The fitness world is vast, and getting bigger all the time. There’s always a new trend for getting in shape, staying in shape or helping your body recovery and perform optimally. Whether you prefer running on a treadmill, spinning on an indoor exercise bike or lifting weights — recovering properly is essential to making gains and meeting your goals. Stretching, rolling out your muscles using a foam roller or even splurging on a recovery tool like Therabody’s Recovery Air System are all great ways to keep your body in tip top shape, so you can move as much and as well as you’d like. Another great, albeit painful, ritual to introduce into your routine: ice baths.
Cold therapy, either in the form of cold water therapy (CWI), a cryogenic chamber or an ice bath is a very popular trend in the fitness world nowadays for the supposed health benefits and exercise in mental grit. Exposing your body and muscles to cold temperatures may help in recovery and may ease soreness . We’re going to explore this trendy practice today, go over the medical evidence and advice from experts and discuss a few of our favorite at-home ice bath options as well.
In this piece we’re going to cover:
- What does an ice bath do?
- What are the benefits of ice baths?
- The mixed evidence in the medical world about ice baths
- How long your ice baths should be
- Tips for taking ice baths
- Our favorite ice baths for at-home use
What Does an Ice Bath Do?
Athletes and fitness professionals across disciplines have started touting cold plunges, cryotherapy and ice baths as a great addition to a recovery routine post-workout to help reduce muscle soreness and pain. According to Dr. A. Brion Gardner, an orthopedic surgeon with The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics for Heathline, taking a cold plunge can help ease the soreness, burning and aching in your muscles after training sessions. When you expose your body to cold water or cold surrounding air, it causes the blood vessels to constrict, which may reduce inflammation, swelling or other reactions in the body.
Then, once you get out of the tub or chamber, the blood vessels open back up and start a process that “helps flush away metabolic waste post-workout,” according to Nick Clayton, C.S.C.S., a program manager for the National Strength and Conditioning Association. This is “especially true with lymph, a clear fluid make up of white blood cells and fluid from your intestines,”
According to Clayton, lymph nodes don’t have a pump like your heart does to pump blood around your body, so ice baths constrict and open and help move stagnant fluids around your body. The “increased blood flow floods your cells with nutrients and oxygen to theoretically help your body recover,” says Clayton for Men’s Health.
What Are the Benefits of Taking an Ice Bath?
As we’ll discuss below, the evidence that backs up the benefits of taking ice baths is mixed, but there are still many experts in the medical, fitness and physical therapy fields who believe in them. Gardner believes that the greatest benefit is they “make the body feel good” post-training session.
If you’ve ever taken an ice bath, super cold shower or gone in a cryogenic chamber you know it’s a bit painful at the beginning, but afterwards you feel super warm and refreshed. I’ve personally done it a bunch, and found it to be very energizing and therapeutic.
Ice baths may also help with the central nervous system and deepen sleep so your body can avoid fatigue and recover more efficiently.
Taking a cold plunge may also help ease the effects of excessive heat and humidity during and after workouts, and can help train your vagus nerve.
Aurimas Juodka, C.S.C.S, CPT, a certified strength and conditioning specialist told Healthline, “The vagus nerve is linked with the parasympathetic nervous system, and training it can help you face stressful situations more adequately.”
Speculation Around Ice Bath Benefits
While ice baths have been promoted for years by experts in the fitness space for their recovery benefits, actual medical studies have delivered mixed results. A 2018 meta analysis of 99 different studies found contrast therapy (plunging in a cold tub and then hot bath), ice baths and massage to all be effective in reducing delayed onset muscle soreness, fatigue, muscle damage and inflammation.
A small 2017 study specifically on ice baths, however, introduced doubt by saying there was no evidence to support actual benefits to regularly sitting in freezing water post-sweat session. However, many experts still believe in them and equate them to 10 minutes of low-intensity exercise as a cool down for recovery purposes. They’re probably not going to completely change your results one way or the other, but done responsibly they can feel nice.
How Long Should Your Ice Bath Last?
According to medical experts, 10-15 minutes is the maximum amount of time your ice bath should last in order to receive the benefits without risking hypothermia.
What Are the Risks Associated With Ice Baths?
Ice baths do carry some risks for individuals with pre-existing conditions like cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure or circulatory issues. Please consult your doctor before introducing any new recovery method into your routine, especially one where you’re subjecting your body to extreme temperatures.
Tips for Taking Ice Baths
First off, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got the right temperature. The temperature of the water should be between 50-59°F or 10-15°C. If you’re creating your own ice bath at home with a blow-up tub and some bags of ice from your local grocery store, use a thermometer to check the temperature before getting in.
Make sure you position your body properly so you can fully submerge, as the ideal is to get your entire body up to your neck under the water. This way, you’ll get the full benefits of the blood vessel constriction.
You’ll want to get into the ice bath immediately after working out, or as shortly afterwards as possible. After about an hour or so many of the inflammatory, physiological responses you’re trying to avoid will have already started or finished, so try to drunk as soon as you wrap up that last burpee, lap or rep.
Now you’re probably thinking, “Okay! This sounds great — but how on earth can I get one of these in my home?” Well, thankfully, due to the popularity of the trend over the past few years, a few brands have created at-home ice bath options you can purchase, have delivered and use for years in your outdoor space. These ice baths are luxe options, though, and can cost up to a few thousand dollars. We’ve included them, as well as a few cheaper, DIY options below. For receiving the benefits, all that matters is you’re dunked in cold water for a few minutes a day. The vessel you do it in isn’t as relevant.
1. Cold Plunge
PLUNGE is another ice bath available for at-home purchase and use, albeit at a much higher price tag than other options. It’s a large tub designed with powerful cooling, filtration and sanitation systems so you get cold and clean water whenever you want. It’s safe for indoor or outdoor use and the installation is designed to be as easy as possible. All you need to do is fill it with water, turn it on, set the temperature and you’re good to go. What’s nice about this system, as opposed to the others, is you have the option to set the temperature automatically rather than dumping in ice to bring the temperature down. If you’re sold on the idea of an ice bath and think you’ll use it every day, this is a great option.
PLUNGE Cold Tub
2. Ice Barrel
Ice Barrel is a relatively new cold therapy training tool that’s got a lightweight design, functional features and is built durable so you can depend on the design. Unlike the traditional cold tubs, this one is designed for sitting in an upright position, so your mind and body can relax. The full package comes with the barrel and lid, a barrel stand, a protective UV cover and a step stool that makes it easy to get in and out of.
It can hold up to 105 gallons of water and has an easy-to-use drainage system. It’s 42″ high by 31″ wide, and has a 25″ wide opening up top. It weighs 55 pounds empty and 750 pounds filled, and they’ve got plenty of research on their site about the benefits of cold therapy.
Ice Barrel Ice Bathtub
3. Renu Therapy
An even more expensive, luxury option is The Cold Stoic from Renu Therapy, a product that’s named after the state of mind you’re trying to emulate with every soak. It’s made with clean, cold technology as well as a programmable thermostat so you can control the temperature. It’s made for use indoors or outdoors and has a modern aesthetic design that’ll compliment your backyard rather than stick out. It comes with a matching step stool, an insulated cover and a guide for using the cold plunge tank for maximum benefits.
Renu Therapy The Cold Stoic
4. CO-Z Inflatable Adult Bath Tub
Instead of spending thousands on a system build for cold plunges, you can also buy an adult inflatable bathtub, like this one, for $70 and fill it with ice. Your body won’t know the difference, but your pocketbook definitely will. This one from CO-Z is made from high-density, durable PVC material and comes with an electric air pump that inflates it in three minutes or less.
The tub is designed for comfort with a headrest, armrests and back support, so you’ll be as comfortable as possible freezing your buns off. It’s also got a cup holder and is designed to be freestanding.
CO-Z Inflatable Adult Bath Tub
5. G Ganen Portable Foldable Freestanding Bathtub
This adult bathtub is made of three layers of waterproof and water-resistant fabric and is super light and portable. It measures 33″ wide and 29″ tall so you can sit comfortably inside. The rim around the top is supportive and can act as either a neck or arm rest, and the stitching is reinforced with anti-leakage welding. It’s build with supporting poles on the bottom and it’s got a detachable drainage valve so you can easily replace the water regularly.