Are Ice Baths Good for Swimmers? The Chilling Truth | OpenWaterHQ (2023)

Are your muscles extremely sore after an intense training session? You may have heard about using ice baths for muscle recovery. Submerging yourself in freezing cold water sounds like torture, so naturally you must be wondering if ice baths are beneficial for swimmers? This is a hotly debated topic in the swimming world.

Are Ice Baths Good for Swimmers? The Chilling Truth | OpenWaterHQ (1)

Yes, ice baths can be beneficial for swimmers. They can aid in recovery by reducing inflammation and facilitating the removal of waste from muscle tissues. Ice baths may also improve physical performance and offer psychological benefits like increased resilience and stress relief. However, there has been some research that calls its effectiveness into question.

In this article, we’ll dive into the pros and cons of ice baths for swimmers and help you decide if they are a valuable addition to your recovery routine.

Table of Contents

Ice Baths for Swimmers

As a swimmer, you might have wondered about the benefits of ice baths for muscle inflammation and recovery. Many swimmers swear by this technique, reducing muscle pain and damage after intense training sessions or competitions.

Pioneers of this technique have reported decreased muscle inflammation, faster recovery time, and improved energy levels.

Mike Tipton, a professor and expert on the human body’s response to extreme environments, suggests that cold water swimmers have less muscle damage after repeated exposure to freezing water. Cool, but how exactly does the cold help your muscles recover?

Understanding the Science Behind Ice Baths

It is believed that by immersing yourself in cold water, your body experiences a number of physiological effects that can help in recovery.

(Video) All the Ways Ice Baths Affect the Body | WIRED

The main purported benefit of ice baths comes from the cooling effect they have on your muscles. This cooling action causes blood vessels to constrict, which helps reduce inflammation and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Additionally, once you leave the ice bath and your body starts to warm up, the blood vessels dilate, increasing blood flow to the muscles and promoting faster recovery.

However, it’s worth noting that recent studies have shown that ice baths might have some negative effects on muscle development.

While the pain relief and rapid muscle recovery provided by ice baths are valuable, they may prevent proper muscle growth and adaptation in the long run.

Ice Baths vs. Cold Showers

While ice baths might be more extreme than a cold shower, both forms of cold water therapy offer similar benefits to your body. However, there are key differences to consider when deciding which method is best for your recovery routine.

  • Intensity: Ice baths involve full-body immersion in water with a temperature close to freezing. This extreme cold is more intense than a cold shower, making it unsuited for beginners or those sensitive to cold temperatures.
  • Accessibility: While cold showers can be taken anytime, anywhere with access to running water, ice baths require a large container, water, and ice. This can make ice baths more challenging to organize and may not be practical in all situations.
  • Time: Ice baths tend to be more time-consuming than cold showers, as the water needs to be chilled and prepared beforehand. However, a cold shower can be taken with minimal preparation.

Regardless of whether you choose ice baths or cold showers, don’t overdo it and listen to your body. Start slowly, and gradually increase the time and intensity of your cold therapy sessions to avoid potential risks or injuries.

Benefits of Ice Baths

Reducing Inflammation and Pain

Ice baths can reduce inflammation and pain in your body after a workout or a swim.

By immersing yourself in cold water, you are promoting the constriction of your blood vessels, which slows down blood flow and thereby reduces swelling and inflammation in your muscles.

The cold temperatures also numb nerve endings, providing you with pain relief and making you feel better after a hard workout.

Furthermore, cold water therapy may help reduce cortisol levels in your body, which is a hormone released in response to stress that can contribute to inflammation and pain.

(Video) Joe Rogan Talks Us Through the Benefits of the Cold Plunge

Enhancing Muscle Recovery

One of the main reasons swimmers and athletes use ice baths is to speed up muscle recovery after intense exercise.

An ice bath reduces muscle soreness caused by inflammation and allows for quicker post-exercise recovery.

This process, also known as hydrostatic pressure, works by pushing against your body’s muscles and tissues, which in turn helps to flush out waste products and bring essential nutrients and oxygen to your muscles.

By doing this, you’re allowing your body to heal and recover faster, enabling you to get back to your training sooner and with less muscle soreness.

Improving Mental Health

Not only do ice baths have physical benefits, but they can also positively impact your mental health.

Immersing yourself in cold water can stimulate the production of hormones and neurotransmitters like dopamine and noradrenaline, which are known to influence mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

In addition, cold water therapy can activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the relaxation and recovery processes in your body.

Moreover, as you take an ice bath, your body needs to adjust to the cold temperature, and this process requires you to focus on your breathing. Deep and controlled breathing can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve attention, and enhance overall mental well-being.

Practical Tips for Ice Baths

Duration and Frequency

When it comes to ice baths, finding the right balance of duration and frequency is essential. Aim to submerge yourself in an ice bath for 10 to 15 minutes after intense workouts or competitions.

But remember, everyone’s tolerance to cold is different, so start with shorter sessions and gradually increase the duration as you build your tolerance.

(Video) Deliberate Cold Exposure — How to Do it RIGHT with Dr. Andrew Huberman | The Proof Podcast EP 205

It’s also important not to overdo it—limit your ice baths to two or three times per week to avoid diminishing returns or negative effects on muscle development.

Safety Measures to Take

Safety should be your top priority when using ice baths for recovery. To prevent hypothermia or injury, wear gloves and avoid immersing your head.

Also, make sure you have something to help you pass the time, like a book or social media, so you’re not tempted to rush the process.

When preparing an ice bath at home, use your bathtub or a portable ice tub. Fill it about halfway with water, then add ice cubes with a 3:1 water-to-ice ratio.

You can measure the temperature or wait a few minutes for the water to cool. Slowly get into the water until it reaches neck level, then set a timer to ensure you don’t exceed the recommended duration.

Alternative Cold Water Immersion Techniques

If ice baths aren’t your cup of tea or you’re looking for variety, consider other cold water immersion techniques such as swimming in cold lakes, rivers, or even the ocean.

These natural bodies of water can offer similar benefits but may be less intense than an ice bath. However, you should always have a swim buddy and wear a personal flotation device just in case.

Another alternative is cryotherapy, which involves stepping into a cryotherapy chamber for a shorter duration (usually 2-3 minutes) to achieve similar muscle recovery benefits.

While cryotherapy can be more effective and requires less time, it may also be more expensive and less accessible.

No matter which cold water immersion technique you choose, always prioritize safety and listen to your body.

(Video) Why NOT Showering With Cold Water is KILLING Your Gains!

Potential Risks and Limitations

Understanding the Possible Drawbacks

Before you get started with ice baths, be aware of the potential risks and limitations involved in this practice. For instance, some studies suggest that cold water immersion may not always be beneficial and can even have potentially harmful effects.

For instance, ice baths are known to constrict blood vessels, which can lead to reduced oxygen flow to your muscles after an intense workout or swimming session. This decreased oxygen availability may limit your body’s ability to repair and recover.

Furthermore, ice bathing may not always provide the desired outcome. In some cases, people experience a placebo effect, giving them the impression that taking a cold shower after exercise is helpful, whereas it’s not always scientifically supported.

Long-Term Effects of Ice Baths

Cold temperatures can impact your central nervous system, and too much exposure to ice baths may predispose you to high blood pressure.

Moreover, some research indicates that ice baths may reduce the efficacy of strength training sessions or potentially interfere with muscle growth.

Lastly, using ice baths too frequently or for an extended period may negatively affect your sleep quality. You deserve a good night’s sleep after all those intensive workouts, and your body needs adequate rest to maximize your recovery.

Prioritizing a balance between ice baths and other recovery techniques can help keep your regimen in check and optimize your overall well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions

When should a swimmer take an ice bath?

A swimmer should take an ice bath after intense training sessions or competitions to accelerate recovery. It helps in reducing inflammation and muscle soreness, facilitating a quicker return to peak performance levels.

What are the benefits of ice baths for swimmers?

The benefits of ice baths for swimmers include reduced muscle inflammation and swelling, expedited removal of waste products from muscle tissues, improved physical performance due to faster recovery, and psychological benefits like increased mental toughness and stress relief.

Should I take an ice bath before a swim meet?

It’s typically not recommended to take an ice bath immediately before a swim meet. While ice baths can aid recovery from previous exertion, they can potentially cause temporary stiffness and reduced muscle power, which might impact the performance during the meet.

(Video) The Healing Madness of Sea Swimming by Dr. Mark Harper

How long should you stay submerged in an ice bath?

The recommended duration for staying submerged in an ice bath is typically between 10 to 15 minutes. Longer immersion could lead to overcooling, which might not be beneficial and could potentially be harmful. As always, it’s important to listen to your body and adjust based on personal comfort and response.



Do ice baths help with swimming? ›

Thus, it is still unclear whether ice baths even help with muscle recovery. However, other studies have concluded otherwise, so in the case of pain relief and recovery, the truth is still inconclusive. Because of this, swimmers need to decide what their goal is when it comes to taking an ice bath.

When should swimmers take ice baths? ›

Ice baths- Ice baths are used after a long period of exercise and have great benefits to the body. They help speed up recovery, alleviate muscle pain, stiffness, and soreness, and even repairs muscles. If you can, put a bucket of ice in your bathtub, run a cold bath, and lay in there for five to ten minutes.

Is it scientifically proven that ice baths are good? ›

The Science of Ice Baths: Physical Benefits

So, according to science, what are the concrete benefits of ice baths? Cold-water therapy, and its close cousin cold-water swimming, have demonstrated encouraging results in various studies as ways to improve wellbeing, both physical and mental.

How long should you stay submerged in an ice bath? ›

The general consensus from the literature is that the ideal length of an ice bath is 11-15 minutes. This maximizes the cryotherapy benefits of cold water immersion without inducing excessive stress or putting tissues at risk of frostbite or the body at risk of hypothermia.

Who should not do ice baths? ›

Check with your doctor beforehand, as ice baths can have negative and potentially dangerous effects on people who have certain medical conditions: Heart disease. High blood pressure. Diabetes.

Should you be fully submerged in an ice bath? ›

Submerging your whole body as you get into the ice bath will help you get the most out of your experience. The total-body dip exposes the whole body, thyroid and back of the neck to the cold, which elicits a more dramatic maximal hormonal response.

What not to do after an ice bath? ›

Avoid taking a shower right after an ice bath. It is better to let the body warm up on its own instead of shocking it with hot water. If after several minutes you cannot seem to get warm on your own, take a warm shower to raise your internal body temperature.

What not to do in an ice bath? ›

  1. Don't: Ice Bath Before Your Workout. The numbing can block signals that tell you to back off, increasing your risk for injury.
  2. Don't: Do Not Overdo It By Staying In Too Long. We recommend using your COLDTUB™ for around 5-10 minutes. ...
  3. Don't: Quit After One Dip. ...
  4. Don't: Take A Warm Shower Immediately After.
Oct 8, 2021

What is the best recovery drink after swimming? ›

You don't need commercial recovery drinks Page 2 Opt for a milk drink: Milk, flavoured milk and milk shakes are near-perfect recovery drinks. Research shows that all types of milk after training speed up fuel recovery, encourage muscle gain and even reduce muscle soreness after training.

What do doctors say about ice baths? ›

Ice baths may reduce inflammation, boost your mood, or relieve pain after a workout. There's no official recommendation for how to take an ice bath. But people usually spend 5 to 10 minutes in 50 to 59°F water. The cold-water plunges pose a risk to people with certain conditions.

Does bacteria grow in ice baths? ›

Instead, a food ice bath is a great and effective way to cool food quickly and evenly while preventing bacteria from growing and multiplying.

What hormone is released during ice baths? ›

Czech researchers found that cold water plunging can increase blood concentrations of dopamine — another so-called happy hormone made in the brain — by 250%.

Should you have hot shower after ice bath? ›

Don't take a warm bath or shower soon after your cold session. Contrast therapy has its benefits, but it's better to allow your body to raise its temperature naturally and gradually. Some great ways to warm up after an ice bath are: Stretch out in the sun.

Should you shower after a cold plunge? ›

Don't: Take a warm bath or shower as soon as possible after your cold session, and don't rely solely on ice baths for recuperation. Contrast therapy has its advantages, but it is preferable to let your body increase its temperature gradually and naturally rather than using contrast therapy.

What happens if you exceed 15 minutes in an ice bath? ›

“It is important to not stay in the ice bath for more than 15 minutes due to the risk of hypothermia and frostbite,” she warns, “If you notice that your skin is changing colors, then it is important to get out.”

What is the bad side of ice baths? ›

Summary. The three dangers associated with ice baths and cold plunging are: drowning, hypothermia, & heart attack. To minimize these risks follow these safety protocols: 1) plunge sober & supervise children, 2) go feet first, 3) breathe, and 4) allow time to rewarm.

What is the shock after an ice bath? ›

Cold shock response is a series of neurogenic cardio-respiratory responses caused by sudden immersion in cold water. In cold water immersions, such as by falling through thin ice, cold shock response is perhaps the most common cause of death.

Can I cold plunge everyday? ›

Can You Cold Plunge Daily? Yes, you can plunge daily, but D'Agostino suggests creating a routine beginning with three days per week for the first few weeks so you can take note of how your body feels as you introduce a new stimulus. “The latest research shows that 11 minutes a week of being fully submerged is ideal.

Is cold water immersion better than ice bath? ›

Ice Baths Are Better than Cold Showers for Workout Recovery

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is significantly improved after a workout when cold water immersion is used post-workout. A recent meta-analysis found that the most effective protocol is 11-15 degrees C (50-60 degrees F) for 11-15 minutes.

How should you breathe in an ice bath? ›

“Simply breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth,” he says. “Try not to have a pause on the inhale or exhale.” He advises 30 repetitions of this, and then relaxing and breathing normally, to prepare your body and mind for the cold water.

What temperature should your body be in an ice bath? ›

Also called cold water immersion (CWI) or cryotherapy, the practice of taking a 10 to 15 minute dip in very cold water (50-59°F) after an intense exercise session or competition is believed to help reduce muscle pain and soreness.

Should you shiver after ice bath? ›

This releases the cold peripheral blood back to your heart too quickly, mixing with warm blood and creating a sudden drop in core body temperature. This usually leads to a severe shivering response that typically lasts around 10-15 minutes after cold exposure but can be as long as an hour or more.

Should you massage after ice bath? ›

New research says if you want to recover faster, hop out of the ice bath and onto the massage table.

Should I wear clothes in an ice bath? ›

You should at least wear shorts and a t-shirt but some people choose to also wear a sweatshirt, booties, and gloves. It's up to you. Plan to get out of the ice bath slowly and some light movement to warm up.

Do ice baths remove toxins? ›

When you sit in an ice bath — or when you rub a cup of ice on the muscles you just trained — the cold causes your blood vessels to tighten. This helps flush the lactic acid and other toxins out of your tired muscles.

How many ice cubes for ice bath? ›

Fill a tub halfway with cold water and ice. One to three bags of ice should be enough to achieve the optimal water temperature—between fifty and fifty-nine degrees Fahrenheit—depending on your cold tolerance level.

How many ice baths is too much? ›

In general, two or three ice baths that last 10 to 15 minutes is a good weekly number to aim for. Keep in mind that you'll have to build up to 10 to 15 minutes over time.

What should you avoid after swimming? ›

Remember to also stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water before and after your swim, and to avoid heavy, greasy, or spicy meals that could cause digestive issues while swimming.

What not to do after swimming? ›

Do not lie in the sun to dry yourself. Lying on a chair by the poolside or beachside with a drink in hand may look glamorous, but is not advisable after a swim.

Is Gatorade good after swimming? ›

For extended (longer than one hour) or strenuous workouts, you should seriously consider consuming a sports drink, including premade ones such as Gatorade or ones you can easily mix such as INFINIT Nutrition's U.S. Masters Swimming blends designed specifically for swimmers.

How often is an ice bath beneficial? ›

Ice baths can be used as needed after intense workouts or once or twice a week if you are training regularly, King noted. One thing to keep in mind is that for athletes who do this more frequently, this is part of their job, King said, and they have a whole team helping them.

Do ice baths help anxiety? ›

Cold Water Calms the Vagus Nerve

When you're stressed, the vagus nerve signals your body to release stress hormones. When you take an ice bath, the cold water has a calming effect that activates the vagus nerve to decrease stress levels and to help reduce tension and anxiety.

What happens when you ice bath for too long? ›

SOLOMON says: The maximum time for an ice bath is 20 minutes. More than that might cause frostbite. After 20 minutes, the blood vessels constrict and the body experiences decreased circulation.

How do people survive ice baths? ›

If you're someone who gets really chilled, consider sipping on a cup of tea while in the ice bath to warm you up a little. After your ice bath, bring your body temperature back down slowly. It is tempting to rush to take a hot shower (I've certainly been guilty of doing that many times).

What happens in the brain during an ice bath? ›

Improves Brain Function and Mood

Exposure to cold activates the sympathetic nervous system and increases endorphins (feel-good neurotransmitters). It also increases the release of noradrenaline in the brain, which prepares the body for action and sharpens focus. Cold therapy can also improve mood for similar reasons.

Do ice baths lower blood pressure? ›

NASA studies found that repeated dips in chilled water over a 12-week period resulted in a series of changes known as 'cold adaptation. ' This brought down blood pressure and cholesterol as well as toning muscle.

What does cold water do to your hair? ›

Cold water preserves natural oils and keeps your hair manageable, gives it a healthy shine and loads it up with extra moisture giving it a smoother and shinier look. Cold water helps close the cuticles. Closed cuticles are smoother cuticles which can give your hair some much needed shine.

Do ice baths help sleep? ›

Take a five-minute ice bath to release melatonin

Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone that prompts your body to feel tired and sleepy, making the onset of sleep faster and the depth or sleep greater. While warm bathing might cause a slight melatonin spike, ice bathing causes an even greater one.

Can you cold plunge too much? ›

Risks associated with cold exposure include frostbite, hypothermia, heart arrhythmias and even heart attacks. "It's not a completely benign activity," Dr. Zaslow says. "Talk to your doctor to make sure that no harm comes from a fun activity that is intended to help your health."

Should you stretch after an ice bath? ›

It is advisable to stretch a bit after an intense workout session, but you might sometimes forget and hop right into the cold bath. So, should you stretch after this cold water immersion therapy? Yes, it would be best if you stretched but only once your body temperature has reached normal heat levels.

What is the most time in an ice bath? ›

Dutch adventurer Wim Hof is a human icicle — a man with incredible tolerance for cold. He holds the Guinness World Record for sitting in an ice bath for one hour, 52 minutes and 42 seconds — something most people can only tolerate for a few seconds.

When is the best time to cold plunge? ›

After Workouts in the Heat

Recovering after strenuous workouts is one of the best times to take a cold plunge. This especially holds true for workouts in the heat. When your body temperature stays too high for too long, you risk heat stroke, which is highly dangerous.

What is the best temperature for a cold plunge? ›

Some studies suggest 50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 15 degrees Celsius) to be an optimal temperature range for cold plunges focused on reducing muscle soreness, notes Dr. Van Dien.

Why do people swim in ice baths? ›

It has been used for a while by sportspeople as a way to reduce muscle soreness and speed up recovery time – with people typically spending about ten minutes after exercise in cold water that's about 10-15°C. Cold water has also been used to help treat symptoms of depression, pain and migraine.

What benefits do ice baths have? ›

The good news is there are some potential benefits of using an ice bath, especially for people who work out or are competitive athletes.
  • Eases sore and aching muscles. ...
  • Helps your central nervous system. ...
  • Limits the inflammatory response. ...
  • Decreases the effect of heat and humidity. ...
  • Trains your vagus nerve.
Apr 9, 2019

What do ice baths improve? ›

An ice bath can soothe muscles, reduce inflammation, improve breathing, and give your mood a major boost. It's no surprise that boxers and top athletes choose ice baths as an important part of their recovery and conditioning.

What are the benefits of cold water bath? ›

Why cold showers could be good for you
  • Bolster your immunity to common colds. ...
  • Combat symptoms of depression. ...
  • Improve circulation. ...
  • Increase metabolism. ...
  • Reduce inflammation and prevent muscle soreness. ...
  • Relieve localized pain.
Jan 25, 2023

What are the risks of cold water therapy? ›

One of the little-known problems associated with cold water immersion is what's known as non-freezing cold injury. When we are exposed to the cold, it's normal for the hands and feet to feel very cold or numb and they may tingle or be painful on rewarming.

Are ice baths good for your heart? ›

The heart. Cold water immersion raises blood pressure and increases stress on the heart. Studies have shown this is safe for healthy people and the effects are only temporary. But it can be dangerous for people with heart trouble, sometimes leading to life-threatening irregular heartbeats, Cronenwett said.

Are cold plunges actually good for you? ›

One 2021 review study, for example, found cold treatments helped patients suffering from mental-health problems, especially depression. Other research has suggested a plunge or swim in icy water can help reduce inflammation, improve the immune system and even help protect the brain from degenerative disease.

How many bags of ice do I need for an ice bath? ›

Fill your tub up halfway with cold water. Then, add three 5 lb (2.3 kg) bags of ice to chill the water to around 55 to 68 °F (13 to 20 °C). Slowly submerge your body into the ice bath and take deep breaths to calm down and help lower your heart rate. Don't stay in an ice bath for longer than 5-10 minutes.

How many ice baths a week? ›

How many times a week should you take an ice bath? The ideal number of weekly ice baths varies depending on your health goals. In general, two or three ice baths that last 10 to 15 minutes is a good weekly number to aim for. Keep in mind that you'll have to build up to 10 to 15 minutes over time.

Are ice baths better than cold showers? ›

Ice Baths Are Better than Cold Showers for Workout Recovery

A recent meta-analysis found that the most effective protocol is 11-15 degrees C (50-60 degrees F) for 11-15 minutes. Ice Baths will be more effective than a cold shower in this sense, partly due to your own confidence and conviction.

What are the disadvantages of cold water bath? ›

Some possible drawbacks
  • Hypothermia and frost bite. Exposure to extreme heat or freezing cold for prolonged periods may not good for the body. ...
  • Painful experience. Getting into an icy bath isn't for the faint of heart—especially if you get in quickly. ...
  • Heart disease.
Feb 14, 2020

What to do after ice bath? ›

You want to get back to your core body temperature through active recovery. You are better off drinking a warm beverage after taking ice baths as opposed to trying to quickly get warm with warm water.

Are there any disadvantages of bathing cold water? ›

The cons of cold showers:

It could actually make you even colder and increase the amount of time it will take for your body to warm back up. They may not be a good idea if you're sick, either. Initially, the cold temperature might be too hard on your immune system, so it's best to ease into the cooler temperatures.


1. Cold Shower VS Ice Bath: Which one is better? #AskWim
(Wim Hof)
2. I took cold showers for 30 days. Here's what I learned.
(Matt D'Avella)
3. Cold Water Bathing: Scientific facts you need to know - Susanna Soeberg | Growth Island Ep #74
(Growth Island - Mads Friis)
4. DON'T TAKE A COLD SHOWER (before knowing this)
(Success Multiplier)
5. Transform Your Health with Cold Showers – Dr. Berg's Guide to Cold Showers
(Dr. Eric Berg DC)
6. What Happens After 30 Days of Cold Showers
(Gravity Transformation - Fat Loss Experts)


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