Introduction to Cold Plunges:
Cold baths, or cold plunges, have gained popularity due to their remarkable benefits for recovery, mental health, and fat burning. This invigorating practice is refreshing (for some strong souls!), but also stimulates the body’s natural healing processes.
Many of our patients swim in the Bay without wetsuits and others regularly utilize cold baths, plunges, and showers and rave about the effects, but it took a couple of patients who are so different from one another (shout out to Tray and Patti!) to push me to “just try it.” I finally dug into the research and started playing with it. To be totally honest, my brother has been using a cold plunge in NYC for about ten years, but we don’t listen to those closest to us (I love you, bro). It took a chorus to overcome my lifelong hatred of cold water. And a ton of unambiguous research.
Benefits of Cold Baths:
1. Enhanced Recovery: Cold baths are known to reduce inflammation, muscle soreness, and promote faster recovery after intense physical activity or injuries. The cold temperature constricts blood vessels, which helps to flush out metabolic waste and decrease swelling. This is why I have seen them used at the Olympic Training Center and at USATF meets to help athletes recover faster since my earliest rotations there.
2. Improved Mental Health: Cold baths can boost mood, alleviate symptoms of depression, and reduce anxiety. The shock of cold water triggers the release of endorphins and activates the sympathetic nervous system, leading to a natural mood uplift and increased mental resilience.
3. Fat Burning: Exposing your body to cold temperatures can activate brown fat, a type of fat that helps burn calories to generate heat. Cold baths can enhance metabolic rate, contributing to weight loss and improved body composition. Shivering after is a plus for this; do not jump back into a hot tub after your cold plunge if you’re going for this.
Getting Started with Cold Baths:
1. Start with Cold Showers: Begin by incorporating cold showers into your daily routine. Gradually decrease the water temperature over time to allow your body to adapt to the cold sensation.
2. Create a Cold Plunge: If you have space and resources, consider setting up a dedicated cold plunge. It can be as simple as using a large container or a bathtub filled with cold water and ice. Ensure the water temperature is between 50-60°F (10-15°C).
3. Gradually Increase Exposure: Begin with short durations of immersion, such as 1-2 minutes, and gradually increase the time as you become more comfortable. Remember to focus on deep breathing and relaxation techniques to manage any initial discomfort. Or you can just cuss and yelp like my wife does. Those outbursts actually cause deeper breathing.
4. Prioritize Safety: Always listen to your body and avoid prolonged exposure or extreme temperatures that may lead to hypothermia or other adverse effects. If you have any underlying medical conditions, consult with your healthcare provider before starting cold baths.
Tips from my Personal Process:
The hardest part for me is getting in, so my plunge is around 60-65 degrees and I stay in it for 13 minutes all at once instead of subjecting myself to multiple 3-minute plunges. I could add some ice if I wanted to bring the temperature down once I’m in, but I’m not there yet. My current routine is in the target range and, even if it’s 65, it’s a big enough shock to my system that I feel lots of benefit. I’m still a beginner.
Finding the right song was a game changer for me. Again, thanks to Patti for turning me on to this fantastic song which is easy to breathe to and zone out. My second favorite song for the cold is this one. My third favorite is like a mini party. Sometimes escapism is just worth it.
My Plunge Pool:
I use this cold plunge (use code ANDREW38594 to get 20% off) because it comes with a top and is insulated so I don’t need to drain and refill it very often. Living in California, even after this rainy season, makes me vigilant about my water use.
Excellent Deep (Info) Dive:
To deep dive into the topic check out Andrew Huberman’s in-depth coverage of this topic.