Cold Plunge Before vs. After Workout: Which is Best?

Every form of exercise has a shared principle: intense sessions need adequate recovery time. The way you utilize the hours post-workout can significantly influence not just your growth in fitness but also your overall well-being.

Cold plunging, which involves intentional submersion in near-freezing waters, has recently gained immense popularity as a recovery method. Whether you’re a dedicated strength athlete aiming for your peak performance or someone who exercises for overall health, you might be curious about the potential benefits of cold plunging.

The good news is that science clarifies the subject: strategic cold water immersion offers numerous recovery and performance advantages. However, like any wellness strategy, it’s all about balance. The timing of your cold plunge is as crucial as its frequency or the duration you can withstand once inside.

What is a cold plunge?

Cold plunging, a type of cold water immersion, has roots dating further back than one might initially believe. Historically, certain cultures embraced cold water immersion through activities like winter swimming or combined it with saunas in what’s known as contrast therapy.

Today, cold plunging for recovery means submerging in near-freezing waters for a short duration. Research suggests that immersing for roughly five to 15 minutes in water temperatures between 10 to 15 degrees Celsius is ideal.

Enthusiasts of cold plunging adopt various methods. Some prefer the classic approach of using a bathtub filled with water and ice bags, while others craft their cold plunge setup at home to bypass the expense of a commercial tank.

If you’re inclined towards a more traditional method and reside in an appropriate location, jumping into a frozen pond or lake works just as well.

The Benefits of Cold Plunging Before a Workout

While the primary motivation for cold plunges is their physiological benefits, immersing before a workout may not lead to significant physical changes.

A pre-workout dip isn’t without its merits. Spending ten minutes in near-freezing waters can effectively combat sluggishness or grogginess, revitalizing you before exercise.

Though taking the plunge before a bodybuilding session might momentarily decrease blood flow, it can offer enhanced mental clarity and stress relief.

The Benefits of Cold Plunging After a Workout

Most scientific research on cold water immersion focuses on post-training sessions, with results typically endorsing it as an effective method for muscle recovery. For instance, studies involving mixed martial arts athletes who engage in sprints and interval training show that cold plunging not only hastens recovery but also boosts overall well-being.

Evidence suggests that cold plunges can diminish the effects of delayed-onset muscle soreness, especially when participants strongly believe in its benefits. Another interesting study on ‘winter swimmers’ identified a spike in thermogenesis (fat burning) after swimming in near-freezing waters.

How to Cold Plunge

Preparing Your Plunge Setup

Before diving into the rejuvenating experience of a cold plunge, determine your setup method. If you lack a dedicated cold plunge tub, fill a bathtub or large drum with cold water. Enhance the chill by adding multiple bags of ice.

Taking the Cold Dive

Begin your immersion with steady assurance, slowly submerging yourself. It’s crucial to maintain a consistent breathing pattern during this phase. Emphasize deep abdominal breaths and concentrate on staying tranquil.

Embrace the Chill and Meditate

Once submerged to your shoulders, settle down and meditate, ensuring you keep breathing even and regulated. Although most cold plunge studies involve complete submersion, including the head, it’s optional. After enjoying the cold embrace for roughly five to 15 minutes, emerge and swiftly dry off.

What are the Benefits of Cold Plunging

Cold plunging, ice baths, or winter swimming are long-standing recovery and health practices. Studies indicate that cold plunging can enhance specific health indicators, elevate mood, mitigate stress, and aid in recuperating from intense physical activity.

Conclusion

The decision to cold plunge before or after a workout hinges on individual goals and preferences. While post-workout plunges are backed by substantial evidence for aiding muscle recovery and reducing soreness, a pre-workout plunge can invigorate and awaken the senses, preparing the body and mind for the exercise ahead. It’s essential to consider the specific benefits you aim to achieve and align them with your fitness routine. Whether you immerse before or after your workout, the undeniable benefits of cold plunging offer a holistic approach to health and well-being.