9 Benefits of Ice Baths You Need to Know

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Published by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: January 27, 2024
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Ice baths are a crucial post-workout recovery technique that anybody may use.

Jumping into a cold bath may not appeal to everyone. However, the practice may benefit both your mental and physical health; don't rush into a cold bath for a panacea.

As a professional MMA fighter and fitness coach, I've personally experienced the benefits of ice baths in my rigorous training and recovery routines.

In this post, I'll share insights from my firsthand use of ice baths, including their impact on physical recovery and mental toughness, and provide practical advice based on my professional expertise.

Quick Summary

  • An ice bath may help you reduce inflammation, recover faster from high-intensity exercises, handle anxiety and stress better, become more resilient, and more.
  • There is no approved method for taking an ice bath, yet most individuals spend between five and ten minutes in 50 to 59°F water.
  •  Studies, including one from PLOS One, show a significant 30% decrease in work and school absences due to cold exposure's immune benefits.
  • Ice baths are a staple in my training regimen for their quick recovery benefits and mental edge I experience afterwards.

Ice Bath Benefits

A woman enjoying ice bath benefits

Boosts Physical Recovery

From my experience in the ring, taking an ice bath after intense training sessions has been a game-changer for speeding up muscle recovery and reducing soreness.

Cold exposure has been demonstrated in a Medicine Journal study to enhance oxygenated blood flow, therefore speeding up muscle healing and minimizing delayed-onset muscle pain [1].

Expect quick recovery and muscle growth, with decreased injury risks. Cold water constricts blood vessels, and dilation upon warming up aids blood flow to muscles.

They Can Cool the Body

Ice baths effectively cool your body post-exercise. Research from the Journal of Athletic Training indicates their superiority over cold showers in rapidly reducing body temperature [2].

Read More: Cool Down Exercises After Working Out

Increases Energy Levels

A woman with increased energy levels after taking an ice bath

A splash of cold water can jump-start hormone changes.

Research published in the Scandinavian Journal of Clinical and Laboratory Investigation shows ice baths increase norepinephrine, which is crucial for attention and energy [3].

They Can Boost Immunity

Regular cold showers, according to PLOS One, can reduce sickness absences by about 30%. Cold exposure trains your body to adapt, enhancing immune function [4].

Boosts the Mood

A woman having a good mood due to ice baths

As an MMA fighter, the mental victory of enduring an ice bath significantly elevates my mood and mental toughness, which is essential for my sport.

The rush of endorphins and neurotransmitters like norepinephrine brightens your mood, with research published in the Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment journal supporting its antidepressant effect [5].

Improve Circulation

Cold therapy's circulatory benefits are backed by research published in the Journal of Athletic Training, showing enhanced circulation and oxygenation in muscles [6].

This efficient blood and oxygen transport means healthier muscles and organs.

Improves Mental Health

A person who improved her mental health because of ice baths

Ice baths can improve mental well-being. A study from the Biological Research for Nursing noted enhanced life quality in gout patients, including reduced stress and depression [7].

Cold exposure stimulates the nervous system, aiding mood regulation.

Moreover, according to a study published in the Current Biology journal, the cold shock proteins, which are triggered during ice baths, can have neuroprotective properties [8].

These proteins are believed to be beneficial in preventing or treating neurological diseases, including dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Relieves Muscle Soreness

They're great for reducing muscle soreness and chronic pain. A study published in the Pain and Therapy journal confirms their effect on lessening discomfort post-workout and in chronic conditions like fibromyalgia [9].

Help with Fat Loss

A close up shot of a woman that experienced fat loss

Lastly, cold water immersion can kickstart metabolism. Research from the Cell Report Medicine journal links it to the activation of brown fat, aiding weight loss, and boosting metabolic rate [10].

"When you immerse the body in cold water, the heart rate increases and your body operates harder to pump blood all through the circulatory system properly."

- Jonathan Leary, Doctor of Chiropractic Medicine

How To Make an Ice Bath

Ice cubes perfect for making an ice bath

Dive into ice baths at a gym or spa, or DIY at home—fancy setups aren't a must. Just grab a bathtub, some ice, a timer, and a thermometer.

DIY Ice Bath Steps:

  1. Start with lukewarm water in your tub, and pop in the thermometer.
  2. Toss in ice cubes gradually until it's really nippy.
  3. Once the water's between 50 and 59°F (10 and 15°C), hop in wearing a T-shirt and shorts.
  4. Set your timer for 5 to 10 minutes, or whatever feels right.
  5. After that, hop out, dry off, and change into cozy clothes.

Tip: Ease into the chill by starting with lower-body soaks, then working up to full-body dips. Gradually lowering the bath's temperature over time helps too!

This version trims the fluff and keeps all the essential steps for preparing an ice bath, presented in a straightforward, easy-to-follow format.

Risks and Side Effects of Ice Baths

A relaxed woman having an ice bath

Before diving into an ice bath, chat with your doctor, especially if you've got heart issues, high blood pressure, circulatory problems, or cold sensitivity. Ice baths aren't pals with open wounds, either.

Quick dips are key to avoiding hypothermia, where your body temperature drops too low. Set a timer and bail if you're shaking or your skin's changing color. Feeling super chilly is the most obvious side effect, but it's not the only one.

Chilling in the ice can squeeze your blood vessels and slow blood flow, which could be dicey, leading to stroke or heart issues. And if you're dealing with diabetes, be extra cautious - handling an extreme cold can be tricky for you.

Keep in mind that the studies on the effects of ice baths have mostly been small-scale and conducted on healthy men, as per the Journal of Emergencies, Trauma, and Shock study [11].

Tips for Taking an Ice Bath

A woman inside the bath tub

Ice baths beat cold showers in coolness and full-body coverage, upping their chill factor for certain perks.

Ready to chill? Keep these icy pointers in mind:

  • Ice Bath Time: Stick to 10-15 minutes max in the ice to stay safe.
  • Temperature Check: Aim for a frosty 10–15°C (50–59°F) for your ice bath.
  • Full Dip: Get the best vessel squeeze by dunking your whole body. Start with your toes and legs, then ease up to your chest as you get comfy.

At-Home Use

A person making an ice bath at home

When mixing the ice with water at home, employ a thermometer to assist you in attaining the optimum temperature.

If it is too high (over 15°C/59°F), gently add ice. If the temperature is too low, slowly add warm water until it reaches the ideal temperature.

Timing of Bath

"The sooner you go into an ice bath following an exercise or competition, the greater the results will be." - Dr. A. Brion Gardner, Orthopaedic Surgeon

If you wait an hour after exercising, some of the recovery and inflammatory processes will have already begun or been completed.

Lewis Reaction/Hunter Reaction

A woman adopting the Hunter reaction in her ice bath

Another strategy to benefit from ice on aching muscles is to adopt the Lewis Reaction/Hunters Reaction method, which follows the 10-10-10 arrangement.

Icing for ten minutes (not directly on naked skin), then removing the ice for ten minutes, and lastly, icing for another 10 minutes, enables 20 minutes of efficient physiological icing.

Cryotherapy

I've tried full-body cryotherapy, an advanced form of cold therapy typically offered in specialized facilities. While effective, these sessions can be quite an investment, but I've found them beneficial for rapid recovery and inflammation reduction.

Short-term Application

The data on how frequently you should have an ice bath is limited.

However, other experts believe that short episodes of cold water immersion (CWI) to aid recovery are acceptable, but regular usage of CWI must be avoided.

FAQs

How Long Should You Go in an Ice Bath?

You should stay in an ice bath for approximately 15 minutes. You should build up to the recommended 15 minutes without straining your body too much.

Is It Good To Have an Ice Bath Every Day?

Yes, it is good to have an ice bath every day. If you're in excellent health, there's no threat in taking a few minutes daily to indulge in an ice bath.

What To Do After an Ice Bath?

After an ice bath, you want to return to your base body temperature by actively recovering. It is preferable to have a warm beverage following ice baths rather than trying to fast warm up with warm water.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4706272/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26942657/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18382932/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27631616/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3131098/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6188085/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35021915/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5344685/
  9. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40122-020-00225-w
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34755128/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2938508/
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About The Author

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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