Ice Bath Before or After Sauna? (Cold Plunge Pros & Cons)

Extremely hot and cold temperature exposure is taking over the wellness world, and the order in which you do them is very important. Should you ice bath before or after the sauna?

It is recommended to use an ice bath after the sauna to maximize your body’s stress response. If you have to pick one or the other, saunas are best suited for post-workout recovery. When attempting the sauna cold plunge routine, spend 15 minutes inside a 125°F sauna and 30 seconds inside a 50°F ice bath. Repeat this process three times.

Continue reading to discover if it’s better to use the ice bath before or after the sauna, what the sauna cold plunge routine is, and if cold plunges are healthy in general!

Is it better to use the ice bath before or after the sauna?

While both the sauna and ice bath have numerous mental and physical benefits alone, in which order should they be used when pairing them together?

It’s best to use the ice bath after the sauna. Heat therapy increases stress, raises our body’s adaptational responses, and dilates our blood vessels. Cold therapy, on the other hand, slows cellular processes, reduces inflammation, and constricts blood vessels. 

A study done in 2019 suggests that a sauna session mimics exercise. Because of that, it raises our heart rate, induces the release of heat-shock proteins, and requires our body to adapt.

Doing a sauna session prior to an ice bath is the best way for our body to raise the tempo and bring it back down.

Is a sauna or ice bath better for health and recovery?

There have been some controversial findings regarding if the sauna or ice bath is better for recovery.

It’s better to use the sauna for health and recovery because it prolongs the effects of our fitness routine. Ice bathing actually halts many of the advantages of training and hinders muscle adaptation and growth for up to 2 days afterward. 

Furthermore, ice bathing decreases inflammation and reduces the need for our body to develop its own natural response to stress. Cold therapy is a wonderful way to stimulate our bodies but completely separate from a workout.

Heat therapy is a strategic method to encourage our bodies to adapt and recover.

What are the benefits of the sauna?

There are plenty of benefits when it comes to incorporating the sauna into your daily habits.

The advantages of using a sauna include:

  • Supporting heart health
  • Improving endurance and aerobic capabilities
  • Stimulating muscle growth 
  • Inducing human growth hormone production
  • Relieving muscle and joint pain
  • Increasing molecular detoxification
  • Speeding up recovery and healing 

The list could go on. Overall, the sauna is a gamechanger when used properly.

Check out this video detailing the impact saunas have on improving fitness performance when used post-workout.

What are the benefits of an ice bath?

Ice baths have their own purpose and can really come in handy when you’re trying to heal an injury.

The advantages of an ice bath include:

  • Easing muscle pain and next-day soreness
  • Promoting central nervous system health
  • Reducing inflammation and swelling (best suited for injury rehabilitation, not post-workout)
  • Decreasing the impacts of heat and humidity

Many people use cold therapy as soon as they wake up to shock their bodies into an alert and focused state. This sets the tone for the rest of your day!

What about alternating the sauna and ice baths?

Going from the sauna to an ice bath and repeating this process can be an impactful way to reduce pain.

When we enter extremely high temperatures (i.e., a sauna), our bodies sense stress; thus, pain sensory is reduced, and we become more alert. When we take a cold plunge after, it reverses this effect, forcing our body to focus on producing heat.

This can be an effective method for training ourselves to adapt to strenuous situations. Although, use caution if you have high blood pressure or are susceptible to cardiac problems.

What is the sauna cold plunge routine?

The sauna cold plunge routine, also known as the Nordic Cycle, is a practice involving alternating a sauna session with a cold plunge for optimal benefits.

If you’re just starting out, the guidelines for performing a sauna cold plunge are:

  1. Spend 15 minutes in a 125°F or hotter sauna.
  2. Opt for an infrared or traditional sauna as a steamroom does not get hot enough.
  3. Jump immediately into a cold plunge of around 50°F for 30 seconds, up to 2 minutes.
  4. Complete this cycle a total of 3 times (3 sauna sessions and 3 cold plunges).

The benefits of this process are both mental and physical, creating a “fight or flight” experience that causes your blood vessels to constrict and your blood pressure to rise rapidly.

You can up the ante when you’re used to the varying degrees of temperature and spend up to 10 minutes inside a cold plunge – but only if you can handle it.

Why do people jump into cold water after a sauna?

Jumping into cold water right after a warm, soothing sauna sounds like kind of a nightmare. Why do people do it?

People may choose to go from a hot sauna directly into an ice bath because of the adrenaline rush they get; our body releases endorphins which puts us in a feel-good mood. Pain threshold usually increases, and blood circulation improves. This effect not only improves muscle soreness, but can also dramatically improve our skin and complexion.

It’s no wonder people feel invigorated afterward!

Are cold plunges healthy?

When used appropriately, cold plunges can improve our physiological and psychological health. However, there are risks involved.

Avoid doing cold plunges if you are pregnant, have respiratory or cardiac problems, suffer from high blood pressure, or have unhealthy lungs. Doing so can send your body into detrimental shock and create a potentially fatal result. 

That’s why it’s always important to consult your doctor before trying cold therapy, especially if you have underlying health conditions.

How long should you ice bath after the sauna?

You’ve decided you’re brave enough to try soaking in an ice bath after your sauna session. How long should you do it for?

Generally speaking, you should spend as little as 5 seconds or as much as 15 minutes inside an ice bath. Beginners should aim for the one-minute mark, while those more experienced can push their body to 10 minutes and beyond.

Anything longer than 15 minutes can cause a hypothermic response, so do not exceed that amount of time and listen to your body above all else.

Can you take a cold shower instead of an ice bath?

Don’t have an ice bath? No problem.

You can use your shower instead. To do this, start off with cold water for 30 seconds to 8 minutes before taking a warm shower. 

The reason this isn’t as effective as a cold plunge is because it’s easy to find yourself inching part of your body out of the cold water of a shower. In a bath, this is nearly impossible.

In general, both ice baths and saunas can benefit your body, although you should always use the sauna first.

Cold plunges are most appropriate for injury recovery or used in a sauna cold plunge routine. They should most definitely not be used directly after your workout, but rather hours beforehand or on your day off.