What is the Deal with Cold Plunges?

What is going on with cold plunges?  If you’re like me, you are hearing about these everywhere, seeing ads for them everywhere, and perhaps you are intrigued.  Some say it’s the fountain of youth and others say the benefits are overstated.  Some even say that cold plunges can undermine results from your workout.

So what is going on with cold plunges?  Let me share some of the purported benefits and what I have experienced.  Right now one of the leading researchers on the subject is Dr. Susana Soeberg.  She has been a guest on quite a few podcast episodes with other researchers and those discussions are a great resource for getting nerded out on what we know and don’t know right now.

In short, the benefits of cold plunges may include:

-Decreased inflammation

-A rush of endorphins

-Spike in dopamine

-Improve sleep and mood

-Reduce stress

-Help remedy aches and pains

-Boost injury recovery

-Reduce swelling

-Potentially increase testosterone

-Promote lymphatic drainage

-Regulate hormones

-Accelerate metabolism

With such a long list of amazing benefits, you can see why some people go nuts about this and why other people become skeptical.  I can say from personal experience I have definitely noticed the endorphin rush and reduction of aches and pains.  I am sure as we learn more about this, some benefits are directly attributable to the cold while others are simply a function of forcing yourself into a short period of discomfort.

I first got into cold water immersion when I was living on my houseboat and thought it was funny to do backflips into the river all year round.  Naturally, the winter backflips required a lot more mental fortitude as the air and water were quite shocking.

A couple years later I had an opportunity to go to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.  During a tour of their physical therapy facility, I noticed they had a 54 degree cold tub with a placard recommending a 10 minute immersion.  I realized that had to be darn close to the average year round temperature of the river.  The perfect cold plunge was essentially my lawn at the houseboat!

I started staying in the water for longer periods of time, something that required more willpower and focus on breath as my times got longer and as winter temps set in.  I noticed that if I was really sore, after warming back up I had next to no soreness and felt great.  I also noticed feeling extra energized afterwards.

When I first moved off the boat, I no longer had that convenient river right outside my door.  I started doing cold showers instead.  While not quite as good as being fully immersed in the water, I am still noticing some of the benefits.  Currently, I am using a $100 stock tank and making big ice blocks with $2 plastic containers from Home Depot.  Some day soon I will strongly consider getting a fancy cold plunge with ozone filtration.  For now since my solution is so cheap and simple, I am sticking with that.

So what might be the potential downsides?

  1. Doing a cold plunge right after your workout may undermine hypertrophy (muscle formation).  This makes sense if you think about it.  Working out induces short term inflammation which your body then responds to, creating physiological change (aka results).  It makes sense that the anti inflammatory response to cold could disrupt muscle building.  Mitigate this by not doing your cold plunge directly after working out.  I recommend first thing in the morning the next day.

  2. Like any activity that places stress on your body, make sure you are cleared medically do engage in the activity.

  3. Wasting your money on a trend.  Investing in your health always has the biggest ROI and there are far dumber ways to spend your money than a cold plunge.  That said, because this has gotten trendy really quickly, there are a lot of very expensive ways to sit in ice water hitting the market.  The highest end cold plunges cost $30k.  Remember, cold showers and rivers are free.  If you just want a container you can fit yourself and some ice water in, feed tanks cost $100.  Unless you want filtered water and temperature control, that’s all you need.  I have been paying close attention to affordable options for tubs that do have temperature control and ozone filtered water.  Those features mean you don’t need to change the water every two weeks or make a bunch of ice.  I know I’ll be more consistent if I remove some friction from the process.  Those are in the $3-5k price range right now.  As more options are entering the market that type of plunge is getting more affordable.  Whatever option you go with, when its time to get in the water and you’re dreading it, GET IN!

My final take:  There seems to be no downside to doing some free cold showers, and I’ve noticed some benefits that appear to be substantiated by current research on the subject.  At some point, I will likely buy my own affordable cold plunge but this won’t be the hill I die on with my clients.

When you are ready to see what our unique approach to personal training can do for you, fill out the form at the top or bottom of this page and I will get in touch : )

Serving Portsmouth, Kittery, and the broader Seacoast community, we help people finally get in shape, feel confident, and have all day energy, even if getting everything done is a constant struggle.


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