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.
The ancient practice of ice bathing has experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent years — particularly on social media — capturing the attention of athletes and health and wellness enthusiasts alike. But watching a clip of someone taking a cold plunge and actually doing it yourself are very different experiences.
So, how exactly do you take an ice bath and what do ice baths do? In this comprehensive guide to all things ice baths and cold plunges, we’ll take a closer look at the potential benefits of ice bathing (along with the science behind these benefits), as well as the techniques you can use to get the most out of your plunge.
Table of Contents:
- What are ice baths?
- What do ice baths do?
- Benefits of ice baths
- How to prepare for an ice bath
- How to take an ice bath at home
- More ice bath FAQs
- Should you buy an ice bath?
Whether you're an athlete looking to enhance your recovery, someone seeking a natural energy boost, or simply curious about the transformative power of cold therapy, Plunge is here to help you discover how to take an ice bath and rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit.
What are ice baths?
For ice bath beginners, understanding the basics is crucial. Ice baths — sometimes called cold water immersion or cold plunging — are a type of cold water therapy that involves immersing the body in chilled water for a limited amount of time. Today, ice baths are most frequently used by professional athletes for sports therapy and recovery, but have become increasingly popular among non-athletes due to their potential health benefits (see below).
A brief history of ice baths: From papyrus to Plunge
According to Dr. Phil Jaekl in an article by Medical News Today, “the earliest written records of using cold [as medical therapy] is an ancient Egyptian text,” specifically the Edwin Smith Papyrus, a medical treatise that dates back to between roughly 1,600 to 3,500 B.C.E. Later, Hippocrates of the Ancient Greeks (c. 460-370 B.C.E) prescribed the use of snow and ice to stop bleeding, among other cold treatments. Many other cultures, including those of Norway and Sweden, have practiced ice bathing in some form or another for centuries.
But it wasn’t until the 17th and 18th centuries that cold bathing was more fully explored as a medical treatment. For example:
- English physician John Floyer (1649-1734), who is best known for introducing the practice of counting your pulse, also advocated for the use of ice baths in the treatment of diseases.
- Scottish physician and important Enlightenment figure William Cullen (1710-1790) started prescribing various types of cold water immersion to treat bodily ailments.
- French army surgeon Baron Dominique Jean Larrey (1766-1842), known for establishing rules of triage, started icing (and therefore numbing) limbs prior to amputation as pre-treatment to numb the area.
The ice bath as we know it today really took off around when marathon runner Paula Radcliffe stated that ice baths played a crucial role in her winning the 10,000-meter event at the European championships in 2002. Since then, cold plunges have become more commonplace amongst athletes and non-athletes alike, from Michael Phelps to the Radio City Rockettes to Madonna. Notable personalities like Wim Hof, known as “The Iceman,” have also helped popularize cold therapy and ice bathing.
Along with more of an in-depth idea of the effects and benefits of cold water on our bodies and minds, ice baths themselves have become more sophisticated and easy to use. Today, you don’t have to seek out an icy lake or bring home endless bags of ice to experience the benefits of ice bathing.
At Plunge, we’ve improved upon the ice bathing experience to bring you time-saving, “plug-and-plunge” convenience so that you can gain the centuries-proven benefits of ice bathing right at home. With our revolutionary Plunge tubs, we are excited to be a part of this modern era of ice bathing.
Are ice baths only for athletes?
Athletes and non-athletes alike can enjoy the benefits of cold therapy and ice baths, because the effects are not limited to athletic recovery.
Who should not take ice baths?
The cold water of ice baths causes your blood vessels to constrict, which sends more blood to your organs. If you have certain medical conditions, however, this process may put you at risk. Always speak with your doctor before trying ice baths, particularly if you have any of the following conditions:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Poor circulation
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Poor circulation
- Venous stasis
It’s also best to avoid ice baths if you have hypertension, heart arrhythmia, Raynaud's syndrome, anorexia, cold urticaria, or cold agglutinin disease.
No matter your health, never enter the water if you’re feeling faint or you’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs. We’ll cover more best practices for ice bathing below.
What do ice baths do?
Ice baths use your body’s physiological responses to cold exposure to promote health benefits. We take a closer look at some of the processes that occur in your body when it’s exposed to cold water in this section, but you can also find more information in our article on how ice tubs work.
- Vasoconstriction: When immersed in cold water, the body's immediate response is to constrict blood vessels in the skin and extremities. This constriction serves two primary purposes. First, it conserves heat by reducing blood flow to areas where heat loss is most significant, namely the skin's surface. Second, it shunts blood away from peripheral tissues, minimizing potential damage from extreme cold.
- Reduction in metabolic rate: Exposure to cold water can lead to a decrease in metabolic rate, primarily by slowing down enzymatic reactions. This reduction may reduce the effects of inflammation and oxidative stress, making it particularly relevant for athletes seeking to recover from strenuous exercise, muscle fatigue, and soreness.
- Analgesic effect: Cold exposure triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. This analgesic effect can provide relief from muscle soreness and discomfort and contribute to pain management.
- Rewarming effects: After you exit your ice bath, your body will warm up again. This involves vasodilation — the opposite of vasoconstriction — in which blood vessels in the skin and extremities expand to allow increased blood flow. This phase is vital for restoring normal circulation and facilitating the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to tissues, aiding in recovery.
These effects and others are what lead to the benefits associated with cold therapy and ice baths.
Evidence-based benefits of ice baths
There are many studies supporting the potential benefits of ice baths, cold plunges, and cold showers, with more research and studies surfacing regularly. Some of the most commonly found benefits suggested by these studies include:
The following are just a few of a growing number of studies that have reported on these advantages:
- A 2016 study published in the Journal of Athletic Training found that jiu-jitsu athletes who took ice baths after exercise experienced less muscle soreness, had reduced perception of pain, and recovered more quickly.
- A 2011 study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that cyclists experienced less soreness after soaking in cold water for 10 minutes.
- A 2014 review published in the North American Journal of Medical Scientist found evidence-based effects of cold therapy across multiple body systems, including but not limited to the cardiovascular, respiratory, nervous, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, and endocrine systems.
- A 2016 study published by the Public Library of Science (PLOS ONE) found that participants who took a cold shower for 30-90 seconds were less likely to call in sick for work.
- Findings in a 2008 study published by Medical Hypothesis suggested that depression symptoms could be improved after several weeks of hydrotherapy.
It is clear that from both a historical and medical perspective, cold therapy in general — and ice baths in particular — can be a useful part of an overall health and wellness regimen. For a more in-depth look at the potential therapeutic uses of ice baths, check out our page on The Benefits of Ice Baths, which includes helpful videos and information.
How to prepare for an ice bath
So you're ready to take the next step in your ice bath journey. You might be wondering, 'How long should you stay in an ice bath?' or 'How cold is an ice bath?' Here's what you need to know. There’s more to ice baths than just filling your tub up with ice and water. To set yourself up for an enjoyable and successful cold plunge, there are a few ways you should prepare.
Taking your first ice bath at home
- Prepare mentally and physically with a very cold shower. Pay attention to how your body responds, practice breathing, and notice what happens in your mind.
- Decide what temperature you want to start with. Consider your current cold tolerance — your cold shower can help you gauge this. Keep in mind that it’s completely okay to start around 60°F and work your way down later.
- Decide how long you want to stay in. Again, your cold shower will help you understand how long you might want to stay in at first. It’s also okay to start at 30 seconds to 1 minute and work your way up to 2 to 10 minutes.
- Learn a few breathing techniques. Breathing techniques are generally beneficial in multiple areas of life, but can be very useful when your body is getting used to the sensation of cold plunging. For more information, you can reference our article on breathing techniques for before, during, and after your ice bath session.
What supplies do you need for an ice bath?
- For a DIY ice bath in your bathtub you’ll need:
- A tub or container
- A thermometer
- 1-3 bags of ice
- If you’re using a stand-alone tub without a faucet, you’ll also need a hose
- If you’re using a Plunge tub, you’ll just need your tub and a hose. Our tubs quickly adjust the temperature of the water for you, so you don’t need to buy and haul around bags of ice on a daily basis.
- Ice bath clothing: What you wear into your ice bath is up to you. We recommend that people new to ice baths wear a T-shirt and shorts, but some people choose to wear a sweatshirt, booties, and gloves. Most experienced ice bathers wear at least a bathing suit.
- A timer: Keep this within reach.
- A towel: Having a towel immediately at hand makes your post-plunge experience much more enjoyable.
- Post-plunge clothing: Like the towel, having a long-sleeve shirt, some pants, and socks nearby will smooth your transition out of your ice bath.
- A chair, step stool, and/or non-slip mat: Depending on your setup, it may be helpful to have these items near your tub. The chair and step stool can help you get in and out of your tub (and serve as a nice place to put your timer), and the non-slip mat can help you feel more secure as you get out of the cold water.
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. You might even wonder, 'Can you cold plunge twice a day?' Let's dive in.
To get the most out of your ice bath, we recommend downloading our FREE protocols. These protocols walk you through how best to reduce joint pain, lessen muscle soreness, boost mental and physical resilience, elevate mood, boost metabolism, reduce inflammation, and more — all through cold plunges.
1. Fill your tub with cold water and add ice until the bath reaches your desired temperature
If you make your own ice bath at home, it’s best to add ice slowly and monitor the temperature as you go. If you’re using a Plunge tub, simply fill your tub up with water to your desired level then set the temperature, and it will automatically adjust.
Most beginners start at 55-60°F and move down later.
2. Set your timer (and keep it in reach)
At Plunge, we recommend an ice bath duration of 2-10 minutes (others recommend 10-15). You can get benefits from your ice bath in only 2-3 minutes. If you’re new to the process, staying in for even 30 seconds is fine. You’ll build up to longer durations later.
3. Take a few minutes for pre-cold plunge breathwork
Taking just a little time to practice some breathwork before you get into your ice bath can help mentally prepare you for your cold plunge. Before you get into your ice bath, make sure to take a deep breath, then exhale completely.
4. Enter your ice bath slowly
Getting into your ice bath too quickly can shock your system and make for a more unpleasant cold plunge experience. Instead, enter your ice bath slowly.
Don’t forget to start your timer after entering your ice bath!
When your body enters with water, you will likely experience an involuntary gasp. This gasp reflex is a natural response to the cold and is one reason why breathwork during ice baths is so important. (It’s also why we recommend exhaling before taking a cold plunge.)
The ultimate goal is to have your body submerged up to your neck, but if you can only partially submerge at first, that’s OK. If you have submerged your body but feel too overwhelmed by the cold, slowly lifting your chest out of the water can help.
5. Soak and focus on breathing
Instead of letting your mind rest on how cold the water is, focus on something you can control — your breath. Slow exhalations can help steady your heart rate, and deep, regular breaths can help improve your circulation.
Quick ice bathing tips
To help you avoid common cold plunging mistakes, here’s a quick view of our top do’s and don’ts of taking ice baths for beginners.
What to do after an ice bath
1. Exit the ice bath slowly
Once your timer goes off, slowly get out of the ice bath. Again, the key word here is slowly; you may be shivering or feel short of breath and it’s best to avoid quick movements in these circumstances.
Grab your towel, pat yourself completely dry, then change into your post-ice bath clothes. You did it!
2. Warm up naturally
It’s important to warm up naturally after an ice bath — i.e., not jumping in a hot shower. Instead, we recommend using light movement. Some easy movements include warm-up stretches, walking, light yoga, or even jumping jacks.
3. Consider eating a snack
While ice bathing can help boost energy levels in the long term, the experience can initially be tiring, particularly at first. If you’re feeling a little worn out after your ice bath, don’t hesitate to go grab a healthy snack!
More considerations and ice bath FAQs
1. How long should you stay in an ice bath?
Here at Plunge, we recommend staying in your ice bath for 2-10 minutes, but some people recommend a duration of 10 to 15 minutes.
2. How cold is an ice bath?
Most DIY at-home ice baths run between 50°F-60°F (roughly 10°C-20°C). This is a good temperature to start at if you’re new to cold plunges. The Plunge tub has a range of 39°F-60°F so you can work down to lower temperatures over time.
3. What is the best time to take an ice bath?
You can take an ice bath at any time of day, but most people either take them in the morning, to start their day off right, or after a workout, to help with recovery. You can learn more in our article on when to take an ice bath.
4. Is ice bathing safe?
Yes, ice bathing is considered safe for most people. However, as with most things in life, some safety considerations will minimize potential risks during the ice bathing process.
- Consult with your primary care provider before starting an ice bath routine
- Start your cold plunge at a temperature you’re comfortable with that’s not too cold. You can work your way down later to the 50°F to 39°F range.
- If you're a beginner, limit your time in the ice bath to between 30 seconds and 5 minutes, then work your way up.
- If you feel dizzy, are extremely uncomfortable, start excessively shivering, or otherwise feel unwell during your ice bath, get out slowly but immediately.
- To avoid cold injuries, including hypothermia and frostbite, do not stay in your cold plunge for longer than the suggested timeframe, and do not attempt to lower the temperature of your water below 39°F.
- Keep a non-slip mat, chair, or other supports right outside your tub.
- Always get in and out of your ice bath slowly.
- If you’ve been cleared by your doctor to use an ice bath but are still nervous, don’t hesitate to ask a friend or partner to be nearby.
5. Do ice baths work? And are ice baths good for you?
6. Should athletes take ice baths?
Ice baths are an exciting new tool for athletes looking to reduce recovery time and invigorate their workout routine. The following resources provide more in-depth information:
- Why Do Athletes Take Ice Baths?
- Ice Bath Tips for Athletes
- Why Runners Should Ice Bath
- Reducing Muscle Soreness & Maximizing Recovery
- Ice Baths for Inflammation
7. Do ice baths help you lose weight?
It is believed that ice baths can aid in weight loss through the process of cold thermogenesis. You can learn more about ice bathing for weight loss in the following resources:
- Can Ice Baths Help With Weight Loss?
- The Science Behind Ice Baths and Weight Loss
- Plunge weight loss protocol ft. Dr. Andrew Huberman of The Huberman Lab Podcast
8. Will ice bathing give you a cold or hypothermia?
No, when standard best practices and safety tips are being followed, ice bathing will not give you a cold or induce hypothermia.
9. Can you cold plunge twice a day?
In theory, yes, but it isn’t necessary. Most people aim to take an ice bath 3-4 times a week.
10. What are the alternatives to ice baths?
There are several alternatives to ice baths as well as practices you can do in tandem with ice bathing. These include:
- Cold showers: A cold shower is an accessible alternative to ice baths. However, it does come with significant limitations. The temperature range in showers is typically limited (around 55°F). It’s also not possible to submerge your body in the water while showering. You would need to shower longer to experience the same benefits of a cold plunge, and the benefits would also be less pronounced.
- Cryotherapy: Cryotherapy involves full-body exposure to freezing cold air (as low as -230°F) while sitting in a booth for a short amount of time. Cryotherapy comes in different forms including medical, non-medical, full-body, and localized. However, this is limited to certain spaces that have cryo chambers (such as a doctor’s office or sports medicine room), making it less accessible.
- Contrast therapy: Contrast therapy, aka hot and cold therapy, combines the benefits of cold therapy (like an ice bath) and heat therapy. Hot and cold therapy is most commonly used to alleviate soft tissue pain or injuries caused by swelling, reduce loss of muscle strength, and decrease muscle damage.
Should I buy an ice bath?
Ice baths like those made by Plunge are practical alternatives to DIY ice baths. Investing in a Plunge ice bath:
- Saves you the hassle of having to buy, haul, store, and break down bags of ice on a daily basis.
- Makes it easier and faster to regulate the temperature of your ice bath.
- Allows you to keep the water in your ice bath for a longer period of time (instead of regularly having to drain it), with the help of our filtration system.
Ice baths are a health equipment investment like treadmills, weights, and more. And at Plunge, we offer affordable financing options, making the benefits of ice bathing even more accessible.
Take the Plunge
Now that you know how to take an ice bath from start to finish, it’s time to get your feet wet. Plunge tubs allow you to say goodbye to filling countless ice bags and ensure hassle-free cold plunges. All of our tubs include easy, plug-and-plunge functionality, power cooling, a 20-micron filter with constant circular filtration, and ozone sanitation.
Our individual and commercial variants are built to last, perfect for both indoor and outdoor spaces, available in multiple sizes, and can include both cold and hot functionalities, making it easy for you to build the best plunge routine for your needs.Elevate your self-care game and join the elite athletes, wellness enthusiasts, and health-conscious individuals when you embrace the power of Plunge and immerse yourself in the world of ice bathing today.
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.