Ice Baths: The Ultimate Guide

Whether taking an ice bath is your favorite pastime activity or the very concept of it is a fairly new phenomenon, this article endeavors to bring you up to speed with everything you need to know about Ice Baths. There is no denying that taking an ice bath is all the rage now.

For people doing endurance sports like cross-country skiing and long-distance running, cold exposure and ice baths are pretty much common. It has been linked to better performance and could help with both the prevention and treatment of various illnesses. But is it supported by science?

ice bath

What should not be done before exposure to cold?

Granted, there are a few things you should avoid before exposing yourself to the cold, like purposeful hyperventilation. It is a risky activity that can result in major health issues, such as chest pain, muscle spasms in the hands and feet, and palpitations.

It is preferable to start with slightly warmer water and work your way up to colder temps if you are new to cold water therapy. Aim to extend your time in the cold water by 15–30 seconds with each successive session until you can endure it for the recommended amount of time.

How much cold is required for exposure to the cold?

There isn’t a specific temperature that will satisfy everyone’s needs. It depends on the person and what they want to achieve. While some people want a lower temperature to feel more comfortable, others prefer a colder temperature that is essentially more comfortable.

A smart technique to find the ideal balance for your needs is to aim for a temperature that truly makes you feel cold. The duration of immersion might range from a few minutes to an hour. According to one study, people’s levels of dopamine significantly increased while submerged for an hour in 60°F cold water with only their heads above the surface.

Other research has also demonstrated the health benefits of immersion in cold water. In extremely cold water, adrenaline levels in the blood can rise in about 20 seconds.

Therefore, if you intentionally expose yourself to cold enough times, you’ll get used to it and your body will be able to safely enter lower temperature ranges.

Which is Healthier: A Cold Shower, An Ice Bath, or cryotherapy?

Your body temperature can be lowered and your muscles can be relaxed in a variety of ways. The majority of research includes ice baths or cold water immersion, however, cold showers can provide effective results.

Additionally, cryotherapy impacts inflammatory biochemical reactions and is frequently utilized for extended exposure to cold temperatures. It has been demonstrated to lessen pain, enhance sports performance, and quicken injury healing, but it is somewhat pricey.

Benefits of exposure to cold

You can increase your performance and health by exposing yourself to cold temperatures.

Increases focus and energy

An intentional and repeated exposure to cold can significantly increase the body’s and brain’s production of the stress hormones adrenaline and norepinephrine. When exposed to cold, these neurochemicals cause you to feel alert and more active. Since these levels remain high and the effects last for a while, they can improve your performance when engaging in other mental or physical activities. 

Increases resilience

When discussing emotional intelligence or how to create significance in one’s life, the phrase “resilience and grit” is frequently utilized. Grit, on the other hand, is tenacity, work ethic, and focus. Resilience is the capacity to deal with challenging circumstances while maintaining a mindset. Focus and self-control improve in those who employ cold exposure as a stress-reduction technique.

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Enhances your mood

Dopamine is not always released when the body is under stress or strain. Dopamine is a potent chemical that has a wide range of positive effects on mood, energy, and focus.

These molecules can be released even after brief exposure to cold, which can result in long-lasting advantages and impacts.

Increase in metabolism

Long-term and short-term benefits of being exposed to low temperatures abound. Your body will initially burn more calories as it strives to raise its internal temperature. Furthermore, being exposed to cold temperatures can aid in lowering inflammation all across the body. 

Long-term exposure to freezing conditions can cause your body to adapt and grow more adept at creating heat, which can result in even larger increases in metabolism. The main cause of this is the transformation of white fat into beige or brown.

ICE BATH : Evidence from Science

Despite the fact that there is still much to learn about the advantages of exposure to the cold, certain data point in that direction.

11-minute Regimen

Although lengthier sessions are optional, cold exposure is a widely used method of enhancing health and wellness. Several impacts were looked at in a study, and it was discovered that an 11-minute regimen per week (2-4 sessions lasting 1–5 minutes) was consistent with all the advantages. 

However, the water’s temperature should be too chilly for you to comfortably stay in for more than a few seconds. Because the benefits will remain for long, this is the least amount of time you should expose yourself to the cold. Although you can release adrenaline with extremely brief exposures as well, this should still last at least.

The “Counting Walls” Method of the Huberman Lab

One of the most frequent reactions to exposure to the cold is “getting in” to it. You should consider why your mind is fighting for you rather than wanting to go away from the cold when it feels the need to battle this feeling and change. Keep in mind that this physical reaction is triggered by adrenaline and develops into an adaptive response.

Your cold tolerance game will only succeed if you exercise top-down restraint. Set a goal of “walls” to cross and test yourself by learning to suppress the instinctive temptation to leave the hyperthermic state. For instance, during your subsequent round of cold exposure, you may count the walls and try to cross five.

The “Counting Walls” Method of the Huberman Lab

One of the most frequent reactions to exposure to the cold is “getting in” to it. You should consider why your mind is fighting for you rather than wanting to go away from the cold when it feels the need to battle this feeling and change. Keep in mind that this physical reaction is triggered by adrenaline and develops into an adaptive response.

Your cold tolerance game will only succeed if you exercise top-down restraint. Set a goal of “walls” to cross and test yourself by learning to suppress the instinctive temptation to leave the hyperthermic state.

For instance, during your subsequent round of cold exposure, you may count the walls and try to cross five.

The entire purpose of the walls strategy is to shield you from stress. Some people find that time-based meditations might help with this, but you’d be best served by making an effort to drown out outside noise and establish a serene setting.

Shivering and the Soeberg Principle

Consider using Dr. Susanna Seberg’s “End With Cold” principle, which is based on cold research. According to her belief, the act of “ending with cold” or forcing the body to stay cold increases the metabolism.

Shivering is also thought to increase the release of open-chain succinate from muscle cells into the blood plasma and have a thermogenic impact on brown adipose tissue. When your body is exposed to cold, it needs to produce heat, which is why shivering is important.

If you believe that you are not producing enough heat, try this protocol.

It’s important to avoid crossing your arms while it’s cold outside. Don’t dry off with a towel as well.

Recovering from Exposure to Cold

Studies have indicated that exposure to cold is good for performance recovery. It is most effective for athletes to spend 5–15 minutes in water that is 10-15 °C to hasten recovery.

The review and meta-analysis of cold-water immersion in high-intensity and endurance training showed improvements in recovery.

Due to lower levels of circulating creatine kinase, the results demonstrated enhanced muscle power, reported recovery, and decreased muscle pain.

However, benefits for strength, hypertrophy, or endurance are reduced when exposed to cold within 4 hours. Finishing the cool-down after a workout helps most people recover more quickly. If you solely care about recuperating (without earning gains), you might do it sooner.

When should you expose yourself to cold weather?

A cold shower can temporarily lower your body temperature, but it will eventually rebound and rise. This increase in body temperature can have a stimulating effect, which is why it is often recommended to take cold showers in the morning. 

However, if you are sensitive to cold or have trouble sleeping, you may want to avoid taking cold showers too close to bedtime. In some cases, it may be better to take a cold shower earlier in the day or not at all.

How to strengthen resistance during deliberate cold exposure

Being completely still can help your body create an effective thermal layer while you are submerged in cold water. As a result, you will stay warm and experience the same level of comfort as if you hadn’t moved a muscle. However, this tactic won’t be as successful.

Break up the heat layer by moving your arms and legs. Additionally, by doing this, you’ll be able to feel the cold really strongly without the water becoming noticeably colder than usual.

It’s similar to lifting weights slowly or losing momentum to increase tension.

Ice Bathing: Safety Tips

Ice bathing is generally considered to be safe. Although there are possible concerns, like with most things, there are also steps you can do to improve safety and reduce risk while the process is in progress. Here are some safety tips to help you enjoy your ice bath as safely as possible.

  1. Most importantly, before beginning an ice bath program, speak with your primary care physician! They are the ones who know you and your body the best, and they can give you more specific advice based on your past.
  2. Start or begin at a temperature that is comfortable for you but not too chilly by taking into account your tolerance for cold. Later, you can gradually reduce the temperature to the 50° to 39°F range.
  3. If you’re just starting out, start with 30 seconds to 1 minute if that’s what feels comfortable, and
  4. During your ice bath, if you experience any unusual symptoms, such as lightheadedness, acute discomfort, excessive shivering, or other symptoms, get out carefully but without delay.
  5. Outside your tub, place a non-slip mat.
  6. Step cautiously out of the ice bath,
  7. Have someone with you outside the door or have your phone close by if you are prone to falling or are just feeling uneasy.

Ice Bathing: Potential Risks

There are certain hazards associated with ice bathing, but they are generally small. You’ll significantly lower potential risks if you keep in mind the safety advice and recommendations provided above. Potential negative aspects include:

  • When you spend too much time in cold water, you can develop hypothermia or frostbite, but you’ll almost certainly experience warning symptoms first. Only set your water temperature as low as you are comfortable with to prevent this; a decent range is between 39 and 60 °F. Keep sessions between 2 and 10 minutes long as well.
  • Ice-cold water can cause dizziness by constricting your blood vessels, which can make you feel lightheaded. This is yet another excellent reason to choose a relaxing water temperature and limit your submersion time to a few minutes at a time.

Ice Bath Myth

Ice baths have become a popular recovery therapy among athletes, touted as the best post-exercise plunge to soothe soreness and enhance recovery. Common myths suggest that any outdoor tub filled with ice or even a bathtub loaded with bags of ice from Amazon can serve as a free and portable alternative. 

However, the truth lies in the science behind the method. The optimal temperature for an ice bath is around 50-59 degrees Fahrenheit, and a simple barrel system may not ensure even cooling.

Wim Hof and his Wim Hof Method (WHM) further popularized this spa-like approach. 

While small inflatable tubs can offer convenience, they may not be as effective as larger, more controlled setups. Scientific journals argue that the benefits of ice baths are modest and should be approached with caution, as excessive use might hinder muscle adaptation and growth.

In conclusion, ice baths have emerged as a popular recovery therapy among athletes, often considered the best post-exercise plunge to alleviate soreness and aid in the recovery process. While some myths suggest that any outdoor tub filled with ice or a simple bathtub with ice bags from Amazon can serve as a free and portable solution, it’s important to note that the effectiveness of ice baths lies in proper execution. 

The optimal temperature for an ice bath is typically between 50-59 degrees Fahrenheit, and more controlled systems like larger barrels or spa-like setups offer better results.

Celebrities and stars like Wim Hof, who popularized the Wim Hof Method (WHM), have contributed to the trend’s popularity. 

However, scientific journals caution that the benefits of ice baths may be more modest than commonly believed, and excessive use can hinder muscle adaptation and growth. Ultimately, incorporating ice baths into your training routine should be done with careful consideration, seeking guidance from professionals, and using reputable sources to ensure the best possible outcome for your recovery and overall performance.

If you are looking to enjoy the benefits that come with an ice bath in Bangkok, We encourage you to book a session with us at Fast and Fit. We are all about ensuring that you enjoy optimal health!