Okay, so you found yourself a way to take an ice bath, mentally psyched yourself up to actually do one and finally take the plunge.
After submerging yourself deep in the cold water, you find out what ice baths really feel like.
And then you remember the recommended time of 5-10 minutes—that you set a timer for before you got in, I hope.
And then, as that timer ticks down to zero… You think, “Okay, so now, what?”
As a former ice bath beginner, let me tell you the top 6 things to do after an ice bath, based on my experience.
Cold Dog bundling up. Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash.
And let me tell you, I wish I knew these things when I had my first home cold plunge.
Let’s jump right in.
What do I do after an ice bath?
To get the most out of cold therapy, here’s the short list on the top things to do after your ice bath:
1) Get out safely. This is something they don’t usually tell you if you’re new to ice baths. After my reintroduction to ice baths some time ago, I found myself a bit off balance as I got up.
Good thing I set up the ice bath beside a wall, and I had a chair right beside it to help anchor me as I stood up.
This happens because of vasoconstriction—your body lessens blood flow to your extremities in an effort to preserve core body temperature, and that can make you feel lightheaded when you get out of your ice bath.
Although we took my blood pressure after the 12 and a half minutes that I was in that first home ice bath, finding it to be lower than usual, getting out of the plunge tub was still a bit alarming.
When I first sensed what was happening when I stood up, I lowered my stance to keep my centre of gravity near the ground to help my balance, and held the chair that was beside the ice bath.
Thankfully, I didn’t lose my footing when I got up.
Definitely get up slowly and safely.
2) Dry up completely. If your ice bath wasn’t cold enough or you’re looking for a Part Two in your cold exposure session, you can try to do some evaporative cooling by letting the water on your skin evaporate naturally.
However, this can only get you so far before diminishing returns happen. It also doesn’t work well on a humid day, or if the wind doesn’t reach you.
The point being, if you want it colder, then get more ice cubes.
Which is why, after you’re done with your cold exposure session in a cold plunge tub, you should have some towels ready so you can completely dry yourself.
More importantly, this leads to the next important thing to do:
3) Warm up naturally. To get the most out of your ice bath session, avoid immediately taking a hot shower, or going somewhere with the heat turned up.
Warm up naturally, from your own body’s heat production or “thermogenesis.”
After you safely get up from the cold plunge, dry yourself properly and maybe have a towel on for an extra layer of warmth.
First time ice bathers should have more towels nearby in case it takes too long to warm up.
Additionally, you can also do some light yoga, and motions like the Horse Stance exercise, which is demonstrated by Wim Hof as a way to naturally keep warm around ice bath time.
If you’re still not warming up naturally within 30 minutes, then add more clothing layers, and consider taking that warm shower.
You don’t always have to “get the most out of” a particular ice bath session, therefore, for your safety (and ability to take future ice baths as well!) know when to take more serious measures to warm up if you’re taking too long to get back to your body’s natural state.
4) Do some light mobility exercises like yoga or walking. Is doing the Horse Stance not enough to keep you warm? Try taking a brisk walk or doing some light exercise to get the blood flowing.
Avoid stretching when cold, however, as it may cause damage and tearing to your muscle fibres. (Source: Harvard Health Publishing)
5) Eat a light meal or snack and rehydrate. Ice baths can be very tiring!
After I do some cold exposure, whether it’s neck-deep Cold-Water Immersion in a pool, or a 10-minute ice bath, I always feel like I just had a really good workout:
Tired and exhausted, but with that dopamine high of having accomplished something challenging and good for my health and wellbeing.
That said, it can really work up an appetite.
I find that a light snack and some water really helps re-energize without shocking the body with too much food intake after the stresses of cold exposure therapy.
Additionally, a way to help your body warm up in a more gentle way is to drink some warm liquid like coffee, tea, or just some lukewarm water to heat up your body temperature from the inside.
6) Use a foam roller or even better, a massage gun. Although if you use a foam roller, we recommend doing it before your ice bath, you technically can still “warm up” using them, which can be a relaxing way to end your cold therapy session.
However, we think muscle massage guns are way more effective in targeting specific, hard-to-reach muscles, and are more convenient and feel more effective to use when releasing tight muscles (check out our Musclegun massage gun).
If you keep these tips in mind on what to do after your ice bath, your Deliberate Cold Exposure should end with your body back into its normal state, a process called homeostasis, within 1 or 2 hours at the most.
If you’ve been doing ice baths at a spa and want to bring ice bath therapy to your home, check out out portable cold plunge pool.
Other things you can do after your ice bath
If you got the basics down, (drying up, warming up, re-hydrating), you should be good for the most part.
And if you had your ice bath in the morning, then congratulations, since you probably have the endorphins elevating your mood, boosting your focus and alertness for the whole day, in addition to the relaxing massage-like effect on your muscles that aids in recovery.
However, here are additional things that people might not immediately think of that can really help one’s ice bath routine:
1) Maintenance: Clean up your ice bath setup to keep things hygienic. By keeping things sanitary, you might be able to reuse the water in your next ice bath if it’s still clean enough.
Take a quick look at your ice bath and around it so you can spot any leaks or anything that can make potential tears in your ice bath, such as rocks or jagged areas.
2) Take notes: If you like to optimise things as much as me, I advise taking some notes on how you did and how you felt during your cold plunge.
It really helps from past experience to know how to make your next ice bath even better.
It even led to our article on 14 Beginner Home Ice Bath Mistakes, which you can have a look at so that you don’t have to make the same mistakes I did.
Examples of what to note:
- Maybe you found that your weeks of cold showers really helped you prepare.
- You also might’ve learned that the convenience store runs out of ice before lunchtime.
- It can also be more personal like the temperature you start shivering so that you can maximise increasing your brown fat through cold therapy.
- And like I said earlier, essential reminders for safety like feeling lightheaded when standing up, which I did not expect at first.
Metrics in your note-taking could also include: the amount of ice you used including how many bags of ice, the lowest temperature reached by your plunge tub, the ambient temperature, how long you were in the ice bath, how much of the tub you filled with water, how much the water level rose from the ice, if doing an ice bath in the morning or midday is better for you, etc.
Knowing even a few of these can help make your succeeding ice baths even better, or more optimised to your needs.
3) Exercise: You may find that after the dopamine and energy boost from the ice bath, you can workout with renewed vigour from the adrenaline rush of the cold shock.
Also, if you worked out yesterday or even right before the ice bath, you can see the rejuvenating effects on recovery and performance you can get after some deliberate cold exposure.
4) Contrast Therapy: Now, first things first.
If you’re going to do contrast therapy, you’re not going to be squeezing every last bit of health benefits out of your ice bath.
However, ice baths aren’t an end-all-be-all for health and wellness: you may want different things out of cold exposure, such as the benefits of doing contrast therapy.
(Or, you can choose to not limit yourself for no reason and actually just try both.)
Anyway, you can do this by alternating hot and cold: a hot shower after an ice bath is the most convenient way to do it, or the other way around.
If you’re fortunate enough to have access to a sauna or a steam room as well, adding those to your contrast therapy combined with the ice bath will no doubt make the effects more pronounced like they were at my experience in a contrast therapy spa, where we “ended with cold” through an ice bath, as Dr. Susanna Søeberg, deliberate cold researcher, recommends:
“To enhance the metabolic effects of cold, force your body to reheat on its own.“ (Source: The Science & Use of Cold Exposure for Health & Performance)
5) Deep breathing and meditation: This might be obvious to people who got into cold exposure through practitioners like Wim Hof, but for the rest of us who might not be aware, doing some sort of meditation can really help rewire one’s brain to be calmer and think a bit better.
And what better time to do an awareness practice or meditation than in your warm up period after an ice bath?
After drying up, just find a quiet spot, and let your mind focus on your breathing for a few minutes, pushing out other thoughts.
The current research says that even just around 13 minutes of a daily meditation practice for 8 weeks can be beneficial in the long term for one’s memory, mood, attention even in people who don’t regularly meditate. (Source: Brief, daily meditation enhances attention, memory, mood, and emotional regulation in non-experienced meditators)
Ice baths don’t have to be complicated.
But it can also help to have handy guides on basic things like what to do after ice baths so that you can focus on the cold therapy and not worry about problems that might crop up.
What to do after an ice bath basically involves keeping your safety in mind, as well as drying and warming up properly. And don’t forget to hydrate, too.
And if you want to get more out of your ice bath, you can try our other tips like we discussed in this article, such as doing some light mobility exercises, taking notes of your experience, or even dabbling in contrast therapy.
However, be sure to note that these tips all have their own pros and cons, and it’s best to customise your own cold therapy routine to suit your needs the best.
Have fun in the world of ice baths and Deliberate Cold Exposure!
Have easy access to ice cold plunges and their many health benefits with our ice bath — Delivered straight from Christchurch to your doorstep NZ wide.
Basso, J. C., McHale, A., Ende, V., Oberlin, D. J., & Suzuki, W. A. (2019). Brief, daily meditation enhances attention, memory, mood, and emotional regulation in non-experienced meditators. Behavioural brain research, 356, 208–220. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2018.08.023
Higgins TR, Greene DA, Baker MK. Effects of Cold Water Immersion and Contrast Water Therapy for Recovery From Team Sport: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res. 2017 May;31(5):1443-1460. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001559. PMID: 27398915