As its popularity soars, it’s only natural to wonder about the cheapest and most convenient way to incorporate cold exposure into your routine. Many turn to cold showers, but this simple solution isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.
Why Cold Showers?
It’s easy to see why so many people have taken to cold showers. Requiring no additional buy-in, they seemingly allow you to extract all the benefits of cold immersion from the comfort of your own home. This perception has seen people from all walks of life reaching for the cold tap, including Hollywood superstar Chris Hemsworth. In a 2019 interview with Men’s Health, the Marvel mainstay revealed he uses cold showers to beat jet lag and increase energy.
They’re certainly not without merit. Whether it’s a wintery dip at the beach, an ice bath, or a cold shower, all forms of frigid water combat fatigue and offer a mental boost. The sense of accomplishment that comes with routinely conquering the cold is powerful, especially when coupled with the physiological ‘jolt’ of doing so.
How do Cold Showers Compare to Ice Baths?
Though cold showers are a handy pick-me-up, they simply can’t replicate the effects of a full-body plunge.
Firstly, it’s impossible to accurately control the temperature of a conventional shower. Even those set purely to ‘cold’ can vary drastically depending on the location and time of year. This makes it difficult to increase your resilience in a gradual and predictable way. In consistently warm and humid areas, such as the tropics, the water may not even reach the beneficial range of between 10 and 15 degrees celsius (around 50-60 Fahrenheit).
Secondly, there’s little to no evidence that cold showers alone offer the same degree of protection against exercise-induced muscle soreness. This is a significant drawback for amateur and professional athletes, who often rely on cold exposure to remain competitive amongst a busy playing schedule.
Thirdly, ice baths tend to offer better stimulation of the vagus nerve – a much-talked-about structure of the body that regulates stress. While cold showers have the potential to somewhat excite this pathway, cold plunges reach lower temperatures and more completely cover the neck and abdomen where the nerve extends. This causes a greater response, and ultimately, a richer sense of relaxation and stress-relief. This is supported by a 2006 study published in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health, which concluded that whole-body cold immersion results in lower stress on the body than partial exposure.
Lastly, the fat loss benefits of ice baths likely surpass those of cold showers. Studies have shown that braving the cold can increase metabolic rates two-fold, encouraging the activation of brown fat cells. Given the more comprehensive skin contact and lower temperatures of cold plunges, it’s safe to say this effect is more pronounced when bathing.
So Are Cold Showers Useful?
As a stepping stone to more complete cold exposure, cold showers can indeed be a valuable tool. They’re cheap, widely available, and convenient, and can be used as an adjunct to regular ice baths. It’s important, however, to be aware of their temperature variability and the impact this has on tolerability, resilience-building, and efficacy.
Where Can I Get a Quality Ice Bath?
iCoolsport offers a range of ice baths for varying needs. iCool invented modern ice baths and we are the largest global supplier. From the single-person IceOne bath to solutions big enough for teams, we cover all bases.
Our iCool Compact Chill chiller is suitable for baths of up to 500L and can maintain a constant water temperature of as little as five degrees. With easy to use one touch start and wifi remote controls, it takes the hassle out of regular ice baths, and allows you to increase your cold tolerance gradually and consistently.