Ice baths have long been thought of as an extreme measure taken by athletes for their postmatch recovery. Yet the ice bath has become the ultimate symbol to showcase celebrity status and stamina. In the last 12 months, more and more stars have been using their social media accounts to strip down and get neck deep in freezing-cold water while us mortals admire their goosebump-covered physiques.
Everyone from Lady Gaga and Nicole Scherzinger to Zac Efron and Justin Bieber have posted from the tub — and this week, Harry Styles got in on the action by sharing a photo of himself braving the cold after his latest "Love on Tour" show in Cologne. While some stars claim that ice baths help them recover while enduring gruelling tour schedules, others say it improves their health and well-being.
So is it about time you took the plunge and joined them? Celebrity personal trainer Cecilia Harris reveals the benefits of ice baths and why so many celebs are jumping on the craze.
What Are the Benefits of Ice Baths?
Ice baths "promote blood flow and help to reduce inflammation because it encourages the blood to move away from the surface and instead move deep into muscle tissue," Harris tells POPSUGAR. "It is most well known for muscle recovery, which is why athletes use it, but more recently, the wider physical and mental benefits have become known, making it much more of a wellness trend, hence why celebs have been jumping on it."
Regular ice baths have been shown to improve the immune system thanks to the huge boost to your circulation. But it's the benefits to mental health that are perhaps the most enticing element. Ice baths help to relieve stress and depression thanks to their ability to increase the release of endorphins (those all-important feel-good hormones) and decrease cortisol (the stress hormone).
"There is some evidence that ice baths can speed up your metabolism, although it's early days in knowing by how much," Harris adds.
How Long Should You Be in an Ice Bath For?
A study in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that a 15-minute ice bath increases your endurance the most, but that should be taken with caution. "This is way too long, in my opinion," Harris says. "Most people, especially nonathletes, spend five minutes as an absolute maximum in an ice bath, and they still see huge benefits. The first time you try one, don't expect to even last a full minute. It takes a while to build up. The hardest part is the first five seconds as your body is in shock. Get past this, and you can start to settle into it."
How Cold Should the Water Be?
The temperature of an ice bath should be around 10–15 degrees Celsius. Water turns to ice at 0 degrees Celsius, so use a 3:1 water-to-ice ratio if making your own at home in the bathtub.
Who Is an Ice Bath Best For?
Gym bunny? An ice bath could be for you. "If you are incredibly physically active, you can benefit from an ice bath," Harris says. "That includes someone who works out a lot or has a really physical job, which is why you see celebs on tour embracing them. If you struggle with your mental health, it can also be really powerful because of how much it promotes the release of feel-good hormones and reduces anxiety."
"I would say ice baths are for those who don't hate the cold," Harris continues. "If the mere idea of an ice bath freaks you out, I'd avoid it, as it will probably cause you more stress."
Are There Any Ice-Bath Side Effects?
The obvious one? It's very cold, which can be initially unpleasant. Beside this, there are other risks to consider before diving in.
"You should be particularly careful if you have any underlying health conditions, especially heart conditions or circulation problems, as an ice bath could prove dangerous for you," Harris warns. "Another risk is hypothermia, due to the extreme cold temperatures, so it's incredibly important not to stay in the bath for too long and build up the time you spend in the bath."
If you're unsure, always check with your doctor for advice first.
How Can You Prepare For an Ice Bath?
Make sure you read up on ice baths before just diving in. "It's a shock to your body, but it's also a mental game, and one you should prepare for," Harris says. "Your body and mind both go into shock at first, which causes us to take quick, shallow breaths — exactly what you should NOT do. Practice deep inhales that last seven seconds and slow exhales that also last seven seconds. Controlling your breathing will help calm your body's shock response and help you endure the cold temperatures."