The Dos and Don'ts of Taking an Ice Bath
Can ice baths be good for your health or are they overhyped? Learn about this pro athlete-approved practice, how it helps with workouts, and how to do it right.
Ice baths are making waves in the wellness space. The practice isn't new: athletes have been jumping into frigid waters as part of their post-training regimen for decades. But recently, it seems everyone – from TikTok content creators to Hollywood celebrities – has been diving headfirst into the "trend," too. They all swear it does wonders for their physical and mental well-being. Curious to know what an ice bath feels like and if it's worth the hype?
Learn about this uber-cool phenomenon and its potential benefits. Plus, get essential tips if you’re a first-timer eager to brave the cold.
What Is an Ice Bath and How Does It Work?
An ice bath is a form of cryotherapy where one submerges their body into freezing water (around 10-15ºC) for five to 15 minutes, depending on their tolerance. It's also known as a cold plunge or cold-water immersion.
Many athletes and fitness buffs use it to speed up recovery , while others view it as a mindfulness exercise. After all, few things can make you feel as grounded or one with your body as ice-cold agua. That might be why it’s a common gag to shock someone awake with a bucket of it!
The extreme temperature shift can be challenging, but those who come out the other end rave about how good it feels after. Several benefits await you once you push through the initial discomfort and make it a consistent part of your routine.
Ice baths can help with muscle recovery, sleep quality, and more.
While studies on ice bath benefits remain inconclusive, plenty of anecdotal evidence and existing research speak to its potential. Here's what you can gain from the experience.
- It boosts muscle recovery by easing soreness and inflammation in the muscles, tendons, and joints. Dr. Elizabeth Gardner, a Yale Medicine doctor, explains that blood vessels constrict and then dilate upon exposure to cold water. This process “delivers much-needed oxygen and nutrients to the muscles,” which should, in theory, stimulate blood flow and recovery.
- It enhances well-being and by positively impacting the central nervous system. Dr. Will Cronenwett of Northwestern University’s Feinberg medical school attests to this. He theorizes that the practice stimulates parts of the nervous system that regulate resting and relaxation states, as well as your fight-or-flight stress response.
- It helps you cope with hot weather by cooling you down. Ice baths aren’t too far off from cold showers, which offer immediate relief to anyone dealing with unbearable heat and humidity. However, some experts do caution that you might feel hotter after a quick dip, since the body will scramble to regulate its core temperature. Try going for a 30-minute swim in comfortably cool waters for longer-lasting relief if beating the heat is your goal.
The Dos and Don’ts for Ice Bath Beginners
Ready to dip your toes into the chilly world of ice baths? Safety should always come first! Keep these dos and don'ts in mind to ensure everything goes swimmingly. Good luck!
DO: Let your body acclimate to low temperatures.
If you mainly with warm or hot water, it's a good idea to ease yourself into lower temps first. Try a cold shower after a workout. See if you can stay in there for at least ten minutes. Next time, go for 15. This way, jumping into a frozen bath later wouldn't be too shocking for your system.
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DON’T: Jump in without checking with your doctor.
After doing your research, you may feel you're up for it and raring to go. But pre-existing health conditions, like heart problems, high blood pressure, and diabetes, can make it a risky task for some. Let your physician know your plans and ask for their recommendation before moving forward.
DO: Take an ice bath after a workout.
The best time to take the plunge is right after a demanding workout. Studies show that it's particularly beneficial for . It can help reduce swelling, alleviate muscle soreness, and improve circulation. It can also potentially and strength in subsequent exercises.
DON’T: Stay in the water longer than you can handle.
The standard answer to the question, "How long do you ice bath?" is five to 15 minutes, but it also depends on you. Other sources say the sweet spot is between two to 10 minutes. Bottom line: Don't force your body to endure more than it's capable of. Instead, build your tolerance over time. You might start at a 30-second limit, but you could easily be at the 15-minute mark by the end of the month.
DO: Remember to breathe.
Once your body hits the water, you'll immediately want to jump out. But give it a few seconds – try centering yourself with slow, meditative breaths. It may only work for a little while, but focusing on your breathing makes it easier to withstand the cold. Breath control can also have long-term benefits on your capacity to handle stress in other situations.
Consider ice baths if you want to level up your and get out of your . They make exercise recovery so much easier, and they give you a chance to embrace meditation. Full disclosure: you might hate it. But, hey, you might love it, too – doesn't that make it worth exploring?