With the weather in many parts of the world starting to warm up, you may have had the thought of taking an ice bath or a cold shower. By now, the benefits of cold immersion are well known, yet many struggle to integrate this powerful practice into their regular routine. Before you dive head first into the cold, here are a few things you should know in order to create an enjoyable (and repeatable) experience.
Getting comfortable in cold showers is truly a prerequisite to a sustainable, healthy relationship with cold immersion. Regular cold showers will help you understand the basic physiological responses that you will experience in an ice bath, and you’ll get better at managing them. This will also help you have more pleasant ice baths — both in terms of the time that you will be able to stay in and your body’s reaction to the cold.
When the time comes that you want to give your body that extra shock, this guide will come in handy. Here’s everything you need to know for your first ice bath:
What’s the right temperature?
For most of us, the benefits of cold immersion begin at any temperature that makes us uncomfortable, and yet still empowers us to make the practice part of our regular routine. That means you also don’t want it so cold that you’ll struggle with consistency. Ice baths and cold plunges are typically between 38°F to 45°F, but personally, the sweet spot for me lies somewhere between 45°F and 52°F. You can always stay in longer!
How do I set it up?
Before investing in a tank (such as a cattle trough), start with your home bathtub or locate a spa with a cold plunge. When filling your tub or trough, I recommend using enough water so that you can submerge your entire body up to your ears. Exposing the neck and thyroid gland to the cold is hugely important in order to regulate your body temperature, and will help your body adjust to the cold.
If using a 100 gallon tub or pool, I recommend starting with 60 lbs of ice and 70 gallons of water. This should bring the temperature to about 50 degrees and allow for a tolerable yet challenging jumpstart into the realm of cold immersion.
How do I prepare?
Prior to cold immersion, you want to activate the parasympathetic, “rest-and-digest” branch of the nervous system, and maximize your body’s natural nitric oxide production. You can do this easily using deep breathing. Start with 1-2 minutes each of alternate nostril breathing to help you relax, then incorporate cat-cow and finally end with 1-3 minutes of powerful inhales and exhales through the nose. When you’re ready to step in, do so while holding your breath on an exhale to reduce the shock.
How long do I stay in?
The target time of a cold plunge, especially when considering all the effort you have exerted so far, is three minutes. This is why you should build up to a 5-minute cold shower in the weeks preceding your plunge. Three minutes is also long enough to tap into the most desirable cold-immersion benefits, such as improved blood sugar regulation and fat burning.
That being said, if you are at 50-degrees or just under, the body can withstand far longer than 3-minutes. In fact, the goal after 4-6 weeks would be 10+ minutes at this temperature, which should then be reduced by 2-3 minutes with every 20 lbs of ice added to your 70 gallons of water. The most important thing here is to listen to your body — usually getting out as soon as or shortly after you start shivering.
How do I get the most out of my experience?
Submerging your whole body as you get into the ice bath is another beneficial detail. The total-body dip exposes the whole body, thyroid and back of the neck to the cold, which elicits a more dramatic maximal hormonal response. After the initial dip, you can also dip your face in periodically throughout the plunge, which continues to send a dramatic message into the nervous system, ensuring that you get the benefits that you are after. Remember to breathe through your nose throughout the experience, and know that the first minute is the most painful.
Cold immersion is truly an enjoyable practice — one that you can build a very pleasant relationship with. It isn’t meant to be torture, and it’s important to respect and appreciate it for all of the benefits it can bring you, including the immediate benefit of feeling more awake and present. The most important aspect of the practice is to enjoy yourself.
Joe has been a wellness and performance coach for over 15 years. His teachings focus on engraining profound mindset shifts, giving individuals the courage and the tools to align their actions with their objectives throughout daily life.