How long and how often should I go in an ice bath?

How long and how often should I go in an ice bath?

Daniel is often asked about the frequency and the length of cold dips. The answer is as unique as the person asking the question. 

You don’t get good at press-ups or handstands, juggling, ju-jitsu, bench-pressing, knitting, playing music or whatever by doing it just once. We know this to be true. CWI is a practice. Show up daily, design it into your routines and reap the benefits.

Take a body check

Always be aware of how your mind and body feels each day before you dip.

If you’re already stressed at that point in your life, it’s likely not the right time to start increasing your dip frequency or length. It’s too much stress for the body to handle. 

A 2-minute dip is a great length to aim for. The latest research suggests that 11 minutes spread across multiple cold exposures throughout the week is optimum. Can you dip more than once a day? Yes, if that works for you. There are no hard and fast rules.

 Each day is different, so what you need each day is different, too. Explore with frequency and find the right balance for you.

How do you know your body is adapting to the cold?

Believe it or not, your body will start adapting from the very first cold dip. Truly cold-adapted people have common traits that show in regular cold weather or daily cold situations:

Their breath remains under control (they don’t gasp as much) upon entering or whilst in the coldest water. 

Their circulatory system responds quickly and efficiently. 

If they’re Caucasian, the skin turning pink quickly is a useful, visual sign of this. 

They’re not stressed. They feel and look calm and alert - challenged of course - but always comfortable and focused. 

They are fat-adapted, so there is little or no shivering. 

They have developed a physical control over the cold stressor. 

They warm up very quickly after the exposure. In just a few minutes they’re on with their day. 

A word of advice for cold-water beginners

No ice baths at first. Just as you don’t walk into a gym and attempt to bench press 200lbs for fun. Walk before you run.

Keep it fun. We’re not training to summit Everest, it’s just cold-water therapy, and we’re using it to unlock some health benefits. 

Smile, keep it playful there is nothing serious about this if we are safe, though you’ll enjoy some serious benefits. 

Start with 30 seconds in a cold shower. Build up quickly over a week to 1-2 minutes, you’ll be amazed how fast you adapt. Your goal in a cold shower is to stay in until your breath is under control. Then aim to stay in until it no longer feels cold, at this point you’ve nailed the cold shower.

How long should I stay in an ice bath? 

Build towards taking a cold dip or cold shower 4-7 days a week, ideally 7, but no forcing if a day off feels important. Even 4 days per week (every other day) for just a few minutes is going to render adaptation.

How cold should the cold water be?

Remember, no ice baths at first. Stick to cold water only. Somewhere between 5-10°c is great. When you can do 3-5 minutes in the shower and feel great with no repercussions (shivering or vascular issues) then get in a cold bath. Cold water is four times stronger than cold air at extracting heat, so start ‘warmer’ over 5°c. Try a minute or two. 

When you can do 2-3 minutes in a cold bath, and again feel great with no shivering afterwards, try some ice. You’ll feel confident because of your progress. The ice bath is no longer a beast of fear, just a teacher that you respect. Lower those temperatures by 2°c whilst reducing the time. Try for a 1-minute ice bath, hands out at first if you wish, then increase the time steadily over the next few weeks. 

This end-to-end scaling into cold water can be done as fast as feels sensible to you. A week or a month, there’s no rush, and no medal at the end. It’s just you and the cold water.