How Long Should You Stay In An Ice Bath? Experts Weigh In


It’s tough enough to watch someone step into an ice bath on TikTok, where the frosty fitness trend has more than two billion views, so if you decide to give it a go IRL, you’ll definitely want to know how to long to stay in that freezing water in order to reap all the benefits. Every second feels longer when you’re in a cold plunge, after all.

An ice bath is a well-known recovery method that involves immersing your body in cold water, usually with ice cubes or ice packs added to lower the temperature even more, says Michael Hamlin, NSCA, CSCS, a personal trainer and founder of Everflex Fitness. “Ice baths gained popularity with social media spreading awareness of the benefits and famous practitioners like Wim Hof promoting its practice and teaching people how to implement ice baths in their lives,” adds Laura Heimann, PT, a physical therapist, yoga instructor, and founder of LYT Yoga.

Typically, the water temperature ranges from 50 to 59 degrees Fareinheit, Hamlin tells Bustle, which is pretty darn chilly — but this temp can really do a body good. From reducing inflammation to boosting your mental acuity, here are all the benefits of ice baths, as well as everything you need to know before giving the practice a try (if you dare).

The Benefits Of Ice Baths

For many folks, plunging into ice is totally worth it. (No, really.) Cold water constricts your blood vessels, which in turn helps decrease inflammation and pain, Hamlin says. This is particularly beneficial if you’re an athlete or avid exerciser who tends to have achy knees, sore muscles, or injuries. To speed up your recovery process and nip soreness in the bud, Heimann suggests popping into an ice bath right after your workout as a way to reduce your body’s inflammatory response.

An ice bath can also help you feel more, well, alive. “Immersing your body in cold water causes a physiological response that boosts your energy levels and increases your focus and alertness,” Hamlin says. Sit in cold water and your neurotransmitters noradrenaline and norepinephrine could spike up to 530%, he says, which is why you feel so buzzy and awake post-plunge.

One the flip side, it can also be an oddly calming experience to sit in such frigid temperatures. “Cold exposure via an ice bath restricts the blood vessels controlled by the vagus nerve, which serves to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, sending a signal to slow your heart rate and lower blood pressure,” Heimann says. “This relaxation response is excellent for reducing anxiety and promoting calmness.”

One of the biggest draws of the practice, however, is challenging yourself to withstand the cold. “When we step out of our comfort zone, it helps to build resilience and self-discipline, which are essential for improving our mental health,” says Courtney Hubscher, MS, LMHC, NCC, a therapist with GroundWork Counseling. The ability to stay calm while in a literal ice bath is a learned skill you can apply to other areas of your life, she tells Bustle, like when coping with anxiety and stress.

How To Do An Ice Bath

To try an ice bath, fill your tub or a large container with cold water and ice cubes. Aim for a temp between 50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit, Hamlin says. (If you don’t have a tub or the time to fill one up, you can always stand in a cold shower instead for a similar effect.)

Depending on how you feel, you can step in and let your legs acclimate to the water before fully immersing your body, Heimann says, or you can quickly sink right on in to get it over with.

Once your body is submerged, take deep breaths and try to stay calm. “Focus on the water, not the feeling you have telling you to get out,” Hamlin says. “This is where mental resiliency comes in — your ability to focus on one thing and not get pulled into your body’s discomfort makes plunging so much easier.”

How Long To Stay In An Ice Bath

If you’re new to the practice, aim to spend one to two minutes in the ice to start. “You want to know how your body will handle this temperature before you push it too hard,” Hamlin says, “so it makes sense to go super slow with something like this.” Get in, soak for about 60 seconds, then get out.

The ideal amount of time to stay in an ice bath will vary depending on your goals, health, and tolerance to cold. Generally, it’s recommended stay in longer each time until your ice baths last between three and 10 minutes, Hamlin says. At the very most, you can stay in for up to 15 minutes, but pay attention to your body’s signs of discomfort, like excessive shivering, numbness, or tingling sensations.

It’s one thing to shiver as you experience the initial shock of cold water, but if you’re positively freezing, numb, or tingly, get out right away. It is possible to stay in an ice bath too long, especially if you’re trying to complete a challenge or win a bet. Excessive iciness could lead to discomfort, injury, or even hypothermia, Hamlin says, and that completely defeats the purpose.

Your health also factors in, so always check with your doctor before giving this a try. “Some people say that you want to feel an adrenaline rush, but this can also be risky depending on your medical background,” Hamlin says. “If you’re a beginner, shoot for a shorter time period with a warmer temperature to see how your body reacts. If it manages the cold then you can slowly build up to longer times and colder temperatures.”

How Often To Do Ice Baths

You can take an ice bath as part of a weekly wellness ritual, Heimann says, or as-needed. It might feel right to pop into a cold tub when you need to boost your mood, Hamlin says, or as a way to deal with a twinging injury, like knee pain or a sore back. It’s all about finding what works for you. “There is no exact amount of baths that we should be doing,” he says. “If you feel like you need the boost, go for a quick plunge.” You might just find that it’s your new favorite way to chill.

Studies referenced:

Allan, R. (2022). Cold for centuries: a brief history of cryotherapies to improve health, injury and post-exercise recovery. Eur J Appl Physiol. doi: 10.1007/s00421-022-04915-5.

Ballester, JM. (1999). Hypothermia: an easy-to-miss, dangerous disorder in winter weather. Geriatrics. PMID: 10024873.

Breit, S. (2018). Vagus Nerve as Modulator of the Brain-Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders. Front Psychiatry. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00044.

Duong, H. (2022). Hypothermia. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan–.

Dupuy, O. (2018). An Evidence-Based Approach for Choosing Post-exercise Recovery Techniques to Reduce Markers of Muscle Damage, Soreness, Fatigue, and Inflammation: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis. Front Physiol. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2018.00403.

Esperland, D. (2022). Health effects of voluntary exposure to cold water – a continuing subject of debate. Int J Circumpolar Health. doi: 10.1080/22423982.2022.2111789.

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Mooventhan, A. (2014). Scientific evidence-based effects of hydrotherapy on various systems of the body. N Am J Med Sci. doi: 10.4103/1947-2714.132935.

Peake, JM. (2020). The Effects of Cold Water Immersion and Active Recovery on Molecular Factors That Regulate Growth and Remodeling of Skeletal Muscle After Resistance Exercise. Front Physiol. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2020.00737.

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Shevchuk, NA. (2008). Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression. Med Hypotheses. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2007.04.052.

Sources:

Michael Hamlin, NSCA, CSCS, personal trainer, founder of Everflex Fitness

Laura Heimann, PT, physical therapist, yoga instructor, founder of LYT Yoga

Courtney Hubscher, MS, LMHC, NCC, therapist with GroundWork Counseling

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