You’ve probably seen people dunking themselves in ice water on TikTok. Or maybe you’ve heard about the Wim Hof Method or listened to Andrew Huberman talk about the many supposed benefits of ice baths — according to some people, they range from helping with weight loss to alleviating depression. There’s not enough scientific evidence that cold therapy can fulfill all the claims made about it, but athletes have been taking ice baths to reduce inflammation and decrease muscle soreness since long before Huberman was a household name. And I’ve been curious for some time about how cold therapy might affect my own athletic performance. I’m currently training for a marathon, and as I’ve increased my mileage, my legs have started to feel like jelly, so as I watched these videos, I wondered if ice baths could be the solution I needed.
There are a lot of ways to submerge yourself in ice-cold water. You could use a steel stock tank as an ice bath or get an inflatable ice-bath tub on Amazon for less than $100. Online, I’ve seen people using oversize coolers or old freezer units. You could fill a bathtub with cold water, and throw in ice. You could take a dip in your local ocean or lake. (After all, the practice of cold-water swimming, especially in Nordic countries, was intended to be done in natural bodies of water.)
But setting up a cold plunge in Brooklyn felt like a logistical challenge. I don’t have a bathtub, and I don’t live close to a swimmable cold body of water. I’m fortunate to have a patio where I can plop down a steel tank or slightly smaller inflatable tub, but filling it with water and ice seemed labor intensive and time consuming. I would need either a dedicated ice-maker or to make a trip to the store for multiple bags of ice. Not to mention the issue of keeping the water clean. If left unattended and untreated, the water in your cold plunge can become a backyard petri dish, which seemed like something that could do more harm than good in the long run. For a while, I took cold showers — something much more practical and accessible. But it never felt like it was as effective as a full-on icy submersion.
So my interest — and skepticism — was piqued when I heard about Plunge, a company that makes cold plunge tubs and saunas for home use. Its flagship product is a tub that both filters and chills water at a constant 39 degrees. Huberman is a partner with the brand, whose tubs range in cost from $5,000 to almost $7,600. At the high end, you could buy 75 inflatable ice bath tubs on Amazon, and still have money left over for hundreds of bags of ice or even a really nice ice maker. But the technology seemed to address some of my most pressing concerns: prep time and maintenance. Plunge offered to deliver one straight to my apartment, and it seemed like my duty to test it out — for science’s (and my muscles’) sake.
Two FedEx delivery workers dropped off the tub, which looks like a cross between a sleek bathtub and a human-size Yeti cooler, on my back patio, and I suddenly got a taste of what it might be like to own a tiny pool or jacuzzi. I now had a tub to fill, with tubes to hook up, chemicals to add (like the included oxidizer mixture and a chlorine solution to keep the water clean), and filters to check. The initial setup was straightforward and took less than an hour, and I’ve been pleased that maintaining the Plunge over the last two months has been relatively hands-off. Thanks to its chiller and filters, I didn’t need to dump out the old water and refill it, or hook it up to a source of running water.
Eventually, that water cooled down to the recommended 39 degrees, I hopped in and had to fight an urge to hop back out immediately. (The shock and gasping for breath is often referred to as a cold shock response.) Once you get in, you’re committed to this deeply intense, full-body numbing cold — you can’t squirm or move out of the way, like you could during a cold shower. As I got out, I felt a warming sensation throughout my body. And after a week of regular use, I was able to settle into the coldness, and lay there for three minutes, freezing, calmly. (As recommended, I hop back out for a few minutes, then get back in for another three minutes, and repeat that cycle a few times.) As the weeks went by, I kept thinking about the springs in The Legend of Zelda games. Once Link enters the spring water, his hearts start to replenish. That’s what my Plunge feels like: a personal recovery pool, at my disposal.
After two months of using the Plunge at least five times a week, I think it’s doing something. My legs have felt less fatigued after runs, and the typical soreness I used to experience after tough workouts started to fade away. I’ve stayed injury-free over the past few months, which I attribute to proper rest, stretching, and foam rolling, but I also credit cold plunging for making my entire body feel less sore and achy. I also haven’t found that cold plunging has impacted my sleep quality. Huberman says your body heats up after cold exposure, and higher body temperatures wake us up, which is why he recommends doing it in the morning. “Body temperature decreases tend to shift us toward sleepy states,” Huberman writes. I‘ve used the plunge at night and in the morning and haven’t felt like I was staying up later than usual.
But the reality is that you could probably get a lot of these same cold-exposure benefits from just jumping into a good old-fashioned ice bath, no filters or chlorine required. And ultimately, I’m not sure I’d recommend the Plunge to most people. It’s bulky and has added expenses: The tub alone weighs 150 pounds and when it’s filled with water, it’s close to 1,000 pounds. It also requires a constant hook up to electricity, which added about $100 to my monthly electricity bill. The Plunge certainly does what it promises to do, but if you’re not someone who will be cold plunging daily, you might want to stick to the stock tank instead.
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