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Ice Bath or Sauna, Which one Should you Start with?

I’m a devotee of extended cold immersions, and I promise you this; even though jumping straight into an icy tub, without any warm-up in a sauna or jacuzzi, feels tougher initially, it’s surprisingly easier to endure the chill for longer periods this way.

But, let’s press pause here and rewind a little bit. Before we delve into the nuances of this method, let me take you on a little detour to where my own story began because it is very relevant here.

I’ve always been a sauna and steam room enthusiast. My journey began around the age of 18, when I took weight training and bodybuilding more seriously. Initially, I found comfort in the sauna post a rigorous training session.

But soon enough, I found myself visiting saunas even on rest days simply because it felt incredible. Like many of you, my routine involved spending around 15 to 20 minutes in the sauna, followed by a quick dip in the cold plunge or ice bath for a minute or two.

I couldn’t decide which part I enjoyed more—the sauna or the invigorating cold water. It was a blissful experience overall.

For years, this ritual remained unchanged, regardless of where and in which country I lived in, I’d scout out a gym or a club equipped with a decent SPA. It was only when my curiosity about ice bath was peaked that I started experimenting with longer durations in the chilly water.

As a member of a club with an impressive spa setup and a large cold plunge calibrated at around 8 degrees Celsius (or 45 degrees Fahrenheit), I was well-positioned for this exploration. I started to skip the sauna and head straight into the ice bath upon my arrival at the spa. That’s when the magic truly happened.

Interestingly, the physiological benefits of cold plunge remain pretty consistent, whether you warm up beforehand or not. But the mental and psychological benefits? Those are on a whole different scale.

It’s challenging, to say the least, coming from a strenuous day at work and immediately dive into a cold plunge, especially while others comfortably retreat into a relaxing steam room. Prior to this experience, I always prided myself on my strong willpower. But this test of resilience underscored that I could still improve. The mental discipline and determination required to consistently show up, even on days when I was not feeling it, and withstand the initial shock of cold was unparalleled.

In all my pursuits, from sports to hobbies, I somehow find myself gravitating towards their more extreme forms. Whether it’s downhill mountain biking, deep technical scuba diving, or deep-sea spearfishing while free diving, I tend to push the boundaries.

Similarly, with cold exposure, I began to gradually extend my stays in the ice bath tub, incrementally enduring the chill for a few extra minutes each time. I found it was actually easier to stay longer when I bypassed the warm-up.

When you plunge into an ice bath, your body’s protective mechanisms kick in, initiating vasoconstriction to minimize heat loss from your core to the external environment. On the flip side, a sauna or jacuzzi visit induces vasodilation, the exact opposite of vasoconstriction.

A pre-heated body can more comfortably weather the initial moments of cold immersion. In fact, the instinctive desire to cool down is so potent after a sauna session that a cold plunge feels like a natural next step.

However, the shift from vasodilation to vasoconstriction doesn’t happen swiftly or efficiently, causing your core body temperature to plummet at a much faster rate.

If you plan on soaking in the cold for just a few minutes, this won’t concern you. But, if your aim is to endure the cold for extended periods, this phenomenon drastically changes the game.

Then I obviously progressed to having my own cold tub and chiller at home which enabled me to experiment with many variables such as temperature, time of the day, duration, etc to find the sweat spot .

Regardless of how you approach your cold immersion practice, I encourage you to consider starting straight with cold immersion to unlock the multiplied mental benefits.

For me personally, these mental benefits have been far more motivating than the physical advantages alone. So, why not give it a shot and multiply the gains of your cold immersion practice?

You can check out some of the finest Ice Bath & Cold Plunge in Ice Bath Abu Dhabi and Ice Bath Dubai.
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