A Beginner’s Guide to Cold Plunges

It’s been over 10 years since I’ve done my first ice bath. When I swam competitively in college, our coach would make us take ice baths after practices in the weeks prior to our big races. We’d sit in these tubs up to our necks in close-to-freezing water for ~5 minutes at a time. And during that time, I’d absolutely dread it. But after each session, I remember feeling more lean, refreshed, and slept like a baby the every night following an ice bath.

Ten years later, and I’m still doing them – but slightly differently. Ice baths, cold plunges or cold baths are all pretty similar in nature. Some people sit in a bath full of ice for shorter periods of time, while others – including myself – sit in cold water (not necessarily filled with ice) for longer periods of time. 

Cold plunges are just an amazing way to flush the body and boost circulation quickly and effectively. One of my biggest Lyme disease takeaways has been adopting practices that help reduce inflammation and toxic burden (they go hand-in-hand).  

I don’t know anyone who truly enjoys sitting in cold water (including myself). But I will admit, the confidence that comes from competing against yourself – and winning – will leak into every other part of your life. Inflammation =  think pain, retention (physical weight/emotional), anxiety/depression, gut issues, inability to heal properly + more. Once I was able to tackle my problems with inflammation and toxic burden, I was finally able to heal from my Lyme. Finding ways to reduce inflammation – and specifically cold plunges –  will forever be a part of my lifestyle. 

How to do a cold plunge | The Hive

Cold Plunge Benefits

First thing’s first – there isn’t a ton of solid research on cold plunges and ice baths. But people wouldn’t be doing them for hundreds of years without a reason.

It’s pretty obvious that cold therapy is great for speeding up muscle recovery, treating inflammation and reducing swelling in the body, but how else does it help? Here are a few cold plunge benefits: 

Trains the Vagus Nerve

One of the greatest benefits of cold plunges is being able to train something called the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve runs from the brain, through the face and thorax and down to the abdomen. This nerve is the main contributor of the parasympathetic nervous system and oversees crucial bodily functions, including controlling our mood, immune response, digestion, heart rate and more. 

The vagus nerve builds the connection between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract (our second brain) and sends information about the state of the inner organs to the brain. By training the vagus nerve, you train your brain and physical body to handle more stressful situations more adequately.

Can reduce body fat

This was one surprising benefit I personally found from doing cold plunges. Research has shown that cold showers and cold exposure stimulates the body’s production of brown fat. Brown fat is a specific type of fat tissue that generates energy by burning calories. 

*personal experience here*: I noticed that doing daily cold plunges helped me lose fat in those hard-to-burn areas, like my thighs and lower belly. Definitely an added perk that I was honestly NOT expecting. 

Boosts the immune system

Studies have found that taking a cold shower increases the amount of leukocytes – white blood cells that ward off foreign substances and disease. When your body is shocked by cold water, the body stimulates leukocytes. By doing regular cold plunges, you can help your body build resistance to sickness.

Increases endorphins

In a clinical trial, taking a cold shower for up to 5 minutes, 2 to 3 times per week was shown to help relieve symptoms of depression. Sitting in cold water can quickly boost your system to increase alertness, clarity, and energy levels while also releasing mood-boosting endorphins. You’ll immediately feel the rush of endorphins the moment you get into the water – so remember to breathe, be mindful, and notice what emotions come up as you sit in the tub.

Builds mental resilience 

I’ll be honest when I say this – cold plunges do not get easier. But your brain gets stronger. 

There is no better feeling than climbing out of the tub knowing you just did a badass treatment and exercise for your better heath. This sounds a bit crazy, but I’ve noticed that I have way more confidence and a better approach to tackling tasks throughout the day when I do cold plunges int he morning. 

How to do a cold plunge

First thing’s first, let’s remind ourselves that we’re not Wim Hoff. You don’t need to climb a snow-cappedmountain in your shorts to reap the benefits of cold therapy – you can do it with what you have at home. As always, it’s important to talk to your licensed healthcare practitioner before starting any new activities that may affect any pre-existing health conditions. 

If you want to start a cold plunge routine, here are a few tips and notes to get started:

First, you need a tub (or a shower).

Some people like to start by doing a dash of cold water at the end of their shower, but I personally like to keep my head + hair dry (you’re already torturing yourself enough!) You can start by just submerging your legs and lower abdomen, and work your way up to your shoulders. It’s okay to keep your hands out of the water as well. If you don’t have a tub, you can still get the benefits by using your shower.

Note that you can always work your way colder.

Start by filling up your tub with its coldest setting. If you want it colder, add a few cups of ice and work from there. And if it’s too cold, add some warm water. Test the water with your hand and use your intuition and judgement. We’re not looking to get hypothermia – start with water that’s between 55 and 65 degrees. Once you become used to that temperature, work your way colder.  

Slowly step into the water and breathe.

Put on some music and set a timer. Try to sit in the tub for one minute and work your way longer – but not any longer than 15 minutes.

Once you’ve reached your time limit, dry off with a towel and allow your body to heat itself back up naturally.

Do you do regular cold plunges?

Drop your tips in the comments below!

Liz Floyd

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