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THE COMPLETE BEGINNERS GUIDE TO ICE BATHS

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT USING AN ICE BATH

The popularity of ice baths has taken off in recent years. Whilst submerging yourself in ice cold water may not seem like the most pleasant of experiences, it has fast become one of the most popular and efficient methods for improving recovery and your all-round physical and mental health. If you’re looking to join the cold plunge craze it is vitally important that you first understand how to use one safely – ice baths are extremely good for you but only if used correctly.

With this in mind, we have created a complete, comprehensive guide covering everything you need to know about ice baths, including all the types of ice bath available to you, the exact method you should follow to get the most out of your ice bath safely, the research backed health benefits of using ice baths and how to maintain your ice bath, so it can become a part of your daily routine for years to come.

After reading our guide you will know exactly how to use an ice bath, so you can reap all the health rewards of cold-water therapy.

WHAT IS AN ICE BATH?
Ice baths, also known as ‘cold water immersion therapy’, or ‘cold water plunges’ are a form of ‘cryotherapy’ which is the use of extreme cold for medical treatment or therapy.

The cold water causes blood vessels near the surface of the skin to constrict which sends blood to the core, decreasing blood flow to the rest of the body and in turn increases your heart rate and rate of respiration.



WHY DO PEOPLE TAKE ICE BATHS?
People take ice baths for a variety of reasons. Some athletes take ice baths to aid their recovery and reduce muscle soreness, allowing them to train more frequently. Others take ice baths to improve their mental health. Getting into and staying in an ice bath requires great mental resilience and will release a number of ‘feel-good’ hormones to enhance mood.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF ICE BATHS?
As we’ve already mentioned there are many reasons as to why ice baths are good for you. Research behind taking ice baths has supported several different theories as to the health benefits of cold-water therapy. In this section we will cover a host of the recognised physical and mental health benefits from regularly submerging yourself in an ice bathtub.

Various studies carried out support this claim that ice baths reduce muscle soreness and inflammation. An analysis carried out by Bleakley and colleagues as well as a 2018 study on elite rugby players, concluded that ice baths produced a ‘moderate effect on muscle soreness.’

 

man in ice bath with ice cubesman in ice bath with ice cubes

The general consensus from the scientific community is that whilst the majority of evidence does support the theory that ice baths do in fact reduce inflammation, more robust and comprehensive studies are required to say for certain.

Improved Recovery
There is a theory that following the constriction of blood vessels and decreased blood flow in cold water, when the body warms up again, the increased blood flow speeds up circulation which helps remove waste products from the muscle cells and accelerate recovery.

The use of cold water immersion for recovery from exercise is supported by an analysis carried out in 2020 at the University of Central Lancashire. They concluded that immersion in 10°C-15°C water for 10 min - 15min has been shown ‘to improve acute and subsequent day recovery in exercise performance and wellbeing, and may be a useful recovery tool during periods of intensified training or competition’.

Boosted Mood and Feelings of Wellbeing
One of the most well-known benefits of Ice baths, relates to mental health and wellbeing. Cold water immersion increases the brain’s sensitivity and production of endorphins, which enhance mood and feelings of wellbeing. A study in 2008 concluded that cold showers for 5 minutes improved feelings of wellbeing, whilst research conducted in Malaysia concluded that cold water swimming elicited a positive effect on all markers of mental health, reducing both systems of depression and anxiety.

Submerging yourself in cold water also increases the production of the hormone norepinephrine which heightens focus and energy. A study in 1977 from D.G Johnson found that immersion in cold water for as little as 2 minutes increased the concentration of norepinephrine in blood plasma.
 Ice baths also increase the levels of the hormone dopamine, also known as the ‘feel good hormone’. Dopamine elevates mood which in turn will heighten motivation and focus. Studies published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology in 2000 have shown that ice baths can increase dopamine levels by approximately 250% for several hours.

The evidence is conclusive on the positive impacts of ice baths on mental health and wellbeing. In the U.K organisations such as ‘Mental Health Swims’ host free, safe and inclusive cold swim meet ups nationwide.

Improved Sleep
Exposure to cold water can help improve quality of sleep due to its ability to reduce the body’s core temperature. A study carried in 2021 by Front Sports Act Living, concluded that whole body cold water immersion after aerobic exercise improved sleep quality during the first part of the night.

ice bath on outdoor patioice bath on outdoor patio

 

 

Enhanced Immune System
Given that ice baths improve alertness and focus levels after a dip, it is not recommended to have an ice bath just before you go to bed as it may take a while for you to ‘switch off’ and settle into a sleep.

Reduced Muscle Soreness and Inflammation
The idea ice baths can enhance the immune system has been investigated by various scientists, but the consensus and conclusions remain unclear. Research in 1999 looked at people who partake in open water/wild swimming during the winter months and noted that they have 40% less colds and upper respiratory infections than people who do not partake in winter swimming. Research specifically looking at ice baths is lacking, making it unclear whether the swimming itself enhances the immune system, or the cold water. It has been shown that cold exposure increases the blood’s concentration of ‘glutathione’, a powerful antioxidant that plays a crucial role in the immune system.

 

Weight Loss
Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures causes an increase in what is known as ‘brown fat’ in the body. Brown fat cells contain more ‘mitochondria’, that will produce more energy and become more metabolically active, which in turn helps burn more calories each day. The increase in the number of mitochondria also occurs within muscle tissues when exposed to the cold, which can help improve endurance, allowing people to exercise for longer and burn more calories.

Enhanced Endurance
As mentioned previously, exposure to cold will enhance endurance and there is scientific research to back this claim up. Physiologist Robert J. Shute and his team in 2018 found that ice baths may improve endurance by enhancing muscle adaptations to aerobic exercise. Shute attributes this to a ‘PGC-1α gene expression’, which ultimately enhances a muscle’s ability to utilise Oxygen. As discussed earlier, the reduction in muscle inflammation and recovery time allows for athletes to further improve their endurance as they can train more frequently and for longer.

Blood Pressure
Whilst ice baths may be able to help people with high blood pressure, it is vitally important that you consult your doctor if you suffer with high blood pressure and are looking to start using ice baths. There can be a significant increase in blood pressure as you submerge yourself in cold water, which can be very dangerous. The long term benefit however, is the increased levels of brown fat from cold water immersion. Studies have shown that higher levels of brown fat are associated with a range of cardiovascular benefits, including lower blood pressure.

Body and Joint Pain
People suffering from rheumatological conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia who wish to use ice baths must again speak to their doctor before use. Ice baths are able to provide relief and numb the pain associated with these conditions by reducing inflammation. However, the response to the cold temperatures can differ between individuals and people with different forms of joint pain may experience mixed results. Therefore, further research is required to conclude the short term and long-term benefits of ice baths for these conditions.

Perceived Exertion
A study in 2007 found that taking ice baths will reduce perceived exertion during exercise. If you take an ice bath prior to a workout, but not immediately before, the pre-cooling of the muscles will lead to a slightly lower muscle temperature during exercise and lead to you not needing to work as hard to complete the exercise. Taking ice baths post exercise is also thought to have this cooling effect on the muscles for athletes who are training more frequently.


ARE ICE BATHS DANGEROUS?
Whilst ice baths come with many benefits, there are also some risks that come attached to submerging your body in ice cold waters. Knowing these dangers can help you prepare for and prevent them. We’ll now go through everything you need to be careful of when using ice baths.

Hyperventilation
Hyperventilation is a normal response to extreme environmental conditions such as cold-water immersion. An affected person will begin to have rapid, deep exhales and carbon dioxide levels will decrease in the blood. Your body will then react in one of the following ways.

• Dizziness
• Tingling lips
• Tingling hands or feet
• Headache
• Weakness or fainting
• Seizures

Pressurized tennis ballsPressurized tennis balls

To reduce this risk of this happening you should avoid using too cold temperatures when you start using ice baths. You can always reduce the water temperature once you have had regular baths and are used to the feel of how cold the water is.

At any point if you feel like you are experiencing any of these symptoms and can’t control them, then get out of the tub immediately.

Gasp Reflex
Everyone’s gasp reflex kicks in as soon as they experience the shock of coming into contact with the cold water. The majority of people will involuntarily draw in a huge breath.This isn’t a huge risk unless you submerge yourself too quickly. If you put your head under the water as soon as you get into the bath and accidentally take in a big breath, you will consume a large amount of ice water which could cause a variety of problems.

Drowning
This isn’t a huge risk unless you submerge yourself too quickly. If you put your head under the water as soon as you get into the bath and accidentally take in a big breath, you will consume a large amount of ice water which could cause a variety of problems.

If you drop into cold water straight after an intense workout or if your body is at a high temperature due to warm weather, you might experience a cold shock response. Cold water shock can sometimes cause the body to shut down in response to extreme cold. This is thought to also occur when people stay in cold water for too long, which can lead to them experiencing uncontrollable hyperventilation and the gasp reflex discussed before. If a person’s body shuts down there is a risk they may become fully submerged in the water and drown.

It is recommended to leave enough time to allow your body temperature to initially cool down after a workout before taking an ice bath to prevent this from happening. You should also only stay in the ice bath for the recommended length of time, which we will cover later in this guide.

ice bath with coverice bath with cover

Hypothermia
Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing the body temperature to drop to dangerously low levels. Your normal body temperature is around 37°C. When hypothermia occurs your body temperature falls below 35°C. This normally occurs when you stay in ice baths or cold water for too long. When your body temperature carries on dropping, vital organs such as your heart can’t function normally.

If this is left untreated hypothermia can eventually lead to the complete failure of your heart and respiratory system. Symptoms will include shivering, slow breathing, weak pulse and even loss of consciousness which can lead to drowning. If you begin to experience any of these symptoms whilst taking an ice bath you must get out immediately, if possible, and warm your body back to room temperature. You may have to call 999 if your symptoms worsen.

HOW TO USE AN ICE BATH SAFELY
Taking an ice bath is straightforward and safe if you know the correct procedures to follow. Prior to using an ice bath, it is important to know how long to stay in the water for, how cold to have the water, and when the best time to have an ice bath is.

What temperature should your ice bath be?
Setting up the right ice bath temperature is important for allowing vasoconstriction of your blood vessels, ensuring you get the full benefits of cold-water immersion. However, you don’t want to set up your water too cold too soon as that can cause cold water shock. When taking an ice bath, aim for a temperature between 10°C and 15°C, as this is the right temperature to invoke the physiological response needed to benefit you physically and mentally.

We would recommend you begin at the higher end of this scale and make your ice baths colder as you become more comfortable with the temperature. You can easily change your ice bath temperature by adding more ice to make it colder or slightly warmer water to increase the temperature. It is recommended to achieve a temperature of between 10°C and 15°C by using a 3 to 1 ratio of water to ice cubes. Simply place a thermometer in the water to get a temperature reading.
 How far should you submerge your body into the water?
It is typically recommended to submerge yourself in the water so that your neck and head are above the water level. This helps drop the body temperature drop quicker to the desired temperature so that you can reap the full benefits of the ice bath.

If you are new to ice baths and want to get used to the water temperatures first, then keep your chest, neck and head above the water. This keeps your heart out of the water and doesn’t allow your body temperature to drop as quickly. Once you're accustomed to using ice baths you can begin to submerge your body further.

How long should you stay in an ice bath for?
The consensus amongst physiology specialists is that cold water immersion with a water temperature of between 10°C and 15°C requires an immersion time of 10-15 mins to provide the best results. In theory it is recommended that the time you are in your ice bath for, matches the water temperature. So, if you had an ice bath of 12°C, then you should try to stay in the bath for 12 minutes. If you wish to bath in water colder than 10°C, the same recommendations apply and for every degree colder the bath is, a minute is removed from the immersion time.

We would recommend for those using ice baths for the first time start off by staying in the bath for shorter durations and slowly build up the length of your ice baths over time towards the 15-minute mark. Once you are accustomed to taking ice baths, use our table below to find the recommended immersion time for each water temperature.

Recommended Ice Bath Durations & Temperatures*
Ice Bath Temperature (°C) Ice Bath Temperature (°F) Recommended Immersion Time (Minutes)
1 33.8 1
2 35.6 2
3 37.4 3
4 39.2 4
5 41 5
6 42.8 6
7 44.6 7
8 46.4 8
9 48.2 9
10 50 10
11 51.8 11
12 53.6 12
13 55.4 13
14 57.2 14
15 59 15

*Always check with your doctor before using an ice bath and carry out your first ice bath with supervision

How many ice baths should you have a week?
There is limited research regarding the optimal frequency of ice baths, but most practitioners will recommend two to three ice baths a week (in addition to cold showers) to experience the full benefits. Some athletes may benefit from taking an ice bath up to five times a week, depending on the intensity of their training.

When should you take an ice bath?
The optimal time to take an ice bath will depend on the reasons why you are taking them. If you are looking to enhance recovery and reduce your delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) post exercise, then it is recommended for you to take an ice bath between 30-60 minutes post-workout. Some studies have suggested two hours after exercise is a better time for an ice bath, but this doesn’t fit into many people’s schedules, who will want to exercise and then ice bath, so that they can carry on with the rest of their day.

If you have suffered a muscle injury, then an ice bath immediately after the injury will help reduce inflammation and help start the healing process.

A popular time for an ice bath is first thing in the morning as soon as you wake up. This helps get you ready for your day by switching you on and releasing all the feel-good hormones in your brain to lift your mood in the morning.

Should you take an ice bath before or after a workout?
There is no right or wrong answer as to whether it is better to have your ice bath before or after exercise. Ultimately, it is dependent on what benefits you are seeking from your ice baths.

lady wearing ice bath robelady wearing ice bath robe

However, it is recommended to not take an ice bath immediately before exercise. Whilst the release of feel-good hormones such as dopamine and norepinephrine may help you to work hard, for high intensity exercise having a lower muscle temperature can be detrimental to your performance and can lead you to become more susceptible to injury. You should either allow time in between your ice bath and exercise, or take your bath 30-60 mins after your workout, depending on what you want to achieve from your ice baths.

Some people will take an ice bath a set amount of time before exercise as research has suggested that pre-cooling the body before exercise reduces perceived effort and exertion which means that athletes don’t tire as quickly and are able to push themselves further due to their cooler muscle temperature. Alternatively, taking your ice bath after exercise will help reduce inflammation, muscle soreness and aid your recovery process.

What should you do after an ice bath?
Immediately after an ice bath it is important to wrap yourself in a towel as your body temperature can still decrease even though you are out of the water due to you being soaked in ice water. It is then recommended to wait for up to two hours before having a warm shower after your ice bath, as showering too quickly after can counteract the positive effects of the cold temperatures. However, this won’t be practical for everyone and more clear research behind this theory is needed.


TYPES OF ICE BATH
Now you know how to safely use an ice bath we’ll cover the different types of ice bath available to you. Each type has its benefits but the type you buy will heavily depend on the space available to you and how often you are looking to use your ice bath.

ice bath with lidice bath with lid

Regular Tub
The most straightforward solution is to use an existing bathtub. If you aren’t looking to use an ice bath regularly and don’t have the space for an ice bath, using your own tub is the cheapest option and can be used for an ice bath. However, if you are looking to get into a more regular ice bath routine then it is recommended to buy a specialist bath. Most regular bathtubs aren’t deep enough in to submerge yourself from the bottom of your neck downwards, meaning your body temperature won’t drop enough for you to feel the benefits.

Permanent Ice Baths
If you want a permanent, non-collapsible structure, you can buy an ice barrel or specialist ice bath. These are sturdy and are made from materials that retain the cold temperatures much better than a bathtub. These are the more expensive option, suited to those who are looking to get into a more regular ice bath routine. As they are tubs specially for ice baths, they are manufactured to be deeper than a normal bathtub, so you can fully submerge yourself for a much more effective ice bath experience. However, a downside to permanent ice baths is that they can’t be easily stored and will require storage space, as they aren’t collapsible.

 

Collapsible/Inflatable Ice Baths

Cheaper than permanent ice baths, collapsible/inflatable ice baths can be put up and taken down as and when you wish, making them suitable for everyone no matter how regularly they are used. Made from materials that are excellent insulators to keep the water cold in all conditions, these ice baths can also be easily stored away when out of use and they take up hardly any space. When fully constructed, the baths are deep enough that users can submerge themselves to whatever level they wish. Only requiring a wet room or outdoor space for use, collapsible/inflatable ice baths are the best option for the majority of people.

Our fully portable ACESO ice bath is the perfect collapsible/inflatable structure that can be used anywhere. The triple-layered construction offers high performance thermal efficiency to keep your water at the right temperature. This ice bath is easy to assemble; all you need to do is insert the six support poles into the external layer inflate the outer ring and you’re ready to go. The ice bath comes equipped with a thermal lid, all-weather cover, carry bag, pump, and repair kit to ensure you are fully kitted out for the ultimate ice bath experience.

HOW TO KEEP YOUR ICE BATH CLEAN?
Making sure your ice bath is well maintained is important to for both the ice bath user and the ice bath itself. Here we’ll look at how to keep your ice bath water clean, and the steps you can take to keep your new ice bath in prime condition to maximise its longevity.

Change the water
It is recommended that you typically change the water in your ice bath every four weeks so that the water remains fresh and no bacteria forms inside the bathtub. Keeping the water clean will prevent you from having to change it more regularly than you need to. If you’re looking to pack your bath away after use, you will have to empty the bath and refill it the next time you want to use it.

Shower before your ice bath
If you want to ensure no dirt, debris, or bacteria from body perspiration finds its way into the tub, ensure you rinse yourself in a shower before you enter your ice bath. This will keep the ice-bath and the water clean for longer and means you won’t have to change the water as regularly, giving you a more enjoyable and more hygienic ice bath experience, with less maintenance.

Wear shoes before you ice bath
When you are walking towards your ice bath for use, wearing shoes will prevent getting any dirt or mud on the bottom of your feet that could be transferred to the water once you get in. Once at the ice bath you can then remove your shoes and leave them by the bath ready for when you get out.

Ice bath tapIce bath tap

Cover your ice bath
Whether your ice bath is indoors or outdoors, ensuring you leave a cover over your bath when you’re not using it will prevent anything like insects, leaves, dust, and rainwater getting into your tub. This will again prevent you from having to change the water more than you need to and will keep the ice bath hygienic ready for your next dip.

Clean the ice bath
Whenever you change the water in your ice bath, it is recommended that you give the tub a quick rinse and clean. Also, every two to three months you should then give the interior and exterior of the ice bath a deep clean. This is to maintain the quality of the ice bath and ensure you have the cleanest water possible for every use.
 Now you have read our complete ice bath guide why not check out our ACESO Portable Ice Bath which has a 370L capacity for full body immersion.

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