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In this article, we will look at the differences between cold shower vs ice bath and cold plunges. While they both are ways to practice cold therapy, cold plunges, and ice baths are far superior to just taking a cold shower. Cold showers are a great way to save money without having to pay over $1,000 for a dedicated cold plunge device but it really is just getting your feet wet in the practice of cold water immersion.
Cold Shower vs Ice Bath: What is the Difference?
Taking a cold shower is easily the most affordable way to get the benefits of cold exposure. It doesn’t get much easier than just being able to turn on your shower and hoping in to start reaping the benefits associated with the practice.
An ice bath, or better known as a cold plunge, on the other hand is a much different experience when compared to just a cold shower. The goal of an ice bath is to fully submerge your body in cold water up to your neck. These cold plunges are typically controlled by a dedicated chilling unit that sets the water to the desired temperature. If you ask us, cold showers is the baby step you take before diving into the practice of submerging into a cold plunge.
The recovery benefits from a cold plunge or an ice bath is much greater than a cold shower because the muscles you are actively trying to recover are getting fully submerged instead of the occasional impact from the cold water hitting your body.
Waking up and jumping into a cold shower will give you the same shocking experience that a cold plunge will give you but at a lower level of intensity. Cold shower temperatures are typically around 55°F to 60°F. Cold plunges or ice baths on the other hand are typically around 45°F or even much more below this.
Then control you have with a cold plunge device (that has a chilling unit) is far greater than what you will get with just hoping in a cold shower. Yes, you can still reap the benefits from cold exposure through a cold shower (and save money) but at the end of the day, if you are looking to take recovery seriously and plan on adding cold therapy to the mix, you should be using ice baths or dedicated cold plunge devices.
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Cold water immersion is an excellent way for athletes to let their muscles recover and help them reduce inflammation. We use the term ‘athlete’ loosely since in today’s world just about anyone can (and should) be training like an athlete. There are so many ways to stay active today that it is impossible to sit here and say this practice is only for the elite-level athletes of the world.
Cold therapy is for everyday people just like you and I and today we can start reaping the benefits!
Controllability of a Cold Plunge
Besides sitting in a dedicated tub, the biggest difference between cold showers and ice baths is the fact that you have much more control when over water temperature with a cold plunge. The specific benefits of coldwater immersion really start to kick in when the water is sitting below 45°F. here is no way you are going to be able to activate brown fat or break thermal layers with a cold shower, you have to be plunging in a dedicated device to really boost your recovery time.
Everyone’s bodies will react differently to cold plunging initially but over time you get used to the practice and start to really find ways to push your limits. The colder you get the water in a cold plunge the faster you are able to see the benefits start arising in your life.
What is an Ice Bath?
Ice baths are super simple to explain. Ice baths are a steel tub that is typically filled with cold water and ice. Athletes have been using ice baths for decades now as a way to increase recovery time, reduce inflammation, boost energy levels, and increase blood flow throughout the body.
Ice Baths Are Better than Cold Showers for Workout Recovery
If money is not an issue in the equation, ice baths are better than cold showers by leaps and bounds. The difference is really night and day. Now, let’s say you are one of the millions of people who does not have the ability to purchase a cold plunge tub today, that’s fine you still have some options at your disposal.
If you are serious about cold plunging and want to skip over the cold showers, you can always find a local wellness center that has a cold plunge. This is great because you are supporting a local business and still getting the real experience.
Okay, so let’s say there is no local business by you that has a cold plunge, no problem. You can always go the route of doing a makeshift cold plunge in your home. We have a dedicated post on our website on how to cold plunge at home on any budget that you should read and check out.
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Are Ice Cold Baths Safe?
Yes, generally speaking, ice baths and cold plunges are completely safe. Now, those who are pregnant, have underlying health conditions or are elderly and may be susceptible to sickness should seek medical guidance from a professional.
Ice Baths Provide Fat Loss and Metabolism Benefits
We have an entire article on our website dedicated to talking about brown fat activating while you are submerged in the cold temperatures of an ice bath. In a nutshell, our bodies have three types of fats, brown, beige, and white. Brown fat’s main job is to produce heat and keep our bodies warm when exposed to cold temperatures.
Brown fat burns calories if it is activated and in order to do that we cold plunge.
Ice Baths Help Support Blood Circulation
Ice baths are so cold that your blood vessels constrict while in the water. When this constriction takes place your body works extra hard to keep itself warm. This is when thermogenesis starts to take place in your body and ultimately you start to burn bits of fat while plunging.
After getting out of the water you will notice that your body quickly warms back up after not being exposed to the cold temperatures of the water that you were just in. Inside your body, your blood vessels are now starting to go back to normal size allowing for a greater feeling of circulation of blood throughout the body.
Ice Baths Help Soothe Muscle Soreness
Ice baths have been a common practice for athletic programs around the world, it is not a surprise that the practice would eventually make its way to the masses. Ice baths, just like cold plunging, can be used as a way to recover faster from physical exercise or activities that you find yourself indulged in.
Joint pain, muscle soreness, and nagging injuries are all common in our sport of choice (jiu-jitsu) but I am 100% sure that the sport you do as a full-fledged adult has common traits. Whether you run on a court, play tennis, or possibly even golf, cold plunging can and will help with any kind of muscle soreness or fatigue that you may experience.
Tips for Getting Started With Cold Water Therapy
It is all in the breath
The most powerful thing about cold plunging is that it is a practice that almost works three things in one. You are combining conscious breathing, meditation, and building a positive mental attitude when you decide to jump into that cold water.
The importance of deep, long, and complete exhales should not be overlooked. This will help you slow down your heart rate.
Do Your Plunge Early
It is best to practice cold plunging first thing in the morning since the practice itself releases energy-boosting neurotransmitters and adrenaline. If you do this too late in the day it may interrupt your sleep!
Music and Timers
Put on some music or a timer. Try to sit in the tub for one minute and work your way to a longer time!
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The benefit of Cold Showers
It is said that cold showers have a number of health benefits very similar to that of a cold plunge. Now, it is very important to note, cold showers are not cold plunges and do not get you the same results. If you want to take this one step further and reap the most benefits of cold water exposure you should consider getting a cold plunge tub for yourself.
List of Benefits of Cold Showers
Reduce Muscle Soreness
Boost Immune System
The list is pretty short as you can see.
There is no mention of brown fat activation, a reduced level of inflammation, weight loss, fat loss, or an increase of blood flow through the body like you would see if you started a dedicated cold plunge practice.
People Also Asked
Is it OK to cold plunge every day?
Yes, it is okay to cold plunge every day. Athletes do take their recovery seriously and on most days they are taking ice baths or cold plunging after their exercise.
Is it better to take a shower before or after an ice bath?
If you get done with a workout it is best to shower before you step into a cold plunge. While the devices do filter and keep the water clean, you may have other people going in the water after you. At the end of the day, it is a preference thing but it would be smart to shower before.
Is A cold shower as good as an ice bath?
This depends but we will stand by our answer of saying no, cold showers are not just as good as an actual ice bath or cold plunge. The experience of submerging your body in cold water inside a cold plunge or ice bath is completely different and you would only know if you have the experience of doing all three of these practices. Cold showers are great for the purpose that they provide but it does not compare that well to a cold plunge device.