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How Cold Should a Cold Plunge Be?

Apr 24, 2024


The popularity of cold plunging has grown exponentially since 2023. The health benefits and the challenge are drawing people in at an extreme rate.

There is, however, a little bit of confusion surrounding how cold a cold plunge should be. You see videos of people cold plunging in frozen lakes, but then you see cold plunge tanks for sale, and a little confusion makes sense.

We're here to clear things up for you.

How Cold is Too Cold for a Cold Plunge?

Technically, there isn't a bottom number. People plunge in zero-degree water all the time. However, beginners should never attempt something so extreme. It's important to build up a tolerance to cold exposure over time so that you avoid any adverse health issues due to shock.

Some studies show that the ideal ice bath temperature to reduce muscle soreness is 50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold therapy is just one example and is likely to differ from other uses of an ice bath. The perfect water temperature for cold plunges is really dependent on the user's preference and what they're using the cold plunge for.

What Temperature Should a Beginner Start at When Doing Ice Baths?

Since the rules around your cold plunge temperature are not very strict, you can start where it's comfortable. Many experienced ice bathers enjoy temperatures between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, but that's after they've adapted their bodies. For beginners, we recommend starting somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 degrees. You can easily achieve colder temperatures by slowly increasing the challenge, and you can improve your tolerance by taking longer ice baths each time.

How Long Should a Beginner Cold Plunge?

The goal is never to shock your body. There is a sweet spot, and it's usually around the 10-15 minute mark. However, it's very important to check your body's response to the environment and not push it too hard or too long.

Try starting with 30 seconds in the water and slowly increase the duration of your exposure. You want to acclimate your body to cold temperatures, not bully it into submission.

How Do You Prepare for an Ice Bath?

As with everything physically demanding, there's some preparation to cold plunging. You need to be aware that your body will react to a cold plunge in a way that you've potentially never felt before. It could be somewhat jarring if you didn't take the time to prepare beforehand. Here's what you need to do:

Practice Breathing

This is a big one. Submerging your body in water (especially if you include the head and face) causes heart rates to slow, blood vessels to constrict, and your breathing patterns to change. Being exposed to cold water has some typical signs, such as shallow breathing, hyperventilating, breath-holding, and gasping.

Taking an ice bath is a challenge, but, as with many challenges, it's also rewarding. To help your breathing, approach each bath by taking a few deep breaths. Once you are immersed, return to your breathing pattern, especially when you start feeling distracted by the cold.

There are several patterns you can use, such as Square Breathing. This method goes as follows:

  • Breath in through your nose for 4 seconds
  • Hold for 4 seconds
  • Breath out through your mouth for 4 seconds
  • Hold for 4 seconds
  • Repeat

Another such technique is Triangle Breathing:

  • Breath in through your nose for 4 seconds
  • Hold for 4 seconds
  • Breath out through your mouth for 4 seconds
  • Repeat

And there are others. Whatever you pick, having that foundational control is crucial to a positive ice bath experience. By controlling your breathing during something taxing such as an ice bath, you can maintain your focus, experience a positive mindset, and feel empowered and in control.

Build Your Cold Tolerance

As mentioned above, it is very important to spend time building tolerance. What you don't want to do is risk putting your body into shock or hypothermia by rushing into waters that are too cold for you.

One way you can easily start to build up tolerance is by replacing your daily hot shower with something a little cooler. Once you've taken it down a notch, go another, and another, until you're easily taking showers that other people might call "freezing." Even this simple step allows your body a chance to adapt to increasingly cooler temperatures. You won't be at your goal temperature right away, but you will be continuously lowering the optimal temperature for your body, and that is more important.

What Should You Do After a Cold Water Immersion Session?

Everybody talks about how to achieve the perfect ice bath, but very few people talk about the after care. A cold plunge is literally placing your body in a state of stress. It's healthy, but it requires some attention, as well. If you just ignore the post-bath reactions, you not only will miss out on some potential health benefits, but you could be placing undue stress on your body.

Take Your Time Getting Out

One of the things new ice bathers often don't get told is that they need to be cautious when they leave the water.

You are likely to feel weak, off-balance, or lightheaded when you stand up, and this is because of vasoconstriction. As a self-preservation tactic, your body lessens blood flow to your extremities to preserve a normal core body temperature.

Take your time, and be aware of how your body feels. Having your cold plunge tank near a wall, railing, or other sturdy object is always a good idea. If not that, placing a chair nearby will do as well. Just have something close that you can grab onto should you need some help steadying yourself.

Dry Off All The Way

Some people like to dry off by letting the water evaporate naturally, but this is a little risky because it could backfire. If you want a more extreme bath, make the water colder or stay in longer, but once you're done, dry off. It will be a more productive practice in the long run. You will want to make sure you have towels on hand before you get into the water.

Warm Up Naturally

To get the full benefits of your ice bath, avoid any sudden increases in heat, such as hot showers or sitting in front of a fire. Instead, let your body gradually increase your body temperature through a process called "thermogenesis." If you're really suffering, maybe keep a dry towel around for an extra layer.

Be advised that you should always have preparations in place just in case your body takes too long and you need to adapt. Keep more towels or blankets around to assist in the warming process when necessary. "Getting the most" out of your ice bath does not mean risking your safety.

Do Some Yoga or Go for a Walk

Moving around is one of the best ways to activate your body's natural heating process. Light yoga or a short walk will kick your body back into gear.

Do be careful with this step. Avoid stretching your body when it's cold or you might cause damage to your muscles and fibers. Don't push your body too far too quickly.

Rehydrate and Have a Snack

You might not think it, but ice baths are exhausting! The body and mind work hard to regulate your responses, keep you warm, and feel in control. You might find yourself tired, hungry, and thirsty afterward.

It's important to meet those needs but don't go having a hearty, three-course meal immediately afterwards. Instead, a light snack and a glass of water allow your body to re-energize without putting extra strain on it after a taxing ice bath.

Can You Cold Plunge at Home?

You can! DIY Pools and Spas has a course that walks you through the process from start to finish and a kit that gives you everything you need. Brandon saw a need, and he took the initiative to meet that need. He purchased all the parts necessary to build a cold plunge and figured out the process so that you don't have to. He wants cold plunges and the benefits to be available to people from all walks of life.

The beauty of building your own is that you aren't required to conform to anyone else's timeline or location. When you DIY your cold plunge, your needs are the top priority.

The DIY route is the perfect blend of easy access and professional build.