Ice baths, cold water immersion (CWI), cryotherapy – whatever you call it, there’s no doubt that over recent years, ice baths have surged in popularity. Once a recovery secret of elite athletes, they’ve made their way into mainstream wellness practices. But is this a fleeting trend or a practice with profound health benefits that we’re just beginning to embrace? In this comprehensive guide, we explore all the cool benefits an ice bath has to offer, as well as debunking any common misconceptions.


What is cold water therapy / cold water immersion?

As the name suggests, cold water therapy is the act of exposing your body to very cold water temperatures. Typically a temperature of between 10-15 degrees celsius (50-59 degrees f) is used for anywhere between 5 to 15 minutes at a time. Some users take it further and bath in water close to freezing temperatures, but there are risks to taking a dip at such a low temperature without proper care/ supervision.

Whilst cold water therapy can relate to something as simple as taking a cold shower, cold water immersion specifically refers to the act of fully or partially immersing yourself in a cold plunge tub, ice bath or other receptacle.

Why? I hear you ask mid-shiver. Cold water therapy is believed to bring a whole host of health and wellness benefits with it. Athletes and fitness enthusiasts often use ice baths to speed up recovery and reduce muscle pain after intense training sessions.

What is an Ice Bath?

An ice bath, has become the common name for the tub or bath you use for cold water immersion. Also referred to as a cold plunge (since water temperatures aren’t always explicitly at freezing point), these tubs are usually especially designed for cryotherapy. Often they come with special insulating properties, or a dedicated chiller to maintain low temperatures for regular users.

Where did ice baths originate?

Whilst cold water therapy has become more mainstream in recent years, you may be surprised to lear that ice baths have a long history dating back to the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome. They believed in the power of cold water therapy to enhance health and well-being. Today, this age-old practice is backed by scientific research and has gained popularity among athletes, wellness enthusiasts, and those seeking natural ways to improve health.

“The investment in a jacuzzi, sauna, and ice bath is to take care of my body, but also my mind.”

From as far back as 3500BC, the Greeks would use cold-water immersion to treat a whole host of medical ailments like fever.

Different types of ice baths

Ice baths can range from simple DIY setups at home to fairly sophisticated units that are specially designed for ease of use regularly.

DIY Ice baths

DIY setups have ranged from people using a standard bathtub to household waste bins to immerse themselves in chilly water.

Tubs can be both horizontal or vertical so that you can either lie down or stand up in one. Which you choose will largely depend on personal preference. Many users don’t feel like they’re able to relax into a laying position, so they prefer to squat into their tub, allowing them to get out more seamlessly when they’ve reached their tolerance limits.

Inflatable ice baths

Inflatable tubs have become popular in the past couple of years, because they’re very affordable and remain portable. However, the quality and longevity of these is often questionable.

Luxury ice baths

High-end ice baths are typically made of long-lasting materials, and are designed for a dedicated space in your home or garden. They’re usually equipped with temperature controls and are well insulated to maintain cool temperatures as well as filters and UV lights to keep the water hygienic for longer. This allows users to quickly and easily use their ice baths on a regular basis without the need for inflating anything or relying having to change water excessively.

The type of ice bath you choose will depend on your budget, space, and usage requirements.

The benefits of ice baths / cold water immersion

Regular use of cold water therapy can bring a plethora of benefits. It helps reduce muscle inflammation and pain, accelerates recovery, boosts mood, enhances sleep quality, and even strengthens the immune system.

Several scientific studies corroborate the benefits of ice baths. For instance, research shows that cold water immersion can significantly reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Another study found that regular cold showers could boost the immune response.

Frequently asked questions on taking an ice bath

Taking your first ice bath can be a daunting experience. Start by filling a tub with cold water, then add ice. Aim for a water temperature of around 10-15 degrees Celsius. Begin with short immersion times of around 1-2 minutes and gradually increase as you get more comfortable. Remember to relax, breathe, and listen to your body.

The optimal temperature for cold water therapy is between 10-15 degrees Celsius. This temperature range provides the benefits of cold therapy while minimizing discomfort.

The recommended duration for a cold plunge session is between 10-15 minutes. However, beginners should start with shorter durations and gradually increase as their tolerance to cold improves.

Keeping your ice bath clean is crucial for hygiene. Regularly drain and refill the water, clean the tub with mild, non-abrasive cleaners, and consider using a bath sanitizer or water treatment system if you have a high-end model.

The frequency of ice bath sessions can vary based on your goals and physical condition. As a general guideline, 2-3 times per week is beneficial for recovery and health enhancement. Always listen to your body and adjust accordingly.

Whilst research studies are in their infancy and currently unreliable. It’s widely believed that that regular cold water immersion not only helps speed up the metabolism, it activates brown fat (aka brown adipose tissue). This type of fat is used to keep you warm and helps control blood sugar/insulin levels. Activating it regularly is thought to be an effective way to lose weight.