The Inside Scoop on Ice Baths & Recovery
If you’re active on social media, you’ve probably seen images of athletes, performers, and regular folks plunging into a bath of ice water… voluntarily! What’s up with that?!
Ice bathing isn’t a new phenomenon—it’s been popular in Sweden for over 100 years. So much so, they have bath houses dedicated to the practice. What is new is Instagram and TikTok, which might be why you’re hearing so much about them now.
What are the Benefits of Ice Baths?
Some doctors and trainers say that an ice bath will help alleviate some of the soreness and swelling you get after a good, hard workout.
Some research suggests ice baths may reduce soreness after workouts. One key effect occurs in your blood vessels: they constrict. This constriction might help the body flush out waste products, including those accumulated in muscles during exercise.
Board-certified sports clinical specialist Leada Malek told Women’s Health that ice baths within 24 hours after a workout can help athletes perform high-intensity training on back-to-back days. The cold plunge may help reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness, swelling, and waste buildup.
Men’s Health looked at an analysis of 99 studies on several recovery methods and reported that ice baths and massages were best for lowering inflammation.
Some experts say it’s all in your head, and ice baths don’t really make you a better athlete. But even if you believe them, we all know how important the head game is for athletes. If you perceive you have less pain and less stress, isn’t the ice bath, then, helping?
The fact is, many trainers, athletes, and even performers swear by the benefits. Extreme Performance Training (XPT) co-founders, Laird Hamilton and Gabby Reese are big proponents of the physical and mental benefits of ice baths.
Of course, we cannot talk about ice baths without mentioning Wim Hof, known more widely as The Iceman. He created the Wim Hof Method: a combination of breathing, cold therapy, and commitment. The Wim Hof Method claims that a committed, consistent practice including the breathing technique and cold exposure can help you unlock a host of benefits including:
- Increased energy
- Better sleep
- Reduced stress levels
- Heightened focus and determination
- Increased willpower
- Stronger immune system
As an added bonus, ice baths are believed to activate your body’s brown fat. That’s a good thing. This type of body fat, also known as brown adipose tissue, gets turned on when you’re cold, producing heat to help maintain body temperature. While it’s producing that heat, it’s also burning up calories!
Can Ice Baths Be Dangerous?
If you’re new to ice baths, you should consult a medical professional before trying one out. Ice baths are not recommended for someone who has high blood pressure, suffers from reduced blood flow, or has preexisting cardiovascular disease. Such a sharp decrease in your core temperature can constrict blood vessels and slow down the flow of your blood. Some doctors steer patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes away from a cold plunge for that reason, as well.
Of course, you also want to limit the amount of time you are submerged in the ice bath. Too long in the tub, and you run the risk of hypothermia. To be safe, limit your time to under 10–15 minutes.
If you live in any of the Nordic countries, you can probably easily find an ice bath house to take a plunge. If not, we recommend our cold tank. Sure, you could just fill up a Rubbermaid bucket, but we think this will be much more comfortable—and it looks much better in your home gym, bathroom, or your team’s locker room.
If you want a tub that accommodates both hot and cold therapy, Whitehall Rehab whirlpools can be filled with warm water or easily modified to give that icy dip a try.
Whitehall® therapy and training equipment (PDF) can be found in athletic training rooms and home gyms around the world. If you’d like to find out how you can get your hands on one of our eye-catching, custom-finished, durable cold tanks or whirlpools, reach out today!