How Long to Sit in an Ice Bath & Do You Need It?
Table of Contents
- Ice Bath & Post-Workout Recovery: Does It Work?
- How Long to Sit in an Ice Bath for?
- Potential Benefits of Sitting in an Ice Bath
- Dos and Don’ts After an Ice Bath
- So, Do You Need to Sit in an Ice Bath?
- Wrapping Up
You’ve probably heard about ice baths or cold water immersion (CWI) before or seen the many videos of people reluctantly using them on social media, but do you know how long to sit in an ice bath for — or whether it even works?
The popular ice bath trend is commonly used by athletes, regular gym go-ers, and, well, just about anyone. But are they effective? We dig into what the research says about whether cold water immersion is worth your time and bravery.
Ice Bath & Post-Workout Recovery: Does It Work?
Plunging into freezing water has become popular with professional athletes, bodybuilders and the everyday exerciser as a method for muscle recovery post-workout and to improve energy levels. But here’s what the research says.
It’s crucial to separate the facts from the myths. Dunking yourself in freezing water might not seem inviting, but it could soothe next-day muscle pain known as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). 
However, the research is limited. That’s not to say there aren’t potential benefits, but the existing research and reviews suggest the perceived benefits are inflated. The Journal of Physiology states it’s no more beneficial than active recovery, which is just as good for the body after a tough session. 
In short, more research is needed either way, and the European Journal of Sports Science concludes the results are questionable, as they saw no difference in outcome among the study groups. 
How Long to Sit in an Ice Bath for?
If you’re wondering how long to do ice baths, many studies, such as those included in this Cochrane Review, focused on durations of 10-15 minutes for muscle recovery after intensive exercise. 
For how long you choose to immerse yourself greatly depends on your experience with them.
How Long to Sit in an Ice Bath for the First Time?
How long should you soak in an ice bath as a first-timer? There’s no exact number, but beginners should aim for no more than five minutes, building up to 15 minutes total. More than that increases your risk of hypothermia and stroke.  
Potential Benefits of Sitting in an Ice Bath
If you want to try cold water immersion, here are some potential benefits you might notice!
Reduces Muscle Soreness and Inflammation
Some evidence has shown that CWI could reduce DOMS and reduce inflammation associated with exercise, but the quality of that research is low.  Initial blood vessel constriction and dilation again post-exposure could regulate the flow of bodily fluids, and increased blood flow to cells helps deliver oxygen and nutrients more efficiently.
Moreover, athletes report that cold water feels good on tight and aching muscles immediately after a workout.
Boosts Energy And Metabolism
Ice baths — particularly full-body immersion — could boost energy and improve sleep, some research suggests. 
Dr. John Rusin claims cold exposure speeds up the rate at which the body burns blood glucose to warm the body, storing unused glucose in the muscles as glycogen and aiding sports performance. He also states that cold thermogenesis uses fat metabolism to keep you warm during cold exposure by recruiting more of your brown adipose tissue — metabolically active fat. 
In short, he claims cold exposure might improve glucose metabolism, but again, the evidence is limited. It is important to note that many studies focus on elite athletes, so it is unclear whether the same benefits apply to the average gym-goer.
Some people believe that reducing your core temperature after endurance training and training in warmer climates could improve recovery and fatigue in the early recovery phase. This belief is also supported by a review article published in Sports Medicine.  However, the research here is still limited.
Acts as Meditation
Wim Hoff famously uses cold water therapy to regulate breathing.  Training yourself to control your breath has meditative effects, taking the body from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system, which may help reduce cortisol and anxiety.
Could Support Exercise Gains
For some, ice may undermine your workout. One study found that CWI can negatively affect hypertrophy (the muscle-building process) but can be used safely after aerobic and endurance training. 
Because cold water constricts blood vessels and limits blood flow, it might not be suitable for anyone at risk of stroke. Ensure the temperature isn’t below 12-15 degrees Celsius (50-60 degrees Fahrenheit).
Here’s when to avoid an ice bath:
- If you have high or low blood pressure or cardiovascular disease
- If you have any diagnosed pre-existing medical conditions
- If you have type I or type II diabetes
- If you suffer from asthma
- During pregnancy
Dos and Don’ts After an Ice Bath
Here are some do’s and don’ts to follow before you try it.
- Start with a cold shower or shallow bath, building up to colder temperatures.
- Start with a few minutes before building up to extended stints.
- Try different variations, including baths, showers, outdoor swimming, and ice buckets — see what works best for you.
- Ease yourself into warmth post-exposure, including with a warm drink and dry clothes.
- Keep moving.
- Don’t jump straight into extremely cold water, as this could put your body into shock.
- Don’t expose yourself for extended periods.
- Don’t jump into a hot shower immediately after. You can warm yourself with a towel, warm drinks, or at least a warm shower if you are struggling to warm up.
So, Do You Need to Sit in an Ice Bath?
If your goal is building muscle, then consider passing up a recovery bath in favor of active recovery. As we mentioned, even if you are an endurance athlete, some evidence suggests ice baths are no more effective than a regular cool-down routine, which is more accessible to most people, thus leaving it up to personal preference.
If you do choose to use one, follow our dos and don’ts above to keep yourself safe.
- Studies are limited and more research needs to be done on the subject.
- Some limited studies show an ice bath could speed up recovery, regulate sleep and stress, and improve muscle soreness.
- Keep ice baths to under 15 minutes and 12-15 degrees Celcius/50-60 degrees Fahrenheit.
- The current wealth of research shows studies are limited, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t perceived benefits.
- Ice baths could benefit people who partake in aerobic and endurance exercise.
- Build up slowly, and don’t rush the process.
- If you experience any negative side effects of ice bath therapy, stop immediately and consult a qualified medical physician.
If using an ice bathtub isn’t for you, find out if you should use a sauna before or after your workout or at all and how the heat could help you.