The two most common questions I get regarding ice baths:
- How much ice?
- For how long?
My typical, initial response for both is the same: It depends.
Now, here’s the deal — context matters. (You already know this.) A great starting point, however, is to understand hormesis, a term describing minimal dosage to achieve maximal benefit, with what would otherwise be harmful in larger quantities. Think of it this way, a few minutes in an ice bath… great. An hour in an ice bath… hi, hypothermia.
Technical jargon aside, to simplify the conditions of your next ice bath even more, I’d like to encourage you to reframe the question from What’s best for me? to How do I want to feel?
By this reasoning, choosing your ice “recipe” is reduced to identifying the sensation you’d like to feel during and/or after your cold water immersion.
This is where we can look at ice like coffee. Cappuccino, Cortado, Espresso? How do you take it? Black or cream & sugar? A glimpse into some of the coffee-to-ice menu items I’ve developed:
Homemade French Press: Standard three minute ice bath in low to upper 30s-degree water, neck down submerged, with a dunk at start and at end.
(Great for waking up, feeling alert and happy.)
Standard Drip at Your Local Coffee Shop: Three to five minutes in low to upper 40s water, shoulders & hands out.
(Solid pick-me-up for mood & energy levels. Less caffeine than your homemade brew, but less spike and crash later on.)
Spanish Latte: Approximately 10 minutes in low to mid 50s water.
(Might as well be called Mood Booster 10,000. Cold but not as cold, this one’s a real treat. Refreshing, best served with friends.)
Quad-Shot Espresso: The ice conga line, baby! 3-5 full body dunks in low 30s water, 15 to 45 seconds in between dunks.
(For feeling super awake in the shortest amount of time! Warning: side effects may include brain freeze and a strong urge to nap later.)
Gas Station Coffee: A three to five minute bath in melted, somewhat murky water that’s passed its expiration date after a large group cycling back & forth from the sauna.
(Gets the job done, but you feel a little dirty.)
Metaphors aside, the most appropriate dosage of ice exposure certainly includes a critical scientific lens. As our friends at the Art of Breath Clinic advise, this is best conducted through triangulation, finding multiple metrics that provide data points.
So to answer, “How much, for how long?” Well, perhaps the best answer is DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Choose a few different objective & subjective markers to track your ice baths, consistently record, learn, and proceed accordingly.
Then, complete 4 rounds for quality of:
10 DB Roll Back Presses
12 Hollow Rocks
15 Banded Lat Pull Downs
Then, EMOM 6
300′ Shuttle Sprint
*Athletes score slowest round score