I tried the ice bath fitness trend for the first time — here’s what happened

a photo of a woman taking an ice bath
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If you’re attuned to the health and well-being world on social media, you’ll have noticed a sharp rise in cold-water therapy content; from ice baths to freezing-cold plunge pools and outdoor swims. Even flicking the shower water from toasty warm to uncomfortably cold has become somewhat of a trend.

The water used in cold water therapy is only classed as cold if the temperature is sub 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit). Typically, time spent in this water is a few minutes, although if there are always those really tough nuts who can grin and bear it for what seems like an eternity. 

Ice swimming, made famous by the Wim Hof Method, involves water that’s sub 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit). This might sound like madness, but there are a fair few supposed benefits to plunging yourself into icy-cold water.

If you’re an avid gym goer, cold water therapy is said to help lessen soreness, according to research. Just as you would apply ice to swelling, cold water is said to cause blood vessels to constrict, helping to reduce inflammation.

Cold water therapy has also been linked to mental health benefits. There’s even been a study that found that two cold, short showers a day reduced symptoms of depression. Oh, and not to mention the immune system benefits. It’s all in the science, as research has found that exposure to cold water on a daily, over time, could boost immunity. Ideal in the colder months when colds are rife.

Cold water therapy isn’t for the faint-hearted, however, as I discovered when I took a trip to Banya No 1 in Hoxton, London. The likes of Justin Bieber, Kate Moss, and Renee Zellweger have all ventured here to enjoy the many benefits of a sauna, plunge, and Paranie treatment. This is a thermal massage, involving birch leaves which are used to stroke and hit the body. All whilst a bunch of cool eucalyptus leaves is laid over the face. Sounds crazy, but actually is rather blissful as it turns out.

Anyway, armed with my cold water therapy knowledge, I rallied the troops (well, my one friend who was also keen to dunk themselves into cold water) and decided to try this out for myself. Here’s what I discovered:

I tried cold water therapy — here’s what happened

It forced me to tune into my breathing

How often do you really think about your breath? Probably only when you’re gassed out, or struggling to catch your breath after running up a flight of stairs, or enduring a workout. When my body was immersed in cold water, I found myself hyperventilating. The only way to stop this was to focus on taking slow and controlled breaths. If you’re a breathwork advocate, this will come easy to you. For me, not so much. But by the third dunk, I'd nailed it.

It gave me more energy than coffee

My morning oat milk cappuccino is a thing of the past. Plunging my body (and head might I add) into the cold pool at Banya No 1 was so energising that I felt invigorated for the rest of the day. As in, dancing-around-the-house-kinda-invigorated.

I did a little research and found that cold water thermogenesis actually stimulates the nerve endings in the skin, in turn leading to greater energy levels. I’d be keen to try this the morning after a late night, to see if it helps overcome that awful groggy feeling.

My skin was rosy

That rush of blood caused by the shock of cold water meant my face was given a gorgeous rosy glow. There was no need to apply blush after my plunge pool experience — the cold water pretty much gave me the same effect. If you’re someone who suffers from a skin condition, then cold or even icy water could help. After all, the Korean-inspired ice water facials became a ‘thing’ last year, supposedly helping to minimise pores and lessen oily patches. I’m yet to add this religiously to my beauty routine, but after my plunge pool glow, I’m extremely tempted. 

Pep talks were a thing

I found myself muttering ‘go on Lucy’, under my breath as I stealthily dipped my toe into the pool. It really is the shock of the cold that hits you — once you’re in, and you’re breathing, I reckon it’s not too hard to spend at least 15-20 seconds in there straight off the bat, and then of course, build up to minutes every time you plunge yourself in.

a photo of a cold water bath

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)

Getting warm after is vital

One of the rules with cold water therapy is that you should ensure you gradually warm your body back up after. This doesn’t mean jumping straight into a hot shower — the stark contract of temperatures can be dangerous, according to Bupa. Instead, dry yourself, wrap up in warm clothing and sip on warm drinks.

I loved it so much, I did it again. And again.

After my first dunking in the plunge pool, I then took some time out, drank some warm tea and decided, ‘oh, I fancy doing that all over again!’ About 15 minutes later, I scuttled back to the plunge pool and immersed myself in the cold, yet again. I then proceeded to do this whole routine for a third time. Yup, I’m hooked.  

I tried cold water therapy and this is my verdict 

Cold water therapy is like addictive torture — you feel benefits straight away and these carry on for hours after. The fact that I was forced to control my breathing was also really helpful. Breathing is something I need to hone in on a lot more — I go through life in a whirlwind and absolutely need to start slowing down. Cold water therapy could be helpful when it comes to pressing the reset button.

Will I go back for more cold-water fun? Yes! In fact, I am already rounding off my showers with a 20-second cold-water blast. Don’t believe me? Give it a try! Plus, read what happened when this Tom’s Guide editor tried cold showers every day for a week

Looking for more workout inspiration? Here’s what happened when our fitness editor did mountain climbers every day for a week, plus the best 10-minute ab workouts for engaging your core and 5 yoga exercises that work your core

Lucy Gornall

Lucy is a freelance health and fitness journalist as well as a pre and post-natal personal trainer. Although a sweaty gym session (skipping rope is a must) is her favorite way to ‘relax’, she’s also a fan of bingeing on The Office, snacking on chocolate-coated raisins, and fizz-filled brunches with friends.