Cold plunge therapy has exploded in popularity recently thanks to viral TikTok videos and high-profile proponents like Joe Rogan. Many professional athletes are known to soak in an ice bath after a game, but you don’t need to be a millionaire to enjoy your very own cold plunge tub at home. After an extra-intense workout, an ice bath can let you recover the same way your favorite athletes do.
The world is experiencing a fitness boom, and with more exercise comes a great need to recover properly. Whether you prefer running on a treadmill, spinning on an indoor exercise bike or lifting weights — taking the time to recover 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 recovery 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 for the supposed health benefits. Cold plunges are also an exercise in pure mental grit. Exposing your body and muscles to almost-freezing cold temperatures may help in workout recovery and ease muscle soreness, although the evidence for its effectiveness is mixed. We’re going to explore this trendy practice today, go over the medical evidence, and discuss a few of our favorite at-home ice bath options as well.
What Does an Ice Bath Do?
Ease Soreness and Chronic Pain
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.
Dr. Eliazbeth Gardner MD, Associate Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Yale School of Medicine also told SPY “There is some evidence that compared to basic rest, immersion in an ice bath after intense exercise can reduce the onset of delayed muscle soreness. This is thought to occur by decreasing inflammation.”
Flush Metabolic Waste
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,”
Increases Blood Flow and Oxygen
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.
We interviewed Dr. Charles Tabone for this piece, a naturopathic doctor at Pause Studios in Los Angeles, a studio that specializes in physical and mental recovery. He explained that “With frequent exposure to cold, our body will work to generate more heat through uncoupling of mitochondria and conversion of adipose tissue into brown fat.”
“This will cause an increase in metabolism and result in burning more calories at rest. Our body will also release adrenaline and dopamine, leading to enhanced cognition and emotions.”
PLUNGE Ice Bath
PLUNGE is a super popular brand for at-home ice baths, with 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. Likewise, for luxury shoppers looking for the best ice bath money can buy in 2023, PLUNGE sits at the top of a very short list.
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.
Renu Therapy Cold Stoic
An even more expensive, luxury option is The Cold Stoic from Renu Therapy, a cold plunge tub 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 complement 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.
CO-Z Inflatable Adult Bath Tub
Are you still with us after the $9,000 ice bath featured above? Then you’ll be pleased to know there are much, much more affordable options for cold therapy at home. The CO-Z Inflatable Adult Bath Tub might look out of place on the terrace of a Beverly Hills estate, but it’s a practical solution for the rest of us. Instead of spending thousands on a system built for cold plunges, you can simply buy an inflatable hot tub for $70 and fill it with ice. Your body won’t know the difference, but your pocketbook definitely will.
WEY&FLY Portable Foldable Bathtub
This foldable bathtub is super easy to set up, fill, use and take down again making it a super easy and affordable alternative to more elaborate ice baths. It has a built-in insulation layer for maintaining consistent water temperatures and a warm time of 120 minutes. The bottom of the tub is cushioned for comfortable sitting and dunking and with a 29.7 inch diameter there’s just enough room for the average adult to sit comfortably.
Polar Monkeys The Portal
If you want a plunge bath that gives you the frigid recovery you’re looking for and has a cool, rugged design that’ll look right at home in your backyard — it’s The Portal from Polar Monkeys. It’s designed like a rustic bathtub with built-in cooling abilities. The tank is six feet in length with a capacity of 170 gallons.
Odin Ice Bath
This powerful ice bath from a brand called Odin is capable of producing ice on its own with a temperature range that can reach 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and a trendy cedar design. It’s made with a sediment filtration system for keeping water crystal clear and makes the same amount of noise as your standard fridge or freezer.
How We Chose The Best Ice Baths
Our editors are in the midst of testing actual ice baths and working out the logistics of installing them in their homes. However, for this list, we relied heavily on reviews and consulted brands we trust for the rankings. We took into account factors like price, design, longevity and practicality. We also weighed the extra features that some of the luxe options offer, like built-in steps and lighting elements. SPY.com reader feedback was also a factor here, as we’ve received positve information about Plunge, our choice for the “Best Overall” ice bath. Finally, we spoke to experts and physicians to better understand the potential benefits of the best cold plunge products.
When comparing the top options, we thought about what a consumer wants out of an ice bath in their home, and which brands satisfy their desires. It’s a method for recovery, yes, but it’s also about convenience and making a difficult task as easy as possible.
The high-end tubs on this list make plunging into an ice bath easy because they sit at a steady temperature, ready for you to dunk. There’s no need to lug bags of ice or fish a garden hose into a kiddie pool.
After considering all of these factors, we selected our favorite ice baths for at-home use in 2022.
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. Dr. Tabone noted that “Positive stressors encourage our bodies to adapt in advantageous ways, having both physiological and cognitive effects. On a more local level, exposing the body to cold causes a constriction of peripheral vessels, which can draw away inflammatory waste products.”
“When shocked with a drastic temperature change, various signaling proteins are produced which can also cause numerous systemic effects. Whether this results in the production of mitochondria, the increase in resting metabolism, or the release of endorphins, the regular practice of cold water immersion can significantly alter patient outcomes,” said Dr. Tabone.
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 afterward, you feel super warm and refreshed. I’ve personally done it, and found it to be very energizing and therapeutic.
Dr. Gardner explained the potential mental benefits of developing resilience in response to cold therapy exposure.
“There is also a potential mental benefit. Most people do not find the ice bath experience to be pleasant at first. In fact, it can be frankly painful. However, this improves with relaxing, focusing on your breathing and even some distraction.”
“Over the course of time, however, many people will build up a tolerance to the cold and will come to find it an important part of their recovery process. This resilience and adaptation has obvious applications elsewhere in exercise, sport and life.”
Speculation Around Ice Baths
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 may help you feel better faster.
Are There Any 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.
Dr. Gardner explained that no one should “stay in the ice bath for more than 15 minutes, due to the risk of hypothermia and frostbite. If you notice that your skin is changing colors, then it is important to get out.”
She also added that “In general, athletes with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, a pre-existing cardiovascular condition or high blood pressure, or any other condition that impairs your ability to regulate your blood pressure or body temperature should avoid an ice bath until discussed with your physician.”
Tips For Taking Ice Baths at Home
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.
Can I Actually Buy an Ice Bath and Get It Delivered?
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. No need to find your local frozen-over lake.
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, above. For receiving the benefits, all that matters is that your body is dunked in cold water for a few minutes a day (don’t dunk your head!). The vessel you do it in isn’t as relevant.