You may be thinking “How hard can it be to take an ice bath?” But in truth, an ice bath isn’t quite like your normal bath.
If you get it wrong, you risk causing some unpleasant side effects. If you continue to get it wrong over time, you may even develop health problems from it.
Learning how to take an ice bath safely and effectively requires just a touch of research before you leap into the cold. Luckily, we’ve done the research for you and put it together in this article.
Read on to learn how to get the most out of your ice baths!
What Are the Benefits of Ice Baths?
Ice baths have great benefits when used in the right way.
It’s well-known that icing muscles after a workout can help speed up recovery, so it makes sense that ice baths would be helpful too.
Here are some specific benefits of ice baths related to running:
Eases Aching Muscles
When you sink yourself into a freezing cold ice bath, your blood vessels constrict (narrow). This means that for those 10 or 15 minutes, you aren’t getting a whole lot of blood to the muscles.
However, when you get out of the ice, those vessels dilate (widen) and blood comes flowing through. This effectively helps to flush away metabolic waste and pump the muscles full of oxygen-rich blood so they’re in the best position to recover well.
Of course, the cold also means you don’t feel much in your sore muscles for the time you’re in the bath!
This process of flushing the waste also inhibits the inflammatory response. Ultimately, this means that you won’t feel delayed onset muscle soreness as much as you would normally.
Helps Reduce Weight
Interestingly, cold water immersion has been shown to help the body develop brown fat cells instead of white fat cells, which can actually help with weight loss.
Brown fat cells help the body to burn extra calories to keep it warm. As you can imagine, if we have more of these cells, when we get into an ice bath it could help us lose fat faster.
How Cold Should the Water Be?
The optimal temperature for an ice bath is between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you’re mixing your ice with water (which should be done at a 3:1 ratio), it should take about 10 minutes for the ice bath to be at the right temperature.
We’ll go into more detail further down about how exactly to go about setting up your ice bath!
How Long Should You Ice Bath For?
You should be aiming for 15 minutes in the ice bath. Research shows that this is the optimal amount of time to reap the benefits but not suffer any of the potential negative side effects.
Staying in an ice bath for too long can have detrimental effects. Just like keeping ice on a sore muscle for too long can cause damage to the skin and muscle, so too can staying in an ice bath for longer than absolutely necessary.
That being said, you need to stay in for a significant amount of time to get the benefits, too. You can’t just hop in for a minute and then jump out again and expect to see and feel good results.
You may need to work your way up to 15 minutes if you can’t tolerate it when you begin! Start with 5 if you can, and then move up to 10, before reaching 15.
When Is the Best Time for an Ice Bath?
An ice bath is most effective when taken within 2 hours after a workout. There’s really no need to take an ice bath any time of the day, and taking one just for the sake of it won’t add any benefit to your life.
Who Should Avoid Ice Baths?
Ice baths are great for recovery, but they aren’t safe for everyone. People who should avoid ice baths include:
- Those with circulation problems
- People with heart or blood pressure problems
- Individuals with sensory disorders
- If you have an open wound
How to Take an Ice Bath the Right Way
Fill the Rub with Lukewarm Water and Get In
Your first step should be to fill the tub with lukewarm water, enough to cover your waist when you get in. Make sure to use lukewarm water and not cold water. It could get a little too cold too quickly otherwise.
Climb into the bath and immerse yourself up to your waist. It’s a good idea to wear a shirt to keep your upper body warm. You can also find ice bath socks, which are made of neoprene and will help keep your toes warm.
We suggest only adding the ice once you’re already immersed in the water. This may take some practice to get right, but it’s a much easier way for the body to adjust to the cooling temperature.
Add ice blocks gradually until the water is chilled down to 50-ish degrees. We recommend using a thermometer for this, to make sure you’re not going too cold and leaning towards danger or staying too warm and missing the benefits.
To figure out how much ice you need, you should use a 3:1 ratio of water to ice. As you get to know your own body and get used to this feeling, you can adjust it if you need to.
Once your water is at the right temperature, stay in for 10 to 15 minutes. No longer!
Relax and Breathe!
It’s tempting to hold your breath when the cold hits you! Pay attention to this feeling, though, and make a conscious effort to breathe through it when you feel yourself tensing up.
You’ll most likely find yourself breathing quickly and shallowly. However, you should focus on breathing deeply and slowly, which may be hard but will definitely be helpful!
Inhaling deeply allows more oxygen into the lungs, which in turn gets blood moving around the body a bit better. Although the blood vessels in your lower body will be constricted, getting the blood flowing will keep the body in the best state of health possible while it’s undergoing this icy ordeal.
Focusing on your breathing will also help to take your mind off the numbing cold. Concentrate on breathing in a measured and ordered way. Inhale for a count of 6 or 7 seconds. Hold it for 2 seconds, and then exhale for another 6 or 7.
To keep yourself just slightly warmer, you can place your hands either in your armpits or under your knees. These are often the most vulnerable parts of the body to cold.
Ice Bath Tips
Choose a Decent a Bath or Tub
You can use your regular tub at home. If you don’t have one in your home, you can buy a small pool or a large plastic or metal bin. As long as it’s big enough to submerge most of you in, it should work just fine.
Lay Out Your Post-Bath Clothing Beforehand
It’s an excellent idea to get your post-bath clothing ready so you can get out and warm up as soon as possible. Set out some light but warm clothes that you can change into once your bath is over.
Don’t go too heavy. A base layer and a light jacket will do, and make sure your feet are taken care of. They’re likely to need extra warmth to bring circulation back to normal after your ice bath.
Wear Shorts and Foot Booties to Protect Sensitive Areas
As mentioned earlier, you can also wear a shirt while your lower half is immersed in the water. This will just keep you a little warmer while you’re in the water.
Set an Alarm (Optional)
This is a great idea. To make sure you don’t stay in longer than the safe amount of time, set an alarm from when you get into the bath.
That way, you won’t accidentally hang around in the cold too long, or get out too soon and miss out on the benefits.
Don’t Shower Afterwards
It’s incredibly tempting to get out of the ice bath and hop straight into a hot shower to warm up. But please, don’t!
Going from extreme cold to heat can have a bad effect on the body. In truth, not everyone will have a bad reaction when following up an ice bath with a hot shower, but the risk is there.
Rather, warm up slowly. Your warm clothing should bring your core temperature back to normal within a short period of time.
The only time you should take a shower after an ice bath is if your warm clothing and a warm drink aren’t helping you warm up. Hypothermia is a danger, especially if your body isn’t quite used to being immersed in cold.
In this case, shower in lukewarm water. Avoid the temptation to up the heat, as your body most likely won’t recognize how hot it is and you could be at risk of burning yourself.
Warm Up With a Hot Beverage
If you need something to help you warm up quickly, make yourself a cup of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or whatever your favorite hot drink is.
A warm beverage hits you right in the core, warming you up from the inside out. Of course, it’s also delicious and luxurious, so it’s the perfect way to end your ice bath!