What to Expect
If this is your first time doing a cold plunge, it may help to prepare beforehand. Cold plunges can also be called ice baths, cold tubs, ice barrels, or any combination of similar words. Despite the different names, methods, and terminology the overall goal is to expose your body to cold therapy.
In order to prepare mentally and physically, try to take a few cool showers in the days leading up to your first ice bath experience.
Although you may be given an opportunity to take a quick shower to rinse off any oils or lotions on your body, it helps to remove any skin products from your face and body beforehand.
You’ll likely be given a robe and towel at the studio, so all you’ll need to bring (or wear) is your bathing suit.
Remember that when you first get in the water, it will be uncomfortable and even painful, but your body can adapt with repeated exposure. For best results, submerge your entire body in the water up to your neck.
For starters, you can develop your tolerance by getting in for 30 seconds at a time. However, you want to aim for at least three minutes in the water. As you get more used to cold plunges, your sessions will last anywhere from 5-10 minutes.
You may find yourself hyperventilating during the experience. Try to slow your breathing and remind yourself that you are safe – even if your body doesn’t think so!
For best results, avoid taking a hot shower to warm up afterward for at least two hours.
Regular ice baths will help you achieve the results you’re looking for. Some people do it on a daily basis, while others do it a couple times per week. At the very least, you want to aim for at least one session per week.
What are the best Cold Plunge locations?
A cold plunge is fairly straightforward – there’s a tub with chilled water and you immerse yourself for a short amount of time.
So what makes one studio different from another, and what are the best cold plunge studios?
Type of Tub
Cold water therapy tubs can vary from budget barrels where you add ice to them, to high-end tubs where there’s an external chiller that cools and circulates the water. Although both are effective, you may want to find a studio that has a tub with external units, as they will help to regulate the temperature and keep the water clean. Sanitation is important, as you’re not the only person utilizing the tub. Ask the staff how they keep their equipment clean between sessions.
Other preferences you might have are the noise level of the tub and other add-ons that can enhance your experience, such as a headrest or phone stand.
Position in the Tub
Tubs generally fall into two categories: tubs that are more horizontal and allow you to stretch out and sit back, or vertical barrels where you are submerged in a more upright position while squatting or standing. Consider your preferred position, if you have one at all.
Tub capacity is especially important for taller people. Most vertical tubs are meant to accommodate one person, whereas horizontal ones are better for taller people or even two people at the same time.
Depending on how adapted you are to deliberate cold exposure, you may want to ask the staff how low the temperature can go in their tubs. Some may only go as low as 39 degrees, which may not be low enough, depending on your needs.
After your ice bath, you’ll want to have a way to dry off and get into warm clothes quickly. A studio should provide you with a robe and towels to assist and any other amenities to make your session a positive experience.
Many studios offer sauna, infrared sauna, and/or red light therapy in addition to their cold therapy. Contrast therapy, which utilizes both cold and heat therapy, can be especially beneficial to your health. Make sure to ask your therapy provider about these additional services.
As with any service, consider your overall experience and interaction with the staff from start to finish. Did they make you feel welcome and comfortable (as comfortable as you can be in freezing water)?
Plunge vs Ice Bath, What’s the Difference?
A cold plunge and ice bath are similar types of cold therapy. They both involve submerging yourself in cold water. However, a cold plunge is typically set to 40-60°F (4-15°C), whereas an ice bath is much closer to freezing at 33-39°F (1-4°C).
You can access the same benefits in both approaches, but you’ll achieve them quicker with an ice bath. However, if you’re not used to nearly freezing water, you don’t want to shock your body by starting with an ice bath.
If you are new to deliberate cold exposure, try a cold plunge first. You can always work your way up to an ice bath after you get adapted.
Benefits of Going to a Studio
Unlike other longevity therapies, using a studio has a variety of cost and time saving benefits.
You can arrive and leave without preparation.
You may need to be mentally prepared, but you do not need to set up any equipment for your session.
You don’t need additional supplies.
All you need to bring is yourself, normally wearing a bathing suit. A good cold plunge studio will provide you with a robe and towels so you can dry off and quickly get back into your clothes to warm up.
Only takes a few minutes.
Unlike a sauna or a workout session, cold plunges are meant to last for a short period of time for optimal results. You can be in and out of the studio in anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on how long you choose to stay in.
Not as expensive as cryotherapy.
A cryotherapy session will run you anywhere from $60-100, whereas a cold plunge session will cost you $20-40.
More benefits than cryotherapy.
Cryotherapy is said to be great for physical injuries or recovery; however, cold plunges provide a great number of benefits. Although many people swear by cryotherapy, there’s much more established research on cold plunges than cryotherapy.
Health Benefits of Cold Exposure
There are an astounding number of benefits that cold therapy provides for your mental health, physical health, and performance.
Improve mood and decrease depression.
In a study conducted with a group of young men, researchers observed a 2.5 times increase in the amount of dopamine released after a session of cold water immersion. Studies also routinely show that cold exposure increases the amount of beta-endorphins in the body.
Increase mental resilience.
Studies have illustrated that when people are exposed to cold, norepinephrine and epinephrine are released in their subjects’ bodies. These chemicals are released in response to the body’s perception of stress, and rightfully so, as sitting in frigid waters makes us want to run (read: fight or flight). The simple practice of willingly facing this stress and staying put is a practice that builds our willpower and mental resilience over time.
Increase energy and focus.
The increase in dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine increases a person’s energy and focus. One study had 33 healthy adults take a five-minute cold water bath and found that the positive mood the subjects experienced were due to increasing feelings of alertness, inspiration, attentiveness, activity, and pride.
Improves cardiovascular health and lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
Cold water immersion decreases the ratio of ApoB to ApoA1, the metric that assesses coronary heart disease. Cold water immersion also decreases homocysteine levels, which are related to dementia, heart disease, and stroke.
Improve the immune system.
A study conducted on open water swimmers, showed their immunoglobulin levels decreased over a six month period. This is significant as high immunoglobulin levels are correlated with chronic disease, autoimmune disorders, and more. Additionally, cold water immersion is shown to increase T-cells, white blood cells, zinc concentration, and antioxidants.
Cold water immersion increases thermogenesis (read: calories burned) through shivering thermogenesis and non-shivering thermogenesis. Non-shivering thermogenesis refers to brown fat activation, which is a major point of discussion when it comes to cold water exposure and its effect on metabolism.
Lowers risk for metabolic syndrome.
Cold water immersion can activate brown fat, which inhibits tumor growth (brown fat absorbs glucose, which is the fuel for cancer cells), produces anti-inflammatory molecules, and promotes insulin sensitivity.
Alters gene expression.
There are many different genes in our body that are switched “on” or “off,” due to a variety of factors, both genetic and environmental. Cold exposure can turn “on” certain genes that can improve the overall function of our bodies.
Improves recovery and increase blood flow.
Cold water immersion causes the peripheral blood vessels to vasoconstrict and vasodialate, which in turn can improve circulation, alleviate sore muscles, decrease inflammation, and improve recovery time.
Increases exercise volume.
Cold exposure can increase the volume of exercise an individual can do over time. A study measured work volume in subjects where they only cooled them via the palms of their hands. The researchers found that work volume in bench press and pull ups for the subjects increased anywhere from 40 to 144%.