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Cold Plunge vs Cold Shower: Which is Right for You?

Achieving overall wellness is not a trend; it is not a phase that people will get over, nor is it about to fade away. Want to know how true this is? Look around you and listen to what people are talking about; it’s everywhere: social media, self-help books, life/business coaches, health experts, yoga instructors, and your neighbor has probably also mentioned it.

It is everywhere, and it’s here to stay. To achieve overall wellness, individuals are adapting certain practices and routines into their lives. What one chooses to incorporate into one's life will vary according to personal preferences and the goals or benefits someone wants to achieve.

Cold water exposure is one of the most common practices tied to achieving overall wellness. And guess what? It works for many people, from fitness enthusiasts looking for alternative recovery options to individuals who want to experience different health benefits.

In this article, we shall look at two different forms of water therapy: cold plunge and cold shower. We shall go deep into the icy waters of cold plunging, trying to understand if these two practices are the same. If they offer the same benefits and so much more. Let’s dive in!

Understanding the Cold: Cold Plunge vs Cold Shower

Cold plunge and cold shower might have one phrase in common and provide similar benefits, but they are more likely to differ due to varying factors. One thing that differentiates the two practices is the cold temperatures under which they are performed.

The water temperature from a cold shower can only become cold to a certain degree, while water in a cold plunge tub can be cooler/icy and remain constant. In some cases, a cold plunge can be done under extreme temperatures that involve full-body immersion in one instance, while when taking a shower, you’ll need to move around to feel the impact of the cold water.

Overview of Cold Therapy

Cold therapy or exposing yourself to colder temperatures can relieve pain, muscle soreness, or inflammation. Others opt for this type of therapy to enjoy the numerous benefits that come with it, such as achieving mental wellness, improved immunity, and so much more.

Importance for Fitness Enthusiasts, Wellness-Minded, and Busy Individuals

Many individuals prefer cold therapy as it provides an alternative option for various issues while offering great health benefits. Athletes and fitness enthusiasts are embracing it, and many swear by the benefits of recovery and its ability to help improve their performance.

A practice not limited to gym and workout baddies, it’s a great therapy for individuals seeking mental well-being and wellness. The cool temperatures help release endorphins, which contribute to an improved mood and reduced stress.

In a fast-paced world where the clock never seems to stop, cold therapy provides relief from strenuous days that can put some stress and strain on your body.

The Basics of Cold Therapy

Applying and using cold therapy on yourself or certain parts of your body can be done in different ways. They are:

  • Ice application – it provides a cheap and easy method for the treatment of acute injuries or muscle groups through the use of ice packs, good old frozen bags of peas, or crushed ice put in a bag or wrapped in a towel

  • Cold Shower – exactly as stated, simply means opting for a cold water shower instead of warm or hot showers

  • Cold plunge/immersion – it involves the process of submerging yourself in cold water except for your head and neck

  • Whole body cryotherapy – exposing your entire body to extremely cold air vapor

  • Partial body cryotherapy – similar to the practice above, but only in this case, your head is not exposed to cold air. During this therapy, you stand in a chamber that is open at the top but encloses the other parts of your body

What is A Cold Plunge?

A cold plunge is immersing yourself in water cooler than 60 degrees F. When submerging in cold water, whether in a tub, plunge, or lake, your entire body should be fully underwater except your neck and head.

Definition and Historical Use

The use of cold water therapy in history can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans. Greeks took a cold bath to help them relax and for therapeutic benefits. A Roman physician known as Claudius Galen employed and advocated using cold water therapy to treat and control fever.

Benefits of Cold Plunging For Recovery and Wellness

Cold plunging at the right temperature (50 – 60 degrees F) and the recommended duration is known to accelerate recovery and improve overall wellness. After an intense gym session or an athletic activity, submerge yourself in icy water for 3-5 minutes to help reduce muscle soreness and inflammation and boost your recovery. 

What is A Cold Shower?

You know how you might run out of hot water in the shower if you stand in there too long? That might be considered a cold shower, but in this particular article, we are talking about deliberately lowering the temperature of your shower to 60 degrees F or less and then taking an icy cold shower for a few minutes.

How it Differs from A Cold Plunge

We’ll highlight one of the most key differences: a cold shower requires you to step under a shower head that cascade down your body, while a cold plunge requires you to completely immerse yourself in ice-cold water.

Accessibility and Convenience for Daily Use

For anyone trying to figure out how to get started with cold therapy and brave their way through deliberate exposure to cold temperatures for all its numerous benefits, a cold shower provides the most convenient option. Most homes have showers, providing easy, cost-efficient, and hassle-free access to cold water providing convenience to daily cold water therapy. One downside is that a cold shower can turn into a lukewarm shower rather quickly depending on where you live and what time of year it is. Imagine trying to get cold water in south Florida during the summer.. 

Cold Plunge vs Cold Shower: Comparative Analysis

Cold showers and cold plunges are categorized as cold water therapy. They improve wellness and overall health for individuals willing to brave the chilling temperatures.

What we want to get into at this point of the article is to compare the two and figure out how both of these practices are beneficial.

Cold Plunge vs Cold Shower: The Benefits

Both practices (cold plunge and cold shower) are refreshing and exhilarating and give your body a “jumpstart.” From both exercises, you quickly become alert and rejuvenated; they might offer similar health benefits. Which are:

  • It helps with muscle recovery and inflammation reduction by controlling blood flow to the affected areas 

  • Enhances mental wellness and boosts mood

  • Helps improve your sleep patterns

  • Increases metabolism

  • Improves your immune system

  • Improves and enhances the flow of blood in your blood vessels

Detailed Comparison of Benefits

Sometimes, depending on the end goal, a person might opt for a cold plunge instead of a cold shower. This is not to say that regular cold showers aren’t effective; the superiority aspect of one over the other is all due to personal preference and desired goals.

For instance, an athlete might pick a cold plunge as it provides muscle recovery and reduces inflammation, as opposed to a shower, which might be great in increasing alertness or relaxing the body.

Another individual might be looking for a way to elevate their mood or jolt their system; a cold shower in such a situation would be sufficient. Not to mention how easily they can be adapted to your daily routines because of their accessibility.

In the table below, we shall highlight the benefits of both of them:

Cold Shower

Cold Plunge

Boosts energy, making you feel rejuvenated

Boosts energy levels, leaving you invigorated

Has the ability to reduce body temperature

It has a huge and significant effect on body temperature

Boosts mood and lowers stress levels

Reduces stress levels

It isn’t known to have an impact on the immune system

Improves your immune system

Doesn’t accelerate or have an impact on muscle recovery

Hastens muscle recovery from intense workouts

It has no known impact on the metabolic rate

Stimulates and triggers a higher metabolic rate, contributing to weight loss

 

Case Studies Showcasing Real-Life Examples

Several research and case studies provide scientific evidence backing up claims of benefits that somebody can experience from cold showers and ice baths. One particular study published in Plos One [1] analyzes the effects of cold showers on individuals' daily lives and work productivity.

Another article [2] also touches on the benefits of cold showers on an individual’s overall health conditions by contributing to fewer sick days.

A study [3] published in the Biology- MDPI website highlights the effects of cold immersion on boosting one’s mood and increasing alertness.

Incorporating Cold Therapy into Your Daily Routine

What is your budget and intended outcome? How much time can you allocate to cold therapy? Once you’ve answered these questions, you can find options that work for you and determine which form of cold therapy you can adapt to your daily routine.

The easiest, most convenient form of cold therapy is a cold shower. It is a great option as it allows you to acclimate to freezing temperatures before venturing into the more icy waters of a cold plunge.

Options for Cold Plunge At Home

Some people have the advantage of living in areas where it’s cold all year round; cold water therapy for such individuals can be easy as they can choose to plunge in a lake or pool or take a cold shower, which is likely going to be much cooler due to the region’s climate. Despite such an area's convenience, caution is still a key factor, and safety during and after the therapy is a priority.

If you are not as lucky, do not worry; you can set up a cold plunge at your home. How? Get the latest and most effective cold therapy equipment with various cold plunges like the Ice Barrel to help you start cold plunging.

Making the Most Out of Your Shower

We’ve already ascertained that cold showers are equally great as cold plunging. To elevate your shower experience, opt for longer, colder showers at temperatures that are not too extreme. Instead of alternating between a hot and cold shower, skip the hot one and go for the cold shower.

Quick Cold Therapy Options for Busy Schedules

Other than cold showers, a few cold therapy options are available for people who can’t find the time to commit to the more time-consuming cold water immersion therapy forms; some might be non-conventional but can still be effective. They are:

  • Ice Massage: For this, you can use ice cubes wrapped in soft cloth that you gently rub on the affected area to get relief

  • Localized Cold Therapy: an ice pack/gel pack that has been refrigerated makes it possible to carry out localized cold therapy on specific areas of the body that need healing and relief

  • Cold Bath: Use your bath tub as a cold plunge! Just fill it up with cold water  and add ice as needed

Balancing Health and Time Management

Good and optimum health is important; health is wealth. We live in a fast-paced society; the clock keeps turning and doesn’t seem to be slowing down or stopping soon. Even with all the hectic days, you should find ways to focus on your well-being and health by incorporating different routines.

Granted, setting up a cold plunge might require you to spend a considerable amount of time, but once you cross that bridge, all you’ll have to do is schedule cold therapy on certain days of the week. Better yet, take cold showers; they are equally beneficial, except for extreme cold exposure.

Mindfulness and Mental Health Aspects

Exposure to cold through cold therapy can trigger a fight or flight in your body, but because of the benefits you’re after, it’s important to power through a session, even if for a few seconds. To help the process, you should get yourself to a mindful state by focusing on other calming sounds.

It will help you stay relaxed, focused, and present during the therapy. Through this process, you’re also strengthening and training your mind, making it more resilient and able to manage extreme conditions and stressors. All this, in addition to improved mental health, alertness, and awareness.

Tips for Beginners

To get the maximum benefits of cold water therapy, be it through cold showers or cold water immersion, ensuring your safety, caution, and care must be observed. Below, we shall highlight some tips to help you navigate your deliberate cold exposure journey. They are:

  • Start slow and give your body time to get used to the cold temperatures. Sudden exposure to the cold can lead to a spiked heart rate, which can be a gateway to other health issues

  • Listen to your body and avoid pushing yourself beyond your limits

  • Talk to a doctor about any health concerns that might be triggered due to cold exposure

  • Always hydrate before and after the therapy

  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine

  • Never jump into a plunge, lake, or tub. Your feet should go in first, then slowly followed by the rest of your body to reduce the impact of cold shock

If you opt to take a cold shower, below are some tips to adhere to:

  • Take it slow by opting for shorter durations (30 seconds) under the cold shower, then steadily transitioning to longer durations

  • Alternate between hot and cold showers, where the hot showers are slightly longer(3 minutes) than the cold showers (1-2 minutes)

Expert Opinions and Research

Cold therapy has been used for years in different forms to help alleviate inflammation, reduce soreness, improve mental wellness, and provide other unique health benefits. These benefits go back centuries [4], and over the years, more research and studies [5][6] have been carried out to support these claims.

What Experts Say about Cold Therapy

With numerous benefits tied to cold therapy, many experts have offered their voices and opinions on this matter. They’ve been able to do so by carrying out multiple research exercises and studies [7][8] carried out over different times through the years.

Cold Plunge vs Cold Shower: Conclusion

One thing guaranteed is that you will experience some great benefits from either a cold plunge or a cold shower. The degree and level of effectiveness might vary, but as a beginner, you work with what you have access to and what you can withstand and accommodate.

If you are in a position to do both, even better. There’s no justifiable reason why both can’t be incorporated into your routines. You’ll be able to maximize the benefits and enhance your experience.

Making the Right Choice for You

Aside from the euphoria you experience after both exercises and the benefits that come from them, choosing your ideal routine comes down to personal preference. The final decision and what you choose depends on your goals; look at the budget you are willing to work with and the time you’re eager to commit to either of the exercises.

Summary of Key Points

People are different, budgets and goals are different, and the availability of time differs for many. Another factor that separates individuals is the threshold and limits of our bodies. Figure out what works for you and get started on your wellness journey from your perspective.

Remember, cold exposure for extended periods poses risks. Safety and care should be observed at all times during cold water therapy.

References

[1] Plos One

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5025014/

[2] Cold Showers Lead to Fewer Sick Days

https://hbr.org/2018/03/cold-showers-lead-to-fewer-sick-days 

[3] Short-Term Head-Out Whole-Body Cold-Water Immersion Facilitates Positive Affect and Increases Interaction between Large-Scale Brain Networks – PMC

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9953392/ 

[4] Cold for centuries - PMC

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9012715/

[5] Health effects of voluntary exposure to cold water - PMC

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9518606/

[6] Taking the Plunge - Is Cold Exposure Worthwhile - Cedars-Sinai

https://www.cedars-sinai.org/blog/cold-exposure-therapy.html

[7] What Are the Benefits and Risks of Ice Baths - Advancing Your Health

https://advancingyourhealth.org/what-are-the-benefits-and-risks-of-ice-baths/

[8] Cryotherapy Cold Therapy for Pain Management - Johns Hopkins Medicine

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/cryotherapy-cold-therapy-for-pain-management

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Comments

Brian - April 10, 2024

Great comparison! Cold plunges and cold showers both seem beneficial for different reasons. Thanks for the insights! Also, I’ve been using Hampton Adams ice packs for post-workout recovery, and they’ve been fantastic. Highly recommend!

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About the Author: Joe Serrao, Owner of Strength Warehouse

Joe leverages over 20 years of intense workout experience and six years in the fitness industry. As a former collegiate football player, Joe knows what it takes to stay in peak physical condition. He's dedicated to providing straightforward, expert advice on setting up home gyms, personal training spaces, and commercial facilities. Balancing his passion for fitness with being a devoted family man, Joe’s rigorous full-body and metcon workouts exemplify his commitment to staying strong and being a role model for his kids and customers alike.

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