If you’re just getting into ice bath therapy, it’s easy to get bombarded with a ton of questions.
One common question is, how long should you ice bath for?
As a former ice bath beginner with a handful of ice bath sessions under my belt, I’ll discuss the practical aspects of how long one should stay doing ice cold immersion therapy.
Let’s dive in.
Quick Answer: How long should you ice bath for?
Ideally, you would do an ice bath for 5-15 minutes in a cold plunge tub where the water is around 10-15 degrees Celsius to get the most out of the benefits of cold therapy. Of course, there are other factors as well, such as environmental temperature, personal preference, safety, as well as what you want to get out of ice baths, that are involved in how long you should ice bath for.
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Let’s begin by discussing factor number one.
1) Ice Bath Safety
First of all, the most important factor is your safety.
It should already be a given that you are in decent health and have no other underlying health concerns.
Even then, the maximum time you should stay in an ice bath is as long as you can safely do so.
Concerned about hypothermia?
Don’t worry about that, as you won’t get hypothermia from the average ice bath of under 5-10 minutes at 10-15 Degrees Celsius.
People usually think you can get hypothermia in as little as 5 minutes.
But in fact, it can take up to 30 minutes to an hour in freezing cold waters before someone even shows the first sign of hypothermia and is in actual danger. (Source)
Photo by Lukas Blazek on Unsplash.
Nonetheless, don’t stay in ice baths for too long.
You should also dry yourself properly and let your body warm up naturally after an ice bath so you don’t stay cold.
Related: Can you ice bath twice a day?
Aside from this, some people can’t stay in the cold for very long: especially those new to deliberate cold exposure.
In my first home ice bath some time ago, even though it was just a bit higher than the recommended 10-15 Degrees Celsius, I still experienced the cold shock, along with the fast, deep breathing that inevitably followed.
Even then, I had friends around me ready to assist in case anything went wrong. (They also had their turn in the ice bath afterwards.)
If the cold shock is too intense and you’re hyperventilating in the cold, you’re probably doing it wrong.
As The IceMan Wim Hof, prominent cold exposure practitioner says, “Let your body do what it’s capable of doing. Never force.”
Oh, and don’t make prolonged contact with the actual ice cubes themselves or you can risk getting an ice burn.
For general safety, keep your ice baths 10 minutes and under, especially if you’re a beginner to ice baths.
2) Personal Preference
The second factor is plain old personal taste.
You don’t have to stay in an ice bath for 15 minutes every session just because a scientific study said so.
That said, we can use this growing body of cold exposure research to optimise our cold exposure routines according to personal preference.
Only feel like doing a 5-minute ice bath today? Then do a 5-minute one.
Maybe you could only do a 30-second cold shower when you wake up in the morning? Then 30 seconds it is.
No one is forcing you to take ice baths, and if someone is, then that’s kind of screwed up, because it’s obvious how ice baths are challenging and taxing on your body.
And this stress, given that it’s voluntary, is what helps us grow mentally every time we turn that shower knob to fully cold, or take a plunge into a tub of ice water.
3) Your current Deliberate Cold Exposure level
That said, even if you want to get all the brain and body benefits that ice baths can give you, ice baths are more on the extreme side of health and wellness therapies.
The spectrum of cold exposure can go from a few seconds of cold shower at the end of a warm shower, to full cold showers, and then to full 15-minute ice baths, and up to hiking up a freezing mountain in nothing but shorts (and possibly even more extreme feats.)
Extreme cold exposure enthusiasts are capable of hiking up an icy mountain like this with little winter gear. Photo by Matt Gross on Unsplash.
That’s why it’s recommended to get a solid foundation in deliberate cold exposure, starting off with cold showers, before moving up to ice baths.
That way, your recommended duration of ice baths is moulded to your personal health routine, and not based on others who may likely have a different fitness journey than you.
With that said, let’s move onto the benefits of ice baths.
Particularly, exactly which benefits the individual ice bather wants to get out of cold plunge therapy:
4) What do you want to get out of ice baths?
Like we touched on earlier, ice baths can give you a multitude of benefits in your mind and body’s recovery.
Also read: Do ice baths increase brown fat?
And nowadays, we’re lucky that researchers are conducting more and more studies to show the various effects of ice baths in more detail.
This enables us to tailor our ice baths to what we want to get out of them:
Want to do ice baths for recovery after a hard workout? Stay in until your blood vessels undergo vasoconstriction, which would be around 5-10 minutes, so your body can push out waste products more like a good massage can do for your body.
Want the effects that can help your memory and learning retention after an intense study session? An ice cold 5-minute ice bath or short cold shower will spike adrenaline, enabling alertness and focus. (Source)
Want a prolonged elevated mood? A 15-minute neck-deep immersion in 14-degree Celsius cold water can boost your circulating dopamine 250% for hours according to one study.
Related: Do ice baths increase dopamine?
Want to improve mental resilience? Try following Andrew Huberman’s science-supported “counting walls” technique, which involves giving yourself a number of mental “walls” to get through as you sit in your ice bath.
After you count those walls, you can get out with a feeling of triumph, knowing that you just strengthened your willpower, just like doing those last few, most difficult reps in a workout that feel great to push through.
But outside of personal preference are environmental factors:
5) Environmental Factors
Environmental factors can be anything from the temperature of the ice bath as well as around it (ambient temperature.)
It can also mean time constraints and scheduling, as well as things like the amount of ice you have access to.
Each of those was actually a factor in my first home ice bath session:
I didn’t have enough ice to last, and like I mentioned earlier, the coldest temperature I got was 17.3 Celsius, which was a bit warmer than the recommended 10-15 degrees.
For the most part, the ice bath temperature I stayed in was around 18.5 degrees Celsius, ending at 19.6 degrees by the time I got out.
I ended up staying around 12 and a half minutes because the water wasn’t the recommended temperature and I wanted to get the most out of the cold therapy session.
You may also find yourself staying longer or shorter in your ice bath, depending on how cold or warm your ice bath is.
Anyway, when I got out, it was also a hot summer day, so I wasn’t maximising the benefits of the ice bath.
Although, on that day, it was nice that I had friends and family kind of experience some level of cold exposure because I blocked out that time when everyone was free.
They weren’t really cold exposure enthusiasts so it sort of worked out that most of the ice had melted by the time they got in, because some of them predictably got chillier than they expected.
What can we learn from this?
Sometimes, environmental factors are what we have to adjust to for a variety of reasons.
We can also learn from them and make our succeeding ice baths better and better.
At the end of the day, if you’re just starting out with home ice baths, I recommend you check out our article on Top Beginner Home Ice Bath Mistakes so that you don’t make the same embarrassing mistakes I did.
In general, the answer to “how long should you ice bath for?” is 5-10 minutes for a 10-15 degrees Celsius ice bath.
Of course, you should be in good physical fitness and health to start off, and only try any cold therapy under the guidance and clearance of your healthcare provider.
Also, other factors such as the benefits you want to get out of ice baths, personal taste, environmental factors, as well as your current Deliberate Cold Exposure experience level can dictate how long you’d want to stay in an ice bath for.
Keep these in mind and you can enjoy the benefits of cold therapy for years to come.
Castellani, J. W., & Young, A. J. (2016). Human physiological responses to cold exposure: Acute responses and acclimatization to prolonged exposure. Autonomic neuroscience : basic & clinical, 196, 63–74. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.autneu.2016.02.009
Schwabe, L., Hermans, E. J., Joëls, M., & Roozendaal, B. (2022). Mechanisms of memory under stress. Neuron, 110(9), 1450–1467. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2022.02.020