The Differences Between Ice Baths and Cold Plunge

The debate between ice baths and cold plunges often surfaces among athletes, wellness enthusiasts, and those dedicated to recovery protocols. Whilst both practices involve the use of cold water, they differ significantly in their approach, benefits, and usage. This article aims to dissect these differences, offering a detailed comparison that helps you choose the right method for your recovery and wellness regimen.

Key Points:

Ice baths typically involve water temperatures between 10°C and 15°C and are used for longer durations.

Cold plunges can be as cold as 4°C and are generally used for shorter, more intense sessions.

Both methods boast benefits like reduced muscle soreness, improved recovery times, and enhanced mental toughness, but they cater to different preferences and tolerances for cold exposure. 

What is an Ice Bath?

An ice bath, or cold water immersion, involves sitting in a tub filled with ice and water. It's a method popular among athletes for reducing muscle soreness and speeding up the recovery process after intense physical activities. The temperature in an ice bath is usually between 10°C to 15°C, and the immersion lasts for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Benefits of Ice Baths

  • Reduction in Muscle Inflammation:

Immersion in cold water helps in reducing inflammation and muscle soreness post-exercise.

  • Enhanced Recovery:

By slowing down physiological processes, ice baths reduce metabolic activity, promoting faster recovery.

  • Boosts the Immune System:

Regular use can enhance the immune response through heightened circulation and reduced stress levels.

What is a Cold Plunge?

A cold plunge refers to a pool or tub filled with cold water, but without the addition of ice. The water in a cold plunge is usually colder than that of an ice bath, often around 4°C to 15.5°C and they typically come with a built in chiller and filtration system. The duration of immersion is typically shorter than that of an ice bath, lasting around 3 to 5 minutes.

Benefits of Cold Plunges

  • Rapid Cooling:

The colder temperatures of a cold plunge allow for a quicker decrease in body temperature, which can be invigorating and refreshing.

  • Increased Caloric Burn:

Exposing the body to extreme cold can increase caloric burn as the body works to maintain its core temperature.

  • Mental Clarity and Vigour:

The shock of the cold water can stimulate the nervous system, enhancing mental clarity and vigour.

Ice Bath vs Cold Plunge


Ice Bath: 10°C to 15°C

Cold Plunge: 4°C to 15.5°C


Ice Bath: 10-15 minutes

Cold Plunge: 3-5 minutes

Primary Use

Ice Bath: Recovery and inflammation reduction

Cold Plunge: Invigoration and rapid cooling

Sensory Experience

Ice Bath: Gradual acclimatisation

Cold Plunge: Immediate shock

When to Use

  • Post-Marathon Recovery:

Ideal for long-distance runners after a race to mitigate muscle damage and accelerate recovery.

  • Chronic Inflammation:

Beneficial for individuals with chronic muscle or joint inflammation as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

  • Quick Refresh:

Perfect for a quick, invigorating dip that boosts energy and alertness.

  • Routine Wellness Practice:

Can be incorporated into a daily or weekly routine for consistent benefits.

We recommend starting with water at 15°C and shorter durations (30-60 seconds) and slowly decreasing the temperature and increasing the duration as your body adapts and tolerance builds.

For a step-by-step guide on how to safely take ice baths and tips for incorporating them into your wellness routine, speak with one of our team who will run you through our ice bath guide.