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Cold Plunge: Before or After Workout?

Cold Plunge: Before or After Workout?

Legs burning, lungs screaming, muscles begging for mercy—how do you deal with this after a brutal leg day? Athletes and gym enthusiasts are incorporating cold water immersion into their recovery routines. But should you cold plunge before or after your workout? The short answer is it depends on your fitness goals. Let’s explore the science behind timing to help you decide what works best for you.

Should you cold plunge before or after a workout?

The best time to cold plunge depends on what you want to achieve. 

  • Cold plunge BEFORE a workout to boost alertness and energy when you’re feeling sluggish and increase endurance for enhanced performance. 
  • Cold plunge AFTER workout to accelerate recovery, reduce soreness, and aid recuperation. 

The jury's still out on a definitive answer, but most research suggests after your workout is the prime time for a cold plunge. This timing optimizes workout benefits such as muscle recovery and soreness reduction. Experiment with both timings and alternate for comprehensive benefits.

Pros and Cons of Cold Plunge BEFORE Working Out

Pros

  • Increased Alertness: A 10-minute cold plunge in near-icy waters can help wake you up if you’re feeling lethargic or groggy. (helpful for early morning workouts).
  • Stress Reduction: The shock of cold water triggers the release of endorphins, leading to an improved mood and reduced stress levels.
  • Enhanced Blood Circulation: Cold plunges can initially decrease blood circulation due to vasoconstriction. However, after the initial shock, your body responds by increasing circulation to warm vital organs. This is known as the hunting response. Blood flow eventually improves, and the body adapts to the cold environment.

Cons

  • Potential Reduction in Blood Flow: Quick immersion in cold water can constrict blood vessels, limiting blood flow to muscles and hindering performance.
  • Stiffness: Cold temperatures could stiffen joints and impact flexibility during exercise. Allow your body temperature to adjust before jumping into your workout routine to avoid injuries.

Pros and Cons of Cold Plunge AFTER Working Out

Pros

  • Reduced Muscle Soreness: Two minutes of cold-water immersion can reduce muscle inflammation and soreness post-exercise.
  • Faster Recovery: Studies suggest cold plunges might promote faster muscle recovery, particularly for high-intensity workouts.
  • Mental Health Boost: One of the many benefits of a cold plunge after a workout is it triggers dopamine release, potentially improving mood and stress management.

Cons

  • Suppressing Inflammation: DOMS, or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, is muscle pain and stiffness 24-48 hours after intense exercise. While inflammation can be uncomfortable, it's a natural part of muscle repair. Cold water immersion can reduce inflammation, which can feel good in the short term but might slow down the rebuilding of muscle tissue. 
  • Dampening Muscle Protein Synthesis: Some studies suggest cold plunges might decrease the activity of proteins involved in muscle growth. This could limit the body's ability to repair and build muscle after a workout.

Pro Tips:

  • If aiming for muscle growth, experts recommend waiting at least 4-6 hours after weight training before a cold plunge. 
  • Regardless of timing, consult a doctor before cold plunging if you have any underlying health conditions.
  • Alternating between pre- and post-workout plunges ensures you receive the full spectrum of advantages that it offers. But listen to your body and focus on what you want to achieve.

How to Safely Add Cold Plunge to Your Workout Routine

Cold plunges can be a powerful tool for post-workout recovery, but safety and proper techniques are crucial. Here's a guide to incorporating them effectively:

Gradual Immersion

Avoid jumping straight into the cold water. Slowly lower yourself in, starting with your legs and progressing upwards. This allows your body to adjust to the temperature change and minimize the risk of cold shock.

Cold Plunge Temperature and Time

  • Optimal Range: Aim for a water temperature between 50-60°F (10-15°C). This range is cold enough to trigger potential recovery benefits without being excessively uncomfortable.
  • Best cold plunge duration: Begin with a cold plunge of 1-2 minutes. As your tolerance increases, you can gradually extend the time to 10 minutes.
  • Focus on cardio or rest days: Cold plunges might be more beneficial for reducing soreness after cardio workouts or on rest days to optimize recovery.

Post-Workout Timing

  • General Workout: The ideal time for a cold plunge for post-workout recovery is generally 30 minutes to 2 hours after exercise. This allows your body temperature to start regulating before the cold plunge.
  • Resistance training: If you do a cold plunge after resistance training for muscle soreness, wait at least 4 hours to avoid hindering muscle growth.

Contrast Therapy

Incorporate contrast therapy (alternating between hot and cold temperatures) to promote healing and pain relief. The temperature contrast can ease muscle soreness and inflammation. Here's a breakdown:

  • Heat: Apply heat for 15-20 minutes using a heating pad, warm compress, hot bath, or shower.
  • Cold: Immediately follow the heat treatment with cold application for 10-15 minutes. Use an ice pack wrapped in a towel, a cold compress, or a cold bath/shower.
  • Repeat: Repeat the cycle of heat and cold 2-3 times, ending with cold therapy.

Safety Considerations

  • Professional advice: Whether you take an ice bath before or after your workout, consult your doctor, especially if you have any health concerns.
  • Pay Attention: Discomfort is normal, but if you experience dizziness, lightheadedness, or chest pain, get out immediately. Don't push yourself beyond your limits.
  • Beware of cold shock: The initial cold exposure can rapidly increase heart rate and breathing. Avoid submerging your head right away, and focus on controlled breathing.
  • Hypothermia risk: Limit plunges to 10 minutes to avoid hypothermia.

Cold Plunge Alternative

  • Cold Showers: If cold plunges seem too extreme, start with cold showers. A cold shower may not be the same as a cold plunge, but this hydrotherapy offers a milder form of cold exposure and can help build your tolerance for future plunges.
  • Cooling Wraps: Cooling wraps filled with ice or gel offer a portable and convenient way to apply localized cold therapy to targeted areas.
  • Ice Baths: Fill a tub with cold water and add ice to create a localized ice bath for sore muscles or injuries.
  • Cryotherapy Chambers: Cryotherapy chambers offer intense cold exposure with temperatures as low as -200°F (-128°C). They are typically conducted in specialized facilities under professional supervision.

How to DIY a Cold Plunge at Home

Creating a DIY cold plunge at home is simpler than you might think. Follow these steps to set up your own refreshing post-exercise therapy plunge:

  1. Select a Container: Choose a container large enough to comfortably submerge yourself. Options include a bathtub or a large plastic storage container. 
  2. Location: Decide where you'll place your cold plunge. It could be in your backyard, patio, or bathroom if you're using a bathtub.
  3. Temperature Control: Depending on your preferences and the season, add ice or use a temperature control device to keep the water cold. A simple method is to fill the container with cold water and add ice as needed.
  4. Safety Measures: Ensure the container is stable and won't tip over. If using ice, avoid slipping when entering or exiting.
  5. Accessorize: Consider adding features like a thermometer to monitor the water temperature, a timer to track your plunge duration or soothing essential oils for aromatherapy.
  6. Enjoy Your Plunge: It's time to take the plunge when everything is set up. Ease yourself into the cold water gradually, focusing on deep breaths and staying calm. Start with shorter durations and progressively increase as you become accustomed to the cold.
  7. Post-Plunge Care: After your plunge, warm up gradually with a warm shower or by wrapping yourself in a cozy towel. Take this time to relax and enjoy the rejuvenating effects of your DIY cold plunge.

Pro Tip: Invest in Cold Plunge Tubs like Dundalk The Polar Plunge Tub CT362PP. It’s easy to use and drain and holds 190 gallons of water.

Outdoor Enthusiasts

  • Living near a lake or cold stream? With proper safety precautions and knowledge of water conditions, you can utilize natural cold-water sources for your plunges.

Safety First

Whichever method you choose, prioritize safety. Never take a cold plunge alone, and ensure the water source is free from contaminants before submerging.

What Not to Do After a Cold Plunge

  • Don’t jump straight into hot showers or saunas: The sudden temperature change can be stressful for your body. Allow your core temperature to rise naturally first. If you're using contrast therapy, always begin with warm (hot) and end with cold.
  • Don't do strenuous activity: Cold plunges can leave your muscles temporarily achy. Opt for gentle movements like light stretching or walking to promote blood flow and recovery.
  • Don’t ignore warning signs: If you experience dizziness, lightheadedness, or chest pain during or after a cold plunge, get out immediately and consult a doctor.

Takeaway

Is it better to cold plunge before or after a workout? There is no one-size-fits-all answer to that debate. But a cold plunge offers numerous health benefits, especially for muscle recovery. Listen to your body, start slow, and gradually increase duration and frequency as your tolerance builds. Experiment and find what works best for your goals. 

Do you cold plunge before or after a workout? Share your experiences and tips in the comments below.

Questions about our cold plunge tubs? Reach out to our customer service team today.

FAQs

Can I take a hot shower after a cold plunge?

A hot shower after a cold plunge is optional. Although contrast therapy is beneficial, it is best to wait a while. Let your body temperature rise naturally after the cold plunge. A sudden switch to hot water can stress your cardiovascular system.

Can you go to the sauna after swimming in cold water?

Transitioning from cold water to a sauna can be invigorating, but proceed cautiously. Allow time for your body to adjust to the temperature to avoid straining it with sudden changes.

Can you overdo the cold plunge?

Yes, you can. Overexposing yourself to the cold can lead to hypothermia or other health risks. It's crucial to monitor your body's response. Stick to the recommended durations (1-10 minutes) and listen to your body. 

Does cold plunge increase testosterone?

A study suggests moderate exercise is a better way to increase testosterone in young men than cold water exposure. Here's the breakdown of the research:

  • Exercise: Moderate exercise on a stationary bike for 20 minutes significantly increased testosterone levels in the participants. It also caused increases in other hormones like LH (luteinizing hormone) and NA (noradrenaline). These hormones work together to boost testosterone during exercise.
  • Cold Water: On the other hand, cold water immersion had the opposite effect. Testosterone levels dropped slightly after cold water stimulation. Interestingly, LH went up with cold water but didn't raise testosterone levels like exercise.

Is it OK to cold plunge every day/every morning?

Daily plunges are good, but it depends on your body's tolerance. Most people prefer cold water immersion in the morning to boost alertness. Experiment and find what works for you and monitor for signs of overexposure.

Is a 1-minute cold plunge enough?

A short 1-minute plunge, especially for beginners, helps build tolerance and can still offer benefits. However, longer durations may offer more substantial effects on circulation and recovery.

Does cold plunge burn fat?

A study conducted showed the effects of cold plunge on calories.

  • Brown Fat

Brown adipose tissue (brown fat or BAT) is a type of fat that acts like a furnace, burning calories to generate heat. Scientists believe activating brown fat could be a way to burn more calories and potentially lose weight. Cold temperature exposure has been shown to activate the brown fat.

  • Metabolism

Cold exposure increased the metabolic rate by approximately two-fold.

The number of calories burned after a cold plunge can vary based on factors such as water temperature and individual metabolism. The effect is generally minimal compared to exercise. Remember, cold plunging is not a primary fat-burning method. They should be combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle change for optimal results.

How do you breathe during a cold plunge?

Focus on slow, deep breaths during a cold plunge to help manage the body's response to the cold and promote relaxation.

How long is optimal for a cold plunge?

The ideal time can vary depending on your goals and tolerance. Generally, start with 1 minute and gradually increase. Aim for 3-5 minutes for maximum benefits.

Next article Surprising Benefits of Chromotherapy in Saunas

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