Why I'm Starting to Cold Plunge & The Benefits of Cold Water Therapy
Updated: Sep 26
I hate cold water and I hate being cold. To put it into perspective, when we lived in San Diego for three years, there were only 2 times when I actually got in the Pacific Ocean. Otherwise, it never went past my ankles. When I lived in Austin and we'd swim in Barton Springs, getting in was misery. Rather than go for the immediate cold water plunge, I'd take forever...tip toeing my way into the 68-70 degree spring-fed pool, making it much worse. But, despite hating the entry, I always felt invigorated and refreshed afterwards. I never regretted it.
Fast forward to present time, I've been hearing and reading more and more about the holistic health benefits of cold water immersion... even how the benefits of putting cold water on your face in the mornings helps with puffiness and dark circles. Forever I've known athletes take ice baths, I have friends in ATX who swear by their dips in Barton Springs, know that Cryotherapy is excellent and for injuries, of course, ice is the first thing to do. Now, at least from my vantage point, cold plunging/cold water immersion is now commonplace for anyone looking to reduce inflammation, recovery quickly, feel great and experience overall longevity.
My Cold Plunge Experience and the Benefits
The reality is, I'm not getting younger. At 46 I use my body for the work that I love, I feel really great now, I want to keep feeling great and I want to be able to skip, jump, burpee, climb, squat, hike, ride and play with my family and friends for 50+ more years. Also, I need to be uncomfortable and challenged mentally, and because I hate cold water so much, I knew cold plunging would be good mental toughness exercise too. Plus! It's three to five minutes tops. If I can endure burpees for one minute and do all of the hard things we do in iGnite, I can sit in cold water for three! So, I bought an inexpensive and inflatable Ice Pod, recently started my cold plunge experiment and here is what I found:
It's not NEAR as terrible as I anticipated and as always, the anticipation and the getting in is the worst of it all. Once I get in and get settled, it's just a matter of breathing and focus. It actually reminds me of my Bikram Yoga days--90 minutes of holding yoga poses in the intense heat and humidity--with no talking, no laughing, and all stillness beyond getting in and out of the poses. It was really terrible, but the discipline sharpened my mind and taught me how to control my breathing and thoughts during intense and stressful times--which was why I loved it.
But, does cold plunging really help with recovery, soreness and energy? YES! While I haven't been immersing for very long, I am amazed how it has helped with all three! After leading our LIVE At Home iGnite workouts that made me immediately sore, the cold water therapy reduced my soreness and completely eliminated DOMS- delayed onset muscle soreness. This is the soreness we feel on the second day after a workout. Additionally, I plunge when I feel the mid-afternoon slog. The result: three to five minutes in the cold water is a long-lasting shot of espresso for the body, mind, and spirit and honestly, I love it (as do my kiddos!) and my body is starting to crave it.
While not every experience is the same, the potential benefits of cold water therapy are:
Cold water exposure may trigger the release of endorphins, which are natural mood-boosting hormones. Additionally, the shock of the cold water can help reduce stress and anxiety by distracting the mind from daily worries.
Enhanced Immune System
Some research suggests that regular cold exposure may strengthen the immune system by increasing the production of white blood cells. This could potentially make you more resistant to illnesses.
Improved Hair and Skin
Cold water can tighten the pores on your skin, which may lead to improved skin tone and reduced acne. It can also make your hair shinier and more resilient.
Weight Loss and Metabolism
Cold exposure may stimulate brown fat, a type of fat that burns calories to generate heat. This can potentially lead to increased calorie expenditure and aid in weight loss efforts.
Cold water immersion can constrict blood vessels (vasoconstriction) temporarily, which may help improve circulation when you warm up afterward (vasodilation). This can potentially aid in better blood flow and overall cardiovascular health.
Some people find that cold plunges before bedtime can promote better sleep by lowering their core body temperature. This can mimic the natural drop in body temperature that occurs during the sleep cycle.
Reduced Muscle Soreness
Cold plunges are commonly used by athletes and fitness enthusiasts to reduce post-exercise muscle soreness and inflammation. The cold water may help decrease muscle swelling and pain.
Cold therapy can accelerate the recovery process after intense workouts or physical activities. It helps to remove lactic acid and other waste products from muscles, which can reduce muscle fatigue and promote faster recovery.
Regular exposure to cold water can help build mental resilience and discipline. It requires a degree of mental toughness to willingly immerse oneself in cold water, and this can translate to greater mental fortitude in other aspects of life.
Increased Energy and Alertness
Many people report feeling more energized and alert after a cold plunge. Cold water immersion can stimulate the release of adrenaline and other hormones, which can lead to increased alertness and improved mood.
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Cold Plunge Guidelines
The duration of a cold plunge can vary depending on your tolerance, experience level, and personal preferences. Generally, cold plunges can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. Ultimately, the ideal duration for your cold plunge will depend on you. It's always important to prioritize safety and comfort and to adjust the duration as needed. If you have underlying health conditions or concerns, it's always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating cold plunges into your routine. Here are some guidelines to help you determine how long you should cold plunge:
1. Start Gradually
If you're new to cold plunges, it's essential to start slowly. Begin with short exposures to cold water and gradually increase the duration as you become more accustomed to the cold.
2. Listen to Your Body
Pay attention to how your body responds during the cold plunge. While you will start to shiver, if you start to shiver uncontrollably, feel numbness or pain, or experience any other signs of extreme discomfort, exit the cold water immediately.
3. Build Up Tolerance
Over time, as your body adapts to the cold, you can extend the duration of your cold plunges. Some people aim for 2-5 minutes or longer, but this should be a gradual progression based on your comfort level.
4. Consider Your Goals
The duration of your cold plunge may also depend on your specific goals. If you're primarily interested in the mental and alertness benefits, a shorter plunge may suffice. If you're targeting recovery and muscle soreness, a longer plunge might be more beneficial.
5. Temperature Matters
The temperature of the water can significantly affect your tolerance. Extremely cold water (near freezing) will be more challenging to tolerate for extended periods compared to slightly cooler water.
6. Monitor Core Temperature
Be cautious not to lower your core body temperature excessively. If you start to feel too cold, it's crucial to warm up gradually. Shivering is a sign that your body is trying to generate heat, so pay attention to it.
7. Warm Up and Cool Down
Before and after your cold plunge, engage in a warm-up and cool-down routine. Exercises, like squats or brisk walking, can help raise your body temperature before entering the cold water and gradually bring it back up afterward.
8. Stay Hydrated
Before and after your cold plunge, engage in a warm-up and cool-down routine. Gentle exercises, like jumping jacks or brisk walking, can help raise your body temperature before entering the cold water and gradually bring it back up afterward.
9. Know When to Stop
If at any point during your cold plunge you feel lightheaded, dizzy, or experience any concerning symptoms, exit the water immediately and warm up.
Cold plunge temperature can vary anywhere from 32 degrees to 60 degrees.
For best results, do not do cold plunge within the first post exercise hour.
Cold plunging has been used for centuries in various cultures for its perceived health benefits.
You do not have to invest in a portable pod. You will experience great benefits by filling up your bathtub with cold water and immersing yourself in it.