If you’ve ever wondered if taking a dip in an ice bath first thing in the morning is worth it, we’ve got news for you: with improved sleep, better immunity and a reduced risk of injury among its many benefits, it’s high time to add cold exposure to your daily routine. Now, I know what you’re thinking: absolutely not. That was my initial response, too! But as little as 30 seconds in a 50-60 degree bath can make a big difference in your mood, and as little as 3 minutes is all it takes to reap the full health benefits of an ice bath.
If you’re ready to take the plunge, here’s how to do an ice bath.
Benefits of an Ice Bath
Using ice, in general, on skin is known to have lifting and tightening benefits. But when used on the entire body, cold therapy has full-body benefits, such as reducing inflammation, boosting energy levels and speeding up post-workout recovery.
Jono James, CEO of Odin Ice Baths and a cold water therapy expert, tells us that “before I began using ice baths I started using my sauna because I found it helped me to breathe better, especially because I have Cystic Fibrosis. By using my sauna I found my sleep improved, my mental clarity doubled, and I got sick less. After using my sauna for a while I started to research the health benefits of cold water therapy and ice baths. That’s when I began experimenting with ice baths and almost immediately found all of the benefits I had discovered from saunas doubled when I immersed myself in cold water. In fact, since I started using ice baths I have noticed it has helped improve my mental health and discipline, recovery from workouts, and reduced inflammation. My immune system and response to stress now makes me feel invisible, not to mention I feel like superman after I come out of the ice.”
While studies on ice baths are somewhat limited, there are studies on cold exposure, which includes cold showers and hot-to-cold hydrotherapy, that show promising benefits.
Regular cold exposure may help:
— Improve mental health and decrease stress. A 2018 study showed that cold stimulation of the chest and neck area can help decrease heart rate and stimulate the vagus nerve.
— Help the body cool down. Athletes have long used ice baths to cool down and recover following a workout. While scientific studies are lacking, some say that cold exposure can help delay the onset of muscle pain.
— Recover more quickly after exercise. Taking a cold shower after a high-intensity workout may help reduce the heart rate more quickly.
— Increase energy. Thanks to a temporary increase in cortisol levels, cold exposure may help wake you up in the morning and give you a boost of energy.
— Boost immunity. According to one study, participants who included a shot of cold water at the end of their shower reported a 29% reduction in sick days than those who only took warm showers.
When to Take an Ice Bath
Right after you workout, when your muscles are tired and your body is overheated, is a great time for an ice bath. If you can, aim to take your bath no more than 2 hours after a workout or physical activity.
If you’re not currently working out, you can still benefit greatly from the healing affects of ice baths. I recommend doing an ice bath in the morning after your shower, to harness the hot-to-cold benefits mentioned earlier.
“Some people like to do it first thing in the morning to kick-start their day – it’s probably the hardest thing they’ll have to do, so it’s a good way to start! You can do ice baths daily if you build yourself up to it and a lot of people will do cold plunging as a daily practice. It is incredible before, during, and after breathwork, an ocean swim, or whenever you are feeling fatigued, or need a pick-me-up”, says James.
How To Do an Ice Bath
It turns out that an ice bath is pretty simple to do at home. You’re free to add flower petals, a hair mask or another homemade beauty treatment to make the most of your soak time, but it’s not necessary to reap the benefits of cold exposure. To keep things simple, just grab a couple bags of ice from the grocery store and you’re good to go.
Turn on the water and add a pound of ice. Climb into the tub before the water has had a chance to really cool down, so as not to shock your system.
As you sit, add a little more ice as your tolerance builds and you get used to the temperature. A 3:1 water to ice ratio will get the water to 50 degrees F in about 10 minutes.
Try to stay in the bath for at least 3 minutes, but no longer than 15 minutes. If you’re new to ice baths, slowly work up to the recommended 15 minutes without pushing past your limits or hurting yourself.
Ice Bath Tips
So, what can you do to make the process a little easier? “The first 30 seconds are always the hardest, but once you get past it you begin to surrender to the ice and control your breath, which helps to control your stress response. The best tip I can give to beginners is learning how to control your breath because if you can control your breath it gets easier. Your internal dialogue is also important because it keeps you disciplined and focused, so you stay in the water. I always tell people that they should be proud of themselves for getting into the ice water and doing something that is uncomfortable and challenging,” James admits.
However, once you’ve got your breathing and mindset under control, there are several other actions you can do to make the process run smoothly:
Wear clothing on the top part of your body to keep your body warm while your lower body is immersed in the bath.
Before you climb in the tub, make sure to set your post-bath clothing nearby so you can access them shortly after drying off. You can also warm up faster by drinking a hot beverage right after climbing out.
To keep your body temperature form dropping too quickly, drink tea, warm lemon water or other hot drinks while you soak.
After getting out of the bath, skip the hot shower and let your body warm up more slowly. This will prevent you from the shocking your system with hot water.
If you plan to make ice baths a regular thing, it might be worth investing in a pair of ice bath socks, to help keep your feet warm.
Ice Bath FAQ
Are ice baths safe?
Ice baths aren’t completely risk-free. Obviously, one of the drawbacks, if done incorrectly, is pain, hypothermia, or even shock. People with any sort of underlying condition, like high blood pressure or heart disease, should talk to their doctor before doing any form of cold therapy.
Do I have to use ice? What if I don’t have a tub?
No! Cold showers work just as well at cooling down the body and turning on the body’s healing response. The water will be coldest in the winter, but a cool shower in the summer can still improve sleep and help the body recover after a workout.