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Fact checked by Kirsten Yovino, CPT Brookbush InstituteFACT CHECKED
Updated On: September 27, 2023
Ice baths have grown in immense popularity over the past few years. With the help of social media, what was once reserved for the elite has found common use among everyday gym goers. If you spend just a few minutes on any social media video site, you'll see an endless stream of lifters taking the cold plunge.
If you've joined the ranks of fitness lovers everywhere and are ready to take the icy dip, always keep in mind that you're placing your body in an extreme environment. You will be submerged in near-freezing water, and it's up to you to know how long you can stay in an ice bath without seeing adverse effects.
So, just how long is that? That's what this article will answer. Read on to find out how long you must brave the cold to see the best (and safest) results.
Table of Contents:
An ice bath is just like it sounds. It is a mixture of cold water and ice, with the ratio varying depending on the outside ambient temperature and the desired water temperature. It usually takes around a 1:3 ice-to-water ratio to lower the water temperature to 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit or 11-15 degrees Celsius.
Once your bath is prepared, you'll get into the icy water and sit down until you're neck-deep. Chill out (pun intended) for about 10-15 minutes and get out. Ice baths are usually done after an intense workout to help speed up recovery, as this is one of their many supposed benefits (we'll check this out later).
To learn more about ice baths, be sure to check out our Ultimate Ice Bath Guide.
Above, we answered what an ice bath is. Now we're going to answer why people do it and explain the benefits of ice baths. Why would someone choose to put themselves in a highly uncomfortable situation for an extended period?
Well, there are a few good reasons to try cold water therapy.
Ice-cold water immersion just might be able to help you shed some unwanted pounds. Placing your body in this freezing water causes it to react to maintain homeostasis. Some of these reactions can increase caloric burn, such as:
Further, studies show that frigid water can increase the burning of "brown fat." Brown fat will break down both stored glucose and fat to create heat. As cold water immersion activates brown fat, the cumulative effect can result in added weight loss¹.
Does losing unwanted pounds by chilling in a tub sound interesting? To get the full story, check out our article: Do Cold Showers Burn Fat?
Post-workout ice baths have become a common occurrence in gyms across the world. If you're in the gym and taking ice baths, it's almost definitely due to the research that shows that ice baths can help improve recovery AND reduce soreness.
A meta-analysis from 2012 examined 17 separate studies that studied the relationship between cold water immersion post-workout muscle soreness or DOMS². They found that the extreme temperature was, in fact, able to improve muscle soreness.
In addition, cold water therapy may help reduce inflammation, which further aids in muscle workout recovery. It's believed that the cold temperature constricts blood vessels to slow blood flow, decreasing swelling, and thus decreasing muscle soreness. Other studies have shown this can also have a direct effect on recovery³.
If you're an athlete or just want to learn more about the science behind recovery, read our article: Why Do Athletes Take Ice Baths?
One of the non-performance reasons people use cold water exposure is to improve the immune system.
Some studies suggest that chronic cold exposure triggers a set of physiological reactions that positively affect the immune system. These reactions cause an increase in white blood cells as well as the reduction of inflammation⁴.
These results only come from the chronic, consistent use of ice baths, with 4-6 weeks suggested as the minimum time needed.
When you decide to start taking ice baths, an important thing to know is just how long to stay in ice baths. Consider that ice baths work by bringing down your body temperature through the means of an extreme environment. Due to the icy temperature, the time you spend inside the ice bath will largely be determined by how long you can handle it.
When you first begin taking ice baths, you might be able to stay for only a few minutes, if that. If this is where you are, that's fine! Use this time to learn things like proper breathing to help control your body's reaction. As you progress, you can aim to add 15-30 seconds for each session.
Eventually, you will reach the upper limits of time spent in an ice bath⁵. Using extremely cold temperatures of 50-59 degrees Fahrenheit (11-15 degrees Celsius), target submerging yourself for 10-15 minutes. You can read more about the best temperatures in our article: How Cold Should An Ice Bath Be?
We need to remember that submersion in water much lower than our core body temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius) will eventually lower it to hypothermia levels. However, the ill effects of hypothermia can come on gradually and include confusion. In other words, it may be a prolonged time until you realize you're in trouble.
This is why when doing cold water immersion therapy you should always bring a stopwatch or timer with you when you begin your ice bath. Set it for 11 minutes and relax. When the timer goes off, you can then assess if you want to get out or if you want to add another few minutes.
Once you're done with your ice bath, you have two options.
First, simply dry off with a warm blanket and dress warmly. You can relax and have something warm to drink, such as hot tea or coffee.
The second option is to practice contrast therapy. Contrast therapy is when you alternate heat therapy with cold therapy to exaggerate the effects of both. Some studies suggest this may be superior to taking an ice bath alone.
Getting in an ice-cold bath should be pretty straightforward. That said, here are some ice bath tips to make the most of your cold water therapy.
While you can go to various therapeutic and recovery establishments, nothing is better than being able to take an ice bath at home. Cold water therapy at home brings a host of benefits and conveniences.
First, everyone can start with a cold shower at home. It's easy to make them part of everyday life with minimal investment.
But to properly ice bath at home, you'll first need a place to do it. You'll have three options:
Once you know where you'll take your ice bath, it's time to prepare it. To do this, simply fill your tub until it's approximately half full. The exact amount will vary depending on how big you are and how much volume your container has.
As you fill your bath with water, try to make the water as cold as you can. Using less than the coldest possible water will take longer to cool down. As the water fills the tub, add ice. If desired, add Epsom salt (or any salt) to the bath. Not only will this make the water colder, but it can also add an extra therapeutic and cleaning effect.
Once the water reaches the desired level, slowly slide into the water. Don't drop in suddenly, as you could slip and get injured. You also run the risk of inhaling water. Lower yourself to neck level and relax. If you need time to adjust to the temperature, you can stop at chest level, which will be less "shocking" and give you time to adjust.
We recommend placing your stopwatch and a towel close by before you get in. You can use the towel as a pillow, but it can also dry your hands as you get out to prevent slipping.
We love the idea of taking ice baths at home. It can be cheaper in the long run and more convenient, plus many of the physiological benefits, such as an improved immune system, require the chronic use of ice baths. Having one at home puts you in a better position to take frequent ice baths 2-4 times a week.
There are many great ice baths out there, but I personally love the unit from PLUNGE.
Appearing on Shark Tank, PLUNGE is one of the most unique ice baths on the market. Rather than constantly filling it with ice, PLUNGE uses powerful cooling units, a filtration system, and a self-cleaning ability that means it's always clean and ready to go.
For advanced users, it can bring the water temperature all the way down to 39 degrees Fahrenheit.
Or, if you're looking for a more budget-friendly option, I'd suggest Tubble, a portable ice bath that is affordable and easy to set up.
If you're interested in learning even more about these ice baths and a few other great options, check out our article on the 5 Best Ice Bath Tubs!
We hope we have answered your question in the article above. However, we know there are a lot of questions, so below are some more answers.
No. As long as you stay within the time limit, ice baths have no inherent risk. Note that you will still need to be cautious with slips and falls.
The recommended time limit for ice baths is 10-15 minutes. While some people may be able to go 20 minutes, that's for advanced and experienced users only. Most people should stick to under 15 minutes.
Regular cold showers won't be nearly as cold as an ice bath as they won't fully cover your body. While they won't bring your body temperature down enough, they can still be useful and act as a progression to full ice baths.
The recommended frequency is 2-4 times a week, but some people take them daily. Learn more about ice bath timing and frequency in our article: When's The Best Time To Take A Cold Plunge?
Ice baths will decrease inflammation and reduce swelling. These can decrease recovery time.
Ice baths may be able to increase caloric burn and weight loss.
Our health and fitness can be significantly affected by the accumulation of little habits. Taking ice baths is one of these smaller habits that can make a big difference.
Frequent ice baths can provide several benefits, they're relatively easy to do, and they're fairly cost-efficient. In the grand scheme of things, if you can adopt a habit that requires a small commitment of 10-15 minutes a few times a week while improving your overall health in doing so, why wouldn't you prioritize it?
Ready to pick out your ice bath so you can get started? Check out the 5 Best Ice Bath Tubs!
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February 20, 2024
February 20, 2024
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