set & Keep It Within Reach
You can get benefits from only 2-3 minutes but if you need to start at just 1 minute that’s okay. At PLUNGE, we recommend 2-5 minutes but up to 10 minutes fine too.
3. Enter the Ice Bath & Start the Timer
After doing a couple minutes of pre-plunge breathwork, start your timer, then slowly submerge yourself into your ice bath.
4. Soak & Focus on Your Breathwork and Mind
Instead of focusing on how cold the water is, focus on something you can control - your breath. You can improve your heart rate, circulation, and comfort by practicing some breathwork like long breath exhales and full in-breaths followed by a short pause before exhaling. It will also keep you focused on something else other than the ice cold water.
5. Exit the Ice Bath & Warm Up With Light Movement
Once your timer goes off, slowly get out of the ice bath and pat yourself dry (also pat yourself on the back you champ!) Then, change into your post-ice bath clothes and consider doing some light movement to warm up like stretches or jumping jack.
Don’t forget to also consider these following safety tips in the safety section for your absolute best ice bath experience and to ease any woes you may have.
Do's & Don'ts of Cold Plunging
How to Create Your Perfect At-Home Cold Plunge Routine
Safety Tips For Ice Bathing
Ice bathing is considered safe. As with most things though, there are potential risks but there are also things you can do to increase safety and minimize potential risk during the process. Here are some safety considerations for you to have the best ice bath possible.
- Most importantly, consult with your primary care provider before starting an ice bath routine! They know you and your body the best and can advise you with more details based on your history.
- Consider your cold tolerance and start at a temperature you’re comfortable with that’s not too cold. You can work your way down later to 50°F to 39°F range.
- If you're a beginner, start with 30 seconds to 1 minute if that’s what you’re comfortable with and work your way up to 2 to 10 minutes.
- If you feel dizzy, are extremely uncomfortable, start excessively shivering, or otherwise feel like something is unwell during your ice bath, get out slowly but immediately.
- Have a non-slip mat right outside your tub.
- Get out of your ice bath slowly.
- If you are prone to falling or are just nervous, have someone there with you, outside the door, or have your phone in reach nearby.
As with most health-related things, there are some risks when ice bathing but these are minimal. Keep in mind the safety tips and guidelines mentioned above and you’ll greatly reduce potential risks. The potential drawbacks include:
Cold injuries: Frostbite or hypothermia can happen when sitting in cold water for too long but you will most likely feel warning signs before it were to occur. To avoid this, only set your water temperature to as low as you feel comfortable - between 39-60°F is a good range. Also, stick to 2 - 10 minutes per session.
Dizziness: Ice-cold water constricts your blood vessels which can lead to this dizziness. This is another great reason to pick a comfortable water temperature and spend only a few minutes submerged per session. Get out of the ice bath if you start to feel dizzy at any point.
Alternatives to Ice Baths
There are many reasons people take ice baths because there are a lot of different benefits of ice baths. Depending on the reason or desired benefit, there are a handful of different ice bath alternatives to consider. Below, we’ll take a plunge into the alternatives for ice baths, and what the key differences and similarities are.
A cold shower is the most accessible and similar ice bath alternative since you get similar benefits and it can be done without special equipment or resources. Some people may choose a cold shower over cold plunging to try to get the exact same benefits of cold water therapy for physical recovery, mental benefits, and an improved immune system but a cold shower may take longer to give you these benefits and give less effective benefits.
Why is a cold shower less effective than an ice bath? Firstly, a cold shower water is typically around 55°F (and can dip to 45°F in the winter) while ice bath tubs like the Plunge can reach as low as 39°F. Since, cold plunging gives you colder water than you would get in a shower and it actually immerses your body in the water, an ice bath lowers your body’s core temperature faster than a cold shower which gives you more effective benefits faster. Overall, a cold shower falls short of giving you the totality of ice baths benefits because cold showers don’t get as cold and don't fully submerge you in the water.
Cryotherapy involves full-body exposure to extreme, freezing cold while sitting in a booth for a short amount of time. Cryotherapy comes in different forms including medical, non-medical, full-body, and localized. Ice baths and cryotherapy are no doubt related as they both depend on exposing the body to cold temperatures but there are a few important differences.
Cryotherapy involves extremely cold temperatures (as low as -230°F), is mainly used for recovery and injuries short-term, and is confined to certain spaces that have cryochambers (such as a doctor’s office or sports medicine room). Ice baths don’t get as cold (between 59°F to 39°F), can be used long-term for a variety of benefits, and are more accessible.
As a short-term physical recovery aid, cryotherapy is a great tool but beyond that, there’s not much more it provides. On the other hand, ice baths support recovery while providing other key benefits in overall health, mental health, and physical health. Ice baths are also more convenient, accessible, and approachable, for the average person because all you need is ice, a tub, a thermometer, and a water hose (or just a tub and water hose if you’re using our Plunge). Overall, both cryotherapy and ice baths can be effective depending on your needs.
As a general rule, cold therapy (like an ice bath) is best used for acute injuries, reducing inflammation and swelling, numbing sore tissues, and minimizing tissue damage and typically can be done for 2-10 minutes. Cold therapy can be localized or regional on the body.
Meanwhile, heat therapy is best used for relieving muscle pain, loosening stiffness, and relaxing the tense areas of the body and can last anywhere from 15-20 minutes or even up to 30 minutes to an hour. Heat therapy involves dry heat and moist heat tactics.
If you’re looking to utilize both the benefits of hot and cold therapy, consider contrast therapy which we talk about in the section below.
Hot and Cold Therapy / Contrast Therapy
Hot and cold therapy, aka contrast therapy, combines the benefits of cold therapy (like an ice bath) and heat therapy benefits by promoting better blood flow to the injured area and speed along the recovery process. This is a great option if you want to reap the benefits of an ice bath while also using some warmth.
In some cases, hot and cold therapy can work together to provide the best combination of benefits and relief than either therapy individually provides. Hot and cold therapy is most commonly used to alleviate soft tissue pain or injuries caused by swelling, to reduce muscle strength loss, and decrease muscle damage.
Other Ice Bath Alternatives
Other alternatives to ice baths vary depending on your individual recovery needs but can include warm water therapy, taking a bath with epsom salt, getting a massage, electrical stimulation, ice packs, coolant sprays & topicals, or wearing compression gear.
Common Myths About Ice Baths
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about ice baths out there that are pure BS! We're tackling some of those myths and misconceptions below to give you the full picture of ice baths.
MYTH: Only Athletes Should Do Ice Baths
TRUTH: Non-athletes can, do, and should take ice baths; it’s not limited to athletes.
People can cold plunge for a variety of health reasons besides physical recovery including to:
- Boost metabolism & immune system
- Build resiliency and improves stress management
- Boost blood circulation long-term
- Manage one’s mental health
MYTH: Ice Bathing Gives You a Cold or Hypothermia
TRUTH: There is no evidence of correlation between ice baths and hypothermia/colds, still you should follow safety guidelines.
There is no evidence that ice baths or cold water exposure will make you catch a cold. It’s a myth just like when your mom told you “Don’t go outside with your hair wet or you’ll catch a cold!”
As for hypothermia, as long as you follow the safety protocols you most likely will never experience this. You would easily feel hypothermia coming ahead of time and be able to get out quickly before it sets. To avoid hypothermia, we recommend plunging for 2 to 5 minutes and starting at around 55 to 59°F if you’re new to plunging or have a low cold tolerance.
MYTH: I Don’t Have Time/I’m Too Busy To Take an Ice Bath
TRUTH: You can cold plunge for as little as 2 minutes, we recommend to 2 to 5 minutes.
Think about this: 2 to 5 minutes takes way less time than your favorite 30-minute show and it's a better use of time than mindlessly scrolling on your feed for an hour.
If you still feel like “I’m too busy” - consider the daily things that you make time for and if those daily things are an effective use of your time or are wasting your time. You’ll probably find a few unused or wasted minutes that you can swap out for cold plunging at least once or twice a week. You can have results or excuses but not both so - which will you have?
It is true that the typical ice bath can take some time to set up since you have to go buy ice, lug it inside, fill the container with water, add some ice, and then keep testing the water until you get the right temperature. But, you can greatly reduce setup time and get to enjoying your ice bath faster using the revolutionary tub, the Plunge. With the Plunge, you simply set your desired temperature and enjoy cold filtered water on-demand which saves you plenty of time.
MYTH: Ice Baths Are Unaffordable
TRUTH: Health is an investment and there are affordable options for ice bathing.
You’ve probably heard the saying "If you don't make time for your health, you will make time for your illness." At PLUNGE, we believe health and wellness is an investment in your future. While ice bath containers & tubs can seem pricey initially, think of it as an investment like you would think about a treadmill, weight room equipment, and other gym equipment for your home.
The Plunge tub is similar but instead, it’s for recovery and complements your workout routine and recovery. At PLUNGE, we also have affordable financing options starting at around $174/month. Investing in a healthy life is investing in a healthy future.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Ice Baths
Do ice baths work?
Why do athletes take ice baths?
It’s important for athletes to find different ways to improve their performance and reduce the risk of injuries. Ice baths are one of the tools athletes may choose to use as part of their recovery routine because it reduces muscle soreness while maximizing muscle recovery, decreases inflammation, and builds resiliency.
Are ice baths good for you?
Do ice baths help you lose weight?
Our FREE protocols include a weight loss protocol from Dr. Andrew Huberman of The Huberman Lab Podcast which discusses science and science-based tools for everyday life.
History of Ice Baths
The origin of ice baths are uncertain as they have claims in many different historical eras. Though we know that cold water therapy could not have been developed if not for early Ancient Egyptian and Greek discoveries which provided a great starting point for cold therapy evolution. “The earliest written records of using cold were discovered in ancient Egyptian texts,” Dr. Jaekl explained to Medical News Today.
Egyptian Cold Therapy
One of the earliest ice-bathing-related practices was therapeutic hypothermia - a treatment to lower the core body temperature - and cold application for skin irritation. These practices were outlined in the Edwin Smith Papyrus, a medical treatise that may date back to 3,500 B.C.E.
Ancient Greek Medicine
Jumping forward some thousand years to around 460-370 B.C.E, Hippocrates noted the danger of cold exposure but also recognized the therapeutic benefits of cooling elements such as snow and ice which he prescribed for various ailments.
18th & 19th Century “Ice Age”
In the 18th century, ice-cold water made its way into medicine. First, Scottish physician William Cullen started prescribing various types of cold water immersion to treat different body ailments. Also, French army surgeon Baron de Larrey started icing limbs prior to amputation as pre-treatment to numb the area. In the 19th century, ice baths started being used for hygiene and to treat high fevers. Since then, ice bathing and cold-water immersion have continued to make strides in modern medicine and wellness which brings us to the modern ice bath.
The Modern Ice Bath
Our understanding of ice bathing has increased leaps and bounds since its first appearance in 3,500 B.C.E. Now, we have more of an in-depth idea of the effects and benefits of cold water on our bodies and minds which is why it's so popular now with athletes and non-athletes alike. We are just beginning to understand its effects on mental health which could be revolutionary.
We are excited to be a part of this modern era of ice bathing with our revolutionary Plunge tub that has improved upon the ice bathing experience to bring you time-saving convenience. Easily gain the centuries-proven benefits right at home with your own revolutionary ice bath tub from PLUNGE.
Now that you know all about ice baths - the benefits, research, history, how to take one, and more - are you ready to take the plunge? Even if you’re not an athlete or not a fan of cold water therapy, ice baths can provide you with so many benefits, physically and mentally.
Interested in learning more? Download our free cold plunging protocols below or check out our blog for the latest information about ice bathing and cold plunging. Don't forget to follow us on Instagram
Medical Disclaimer: All information, content, and material of this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or before starting an ice bath routine.