Why You Shouldn’t Be Doing Ice Baths

Why You Shouldn’t Be Doing Ice Baths

Ice baths, cryotherapy, and cold showers. I’m sure you’ve heard or done at least one before and here I’ll share the science behind using these cold therapies and why you should or should not add them to your routines. 

The biggest thing to consider when you're looking at adding cold therapy into your routine is what type of athlete you are. I’ve categorized the article by the following athlete types:

  • Strength/Power Based Athletes
  • Combat and Multi-day Event Athletes
  • Endurance Athletes
  • General Fitness Athletes
  • Non-Athletes

This is a very general categorization, although I feel it was specific enough to allow everyone to put themselves into a category.

There are really only 4 types of cold therapy available to the general public. I’ve listed them below in order of lowest to highest intensity:

  • Cooling Devices for Palms
  • Cold Showers
  • Cryotherapy
  • Cold Plunges/ Ice Baths

There aren’t many different types of cold therapy, but they do vary in degrees - literally and figuratively. Studies have shown that you’ll get benefits from cold water as high as 59 degrees for as little as 30 seconds so you don’t have to start by jumping into a frozen lake. Even for experienced individuals maximum benefits can be reached in a short period of time. A cold plunge of around 44 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes can give maximum benefits to even the most experienced cold exposure experts. 

A cooling glove that circulates cold water has recently been developed for research in increasing strength and endurance in athletes and has also shown to improve the lives of patients with multiple sclerosis. The glove simply circulates cold water through tubes in the palm of the glove. The palms lay flat in the glove and cool capillaries in the fingers and palms which then circulate cooled blood back to your core and immediately show an increase in overall muscular endurance and strength. This is by far the least intense form of cold therapy on the list, but also the most difficult to access because it’s not publicly available.

Cold showers are next in line as an intro for anyone looking to experience some benefits without totally freezing their tail off. This is the most accessible form of cold therapy for everyone. Whenever you have access to a shower you can simply ignore the hot water handle and you’ll be getting some awesome superficial benefits. The longer you stay in the water and the colder it is the bigger your benefits will be.

Cryotherapy is third on our list and comes in a few different varieties from standing outside in frigid temperatures to full body exposure cryo facilities that can cost up to $75 per visit. Cryotherapy typically uses cold air that can feel as low as -200 degrees Fahrenheit! The benefits of cryo are great, although the air can’t penetrate as deeply as cold plunging before damaging skin. Cryo facilities typically cap exposure at 3 minutes maximum.

Finally my favorite, but the most difficult and intense experience, the cold plunge/ice bath. The cold plunge varies from putting single parts of your body to fully plunging your entire body into frigid waters. The plunge reaches much deeper tissues due to the duration of exposure and increases when you plunge from the neck down. Ice baths can get as cold as 33 degrees and companies that have developed cold tubes that circulate water typically cap their lowest temperatures around 44 degrees.

Benefits to Athletes and Non-Athletes

For anyone training or generally working out the idea is to train harder and recover faster, but finding out how to maximize recovery is an individual challenge. There are a number of factors that influence recovery speed outside the scope of this article, but we’re focusing on cold therapy specifically.

My consensus is that cold exposure can help everyone regardless of what they may or may not be training for. Cold therapy ranges from simply adding 10 seconds of cold water at the end of a hot shower to full immersion cold-plunges. The difference is the duration, penetration, and purpose of each therapy. 

Let’s look at general benefits and then I’ll move into athlete specific recommendations.

Cold therapy is all about resiliency - we’re strengthening the body and the mind at the same time. If you don’t like the cold and you subject yourself to the cold you’re getting mentally and physically tougher. For everyone alike, any type of cold exposure can have the following benefits:

  • Tightening and clearing up skin
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Increasing circulation
  • Increasing alertness
  • Increasing thermogenesis 
  • Spiking dopamine and other neurotransmitters and protective proteins
  • Improving sleep quality

This all comes down to burning more fat, sleeping better, and being happier overall simply from taking a cold shower or ice bath.

Now for some athlete specific recommendations:

Strength/Power Based Athletes

This category includes athletes primarily in the type II muscle fiber category such as bodybuilders, powerlifters, sprinters, and strongman competitors. In short, type II athletes who rely on strength and peak power output may not benefit from continuous cold therapy due to the reduction of inflammation around muscle tissues that would actually help repair muscle and aid in muscle growth. If you’re an athlete trying to maximize recovery in this category it’s recommended that you have an active recovery protocol and utilize heat therapy instead. Although as stated above, there are still significant benefits for every type of athlete that aren't recovery related. Another thing to note is that a competitive bodybuilder will have to take into account the significant caloric expenditure when doing a cold plunge and adapt his or her diet for the days in which he or she does a plunge. Finally, athletes of all types should allow the body to recover naturally for a short period and should not rely on any type of cold therapy immediately after a workout to reduce pain or inflammation. 

Injured, Combat, and Multi-day Event Athletes

Cold therapy is amazing for injury and also creates cold shock proteins and increases glutathione (an antioxidant) that protect muscle. Athletes fighting structural or connective tissue injuries can benefit greatly from cold and also maintain more muscle mass in areas that are affected and cannot be trained, limiting muscle atrophy. This means that athletes who compete in multi-day events like decathletes, and even fighters can see huge increases in recovery and muscle maintenance after fights, intense training weeks, and of course injury. Athletes that are competing in multi-day events that are higher intensity events should limit ice and cold therapy during training to maximize muscle growth, and multi-day endurance based athletes have seen benefits in as much as a daily cold plunge.

Endurance Athletes 

Endurance athletes, especially those who are keto and need to adapt to burning more fat, benefit the most from cold therapy in terms of sport specific recovery. Some research has shown a larger increase in mitochondria in endurance athletes using cold therapy in contrast with those not using cold therapy of any type. The boost in mitochondria is thought to help increase overall endurance and atp production.

General Fitness Athletes

Your body should recover immediately after a workout on its own so wait for a while after training if you do use cold, but general fitness athletes see all the same benefits in reduced inflammation and increased mood and sleep. There’s no downside to being mentally tougher either.


For anyone who isn’t working out on a regular basis or training for an event, you get the benefits listed in the intro of this article. You’re getting the boosted resilience and immunity and the cold exposure can even help fight off symptoms of depression and anxiety. Short ice baths and cold showers in the evening have been shown to improve sleep quality as well. I would definitely recommend experimenting with different types of cold therapy to see if you enjoy the feelings you get after warming back up. 

No matter what you do you should try out some cold exposure and become more of a beast in your day to day life.

Keep Battling!





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