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You've decided to embrace the incredible health benefits that come with saunas and ice baths.
As you walk into the wellness spa, you're hit with the age-old question. What should I do first, the sauna or the ice bath?
As it turns out, starting with either has its pros and cons, but the cold hard truth is – there is no right or wrong answer.
In this blog, we will explain the reasons why you may choose one before the other.
We'll also explain the underlying truth about how long you should use the sauna and the ice bath in combination per week for maximum benefits.
Lucky for us, a researcher and hermetic stress expert, Dr Susanna Søberg has already conducted the studies and research for us!
So grab your towel, and get ready to dive into the science and find out if you should be using the infrared sauna before or after the ice bath!
Should I sauna before an ice bath?
The truth is that it doesn't matter if you sauna first or if you ice bath first, however, there are some nuances to this answer.
The benefit you get by using the sauna or infrared sauna before an ice bath is that your body temperature will be closer to room temperature, slightly warmer than if you were to jump into an ice bath.
What does this mean?
Simply, you'll be able to reach a sweat quicker if you go straight to the infrared sauna, traditional sauna or steam room.
Because it's not about the temperature of the sauna, but the temperature of your core body temperature. The warmer you are, the quicker you will warm up to the temperature that your body needs to begin to thermoregulate and start sweating.
When this happens, your heart rate increases, blood vessels dilate and you begin to use energy to attempt to cool yourself down.
This is where the magic begins for sauna benefits.
Should I ice bath before the sauna?
Now, if you were to ice bath first, your body would reap the rewards of vessel constricting, flushing blood and waste products to the internal organs. This lowers inflammation and reduces metabolic waste products from muscles and joints.
But is there any real benefit to doing an ice bath before sauna?
The answer is no – unless you were running out of time and you had to choose between one or the other.
So, what should you do first?
By using the sauna first, you may be more efficient in going from hot to cold, raising and lowering your core body temperature dramatically more frequently in a certain period.
Besides that reason, there is no physiological or psychological benefit other than personal preference!
So we now know that it doesn't matter which one you choose first, but how long should you spend on each one? Let's find out.
Sauna and Cold Plunge Time: How long is enough?
The secret sauce to how long you should ice bath and sauna together is 11 minutes of cold and 57 minutes of heat per week.
That equals roughly 2.5 minutes in an ice bath 4x a week, and 15 minutes of sauna 4x a week.
Of course, you can tailor this formula to your routine and lifestyle. For example, if you have an ice bath at home but only a sauna at your gym, then you might go for 1.5 minutes of ice bath every day and 28.5 minutes of sauna 2x a week.
But where did this formula come from? Let us introduce you to the leading researcher in the field.
Introducing Dr Susanna Søberg: Hot and Cold Therapy Researcher
Dr Susanna Søberg is a pioneering researcher and PhD in metabolism.
Her extensive research has led to groundbreaking discoveries in understanding the minimum thresholds of cold and heat exposure required to unlock health benefits.
Her findings have culminated in the safe rule of thumb mentioned above:
11 minutes of cold and 57 minutes of heat per week
She is devoted to effectively communicating science by utilising cold, heat, and breathwork as natural and powerful methods to reduce inflammation and enhance overall well-being in a practical and accessible manner.
In 2019, she published her debut book, Winter Swimming, which speaks on the benefits of ice baths and sauna.
Let's take a look at how you can use saunas and ice baths following the Soeberg Principle.
How to do The Soeberg Principle
Dr. Susanna Søberg's pioneering research into the Hot and Cold Plunge Protocol has shed light on the potent health benefits of thermal stressors, such as cold showers, cold water immersion, and saunas.
This protocol aims to stimulate the body's natural mechanisms, leading to:
Enhanced fitness adaptations
Potential mental health benefits
Remember to gradually incorporate this protocol into your daily routine, especially for individuals who are more susceptible to hypothermia.
How to Use Ice Baths and Saunas
Here's a step-by-step guide to using them effectively:
Choose the Right Time: Saunas tend to raise your body temperature, making them better suited for daytime use. Avoid using a sauna too close to bedtime, as it may interfere with your sleep.
Prepare the Sauna: Ensure the sauna is at a comfortable temperature, usually between 150-195°F (65-90°C). Adjust the settings if needed.
Cool Down: After your sauna session, cool down gradually.
Rehydrate: Rehydrate with water to replace fluids lost through sweating.
Timing is Key: Wait at least 6 to 8 hours after your training session or exercise before taking an ice bath. Alternatively, consider taking an ice bath before your workout if your primary goal is recovery without seeking further gains in strength or endurance.
Gather Your Supplies: You'll need access to a tub or container large enough to immerse your body in cold water.
Prepare the Water: Fill the tub with cold water. The water should be around 50-59°F (10-15°C). You can use ice to lower the water temperature if needed.
Immerse Yourself: Carefully step into the cold water, ensuring your entire body is submerged up to your neck. Start with shorter immersion periods, such as 2-5 minutes.
Move Around: To maximise the benefits, move your limbs while keeping your hands and feet in the water. This disrupts the thermal layer around your body, making the experience colder and more effective.
Monitor Your Body: Pay attention to your body's response. If you experience discomfort or shivering, it's okay to shorten the duration of your ice bath.
Exit and Warm Up: After your desired duration, carefully exit the ice bath. Warm up gradually and dry off.
This protocol offers the flexibility of simultaneous or individual therapy sessions. Remember, for optimal benefits, observe a maximum of 11 minutes of cold therapy and 57 minutes of heat therapy per week.
Follow this protocol with the specified time requirements or choose to alternate between hot and cold sessions. Repeat the steps above for 2 or 3 rounds of both therapies.
Always start with hot therapy and conclude with cold therapy for the most time-effective treatment, as mentioned earlier.
Speaking of benefits, what are they?
The Benefits of the Soeberg Principle: Contrast Therapy Benefits
By incorporating the ice bath into your sauna routine, you can experience the added health benefits including the ones you would normally receive from your infrared sauna session:
Boosted Immune Function Cold exposure stimulates white blood cell production, enhancing the body's defence against infections. The result? A robust immune system and fewer sick days.
Improved Circulation Cold therapy fosters enhanced blood circulation, a boon for overall health. Better circulation enables efficient delivery of oxygen and nutrients to cells, leading to improved organ function and vitality.
Stress Alleviation Cold exposure initiates the release of endorphins, the body's natural "feel-good" hormones. This aids in reducing stress, anxiety, and even depressive symptoms, fostering emotional balance and relaxation.
Weight Management Cold therapy can assist weight management by activating brown fat, which burns calories to produce heat. This can supplement your fitness regimen and support your weight loss journey.
Now where did this information come from?
Well, many of these findings from Dr Soeberg have come from her Winter Swimming study, let's take a closer look.
The Science Behind Cold Exposure: The Winter Swimming Study
When we enter cold water, especially for the first time or if we haven't adapted to the cold, our body experiences a cold shock response.
This response triggers hyperventilation, but with practice, one can manage it better.
The cold receptors in our skin send signals to the brain's temperature-regulating centre, the hypothalamus.
This centre then activates the sympathetic nervous system, which prepares the body for the "fight or flight" response, keeping vital organs warm by contracting the veins in the skin.
Participants underwent cold water exposure, and the results were astounding. Even with minimal cold exposure, the study showed significant health benefits in young, healthy subjects.
These individuals experienced lower insulin production, indicating improved insulin sensitivity.
Dr Søberg emphasises that cold water exposure need not be extreme or uncomfortable to reap the benefits.
The protocol used in her study was designed to be accessible and safe for the general population.
Winter swimming and cold showers are more than sufficient to activate brown fat and elicit positive health responses. But what is brown fat? Let's find out.
The Mystery of Brown Fat Thermogenesis
Brown fat is a specific type of fat that generates heat to keep the body warm. By activating this process, the body can produce more heat and increase its metabolism, which may have health benefits.
This study identified the minimum thresholds for intentional exposure to cold and heat, which can help activate Brown fat thermogenesis.
This activation is mainly achieved through the release of norepinephrine, which can improve thermogenesis by generating heat and burning calories.
Health Implications of Brown Fat Activation
Studies have indicated that cold-induced brown fat activation may aid in reducing inflammation in the body.
Consequently, this could help in preventing lifestyle diseases like cardiovascular issues and type 2 diabetes.
Moreover, brown fat activation has been linked to improved mental health, with increased neurotransmitter activity promoting positive emotions.
Brown fat plays a crucial role in burning calories. When brown fat is activated, it uses fat stored within its cells as fuel.
Consequently, glucose and lipids from the bloodstream are utilised, clearing up the bloodstream and reducing white fat stores.
As we dissect the optimal sequence of using a sauna and taking an ice bath, it's important to understand the concept of hormetic stress.
This principle explains how our bodies respond to extreme temperatures, guiding us on whether to sauna before or after an ice bath. But what exactly is hormetic stress, and how does it influence our recovery and wellness routines?
Here, we unravel the intricacies of hormesis, its impact on our health, and how it applies to your sauna and ice bath regimen.
If you're seeking to optimise your wellness journey, understanding hormetic stress is key. So, we invite you to read our new post and discover how this biological principle can enhance your sauna and ice bath experience.
Is Sauna and Ice Bath right for me?
By now you should have a solid foundation of information to make an informed decision about which sauna/ice bath combination works best for you.
Although research has suggested that Dr Susanna Søberg's recommended combination can be effective for obtaining the desired fitness benefits, you are always encouraged to evaluate your own situation and determine what is appropriate for your personal fitness goals.
The good news is that whatever decision you make regarding the use of saunas and ice baths should yield positive results.
You can always revisit the information discussed in this blog post as a helpful guide, as well as reach out to experts if needed.
As with any fitness activity, safety and caution is the priority. Be sure to take care of yourself and consult your doctor before venturing on this exciting journey.
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Sauna and Ice Bath Frequently Asked Questions
How long should you stay in an ice bath?
A cold plunge time of between one and two minutes is recommended for beginners to ice bathing. For more advanced users, submerging your body in cold water, typically for 1-5 minutes, aids in recovery and promotes overall health.
What are ice bath benefits?
Ice baths benefits include:
Aid in muscle recovery
Boost the immune system
Regular cold water exposure, like immersing yourself in very cold water can provide whole-body benefits:
Increase your body's tolerance to cold making you more resilient to colder temperatures and increase your cold tolerance
Stimulate blood flow
Speed up recovery time
Blood vessels constrict
Stimulates the central nervous system
Accelerate muscle healing
What is cold water immersion?
Cold water immersion is a type of hydrotherapy that involves submerging the body in cold water to stimulate blood flow and reduce inflammation.
What is cold therapy?
Cold therapy, which includes techniques such as ice baths and cold showers, has been found to help reduce muscle soreness and speed up recovery time.
What does cold water immersion do?
Cold water exposure can stimulate the body's natural healing processes, enhancing recovery and improving overall health.
Can a cold plunge detoxify you?
The constriction of blood vessels during an ice bath can help flush out toxins and lactic acid from the muscles.
Can you take a cold shower instead of an ice bath?
Taking a cold shower can be a great way to start building your tolerance for cold exposure before moving on to ice baths.
Do cold showers have benefits?
Cold showers have been linked to benefits such as improved circulation, boosted mood, and increased alertness.
Is cold water immersion popular?
Cold water immersion therapy has been used by athletes for many years as a method to accelerate recovery and reduce muscle soreness.
Are ice baths anti-inflammatory?
Submerging your entire body in the ice bath can help to lower your core body temperature, stimulating blood flow and reducing inflammation.
What happens during an ice bath?
During an ice bath, your body temperature will drop, causing your blood vessels to constrict and your heart rate to increase.
Should I shower after an ice bath?
Following an ice bath with a warm shower can help to gradually bring your body temperature back to normal.
What is a DIY ice bath?
An ice barrel, filled with cold water and ice cubes, can serve as an effective and convenient method for at-home ice baths.
What happens during an ice bath?
Taking an ice bath causes a drop in your core body temperature, activating your body's survival mechanisms. This includes an increase in heart rate and metabolism.
The extreme cold experienced during an ice bath can stimulate the body's natural healing processes, promoting faster recovery.
When you immerse yourself in an ice bath, the constriction of blood vessels helps eliminate toxins and lactic acid from the muscles, aiding in the recovery process.
By subjecting your body to frigid temperatures, an ice bath stimulates blood flow and bolsters your immune system.
What are some ice bath tips?
If you're new to ice bathing, a few tips include starting with shorter durations, gradually lowering the water temperature, and always ensuring you have a warm towel nearby.
Can you ice bath at home?
Setting up an ice bath at home can be as simple as filling a bathtub or large container with cold water and enough ice to reach your desired temperature.
Do ice baths help with muscle recovery?
Cold water immersion therapy, like ice baths, can help alleviate delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) following intense physical activity.
What should I do after the ice bath?
After an ice bath, it's important to gradually warm your body back up to prevent shock or discomfort.
Do ice baths improve thermoregulation?
Exposing yourself to colder temperatures, such as through ice baths or cold showers, can help improve your body's ability to regulate its temperature.
Should you ice bath after exercise?
Ice baths can help soothe sore muscles after an intense workout by reducing inflammation and speeding up recovery time. After an intense exercise session, taking an ice bath can help speed up recovery and reduce muscle soreness.
Is an ice bath good for high blood pressure?
For those with high blood pressure, it's important to consult a healthcare provider before starting an ice bath regimen, as sudden cold exposure can increase heart rate.
Can you use a bathtub as an ice bath?
Filling your bath with ice cubes can be an effective way to achieve the desired temperature for an ice bath.
How cold is an ice bath?
To achieve the optimal temperature for an invigorating ice bath, simply add ice to cold water until it reaches approximately 10-15 degrees Celsius (around 50-60 Fahrenheit).
This temperature range is generally considered ideal for reaping the benefits of an ice bath.
However, if you're new to this practice, it's advisable to start with slightly warmer water and gradually decrease the temperature over time to acclimate yourself to the experience.
How to prepare an ice bath?
When preparing an ice bath, ensure there is enough ice to bring the water to the desired temperature, typically between 10-15 degrees Celsius (around 50-60 Fahrenheit).
How to stay safe in an ice bath?
To stay in an ice bath safely, limit your time to no more than 15 minutes and always listen to your body's signals.
Should you see a doctor before ice bath therapy?
Before starting an ice bath regimen, it's recommended to consult with a physical therapist or other healthcare provider to ensure it's safe and beneficial for you.
What should you not do after an ice bath?
Following an ice bath, avoid jumping into hot water immediately as this could cause discomfort; instead, gradually warm up with a warm shower or towel.
Why should you use an ice bath?
Ice baths are often used as part of an exercise recovery routine, helping to reduce inflammation and accelerate muscle healing.
Do ice baths reduce swelling?
The hydrostatic pressure of being submerged in water during an ice bath can also aid in reducing swelling and inflammation.
How do I start with an ice bath?
To take an ice bath, fill a tub or large container with cold water, add enough ice to reach your desired temperature, and then submerge your body for 1-5 minutes.