The benefits of alternating extreme temperatures, also called contrast therapy or our protocol the nordic cycle, have been taking over the fitness world and are being advocated by athletes and health experts alike.
Both exposing yourself to extreme hot or cold temperatures for certain periods has significant health benefits for your body. Combining the two into a sauna cold plunge routine can amplify these benefits even further.
But what is the right sequence of events? Is a cold plunge recommended after or before a hot sauna, and what is the time you should spend in each of these environments?
It is recommended to first sauna then ice bath and not the other way around, as sauna sessions increase the blood flow and heart rate and make our muscles relax, which cold plunges slows down the heart rate and makes our blood vessels contract.
If going into extreme heat straight after an ice bath, your body is cold and needs to take a while just to heat up. Therefore, rather start with heat so you get the sweating and detoxifying benefits and end with an ice bath.
WHY SHOULD I USE AN ICE BATH AFTER A SAUNA?
Jumping into an ice bath after the sauna will cause your blood vessels to constrict and thus elevate blood pressure and improve blood circulation in the long run.
The contrast between muscle relaxation and increased blood flow to cold exposure, increased breathing, and other cold plunge triggers can stimulate mental toughness and train yourself to better cope with your body’s stress response.
HOW LONG SHOULD I SOAK IN AN ICE BATH AFTER THE SAUNA?
Generally, you should keep your sauna visits between 15 and 20 minutes, followed by an ice bath for at least one minute up to 12 minutes. As a general rule of thumb, 1 minute per degree the ice bath is optimal.
You can start with a short one minute (or less if you start feeling uncomfortable or in pain) and then slowly start increasing the ice bathing periods to as much as you feel comfortable.
IS IT SAFE TO GO FROM THE SAUNA TO AN ICE BATH?
If you do not suffer from any cardiovascular diseases, jumping into ice-cold water after extreme heat exposure should not be a threat to your health. It is a bit of a shock to your system, but this is supposed to strengthen both, your body and mind and not be unsafe.
As always, consult with a doctor first to make sure you are safe and in good physical health to start with such therapy.
THE BENEFITS OF USING A SAUNA AND ICE BATH TOGETHER
INCREASE ENERGY LEVELS
Regular sauna sessions trigger the body to release endorphins and make your body and mind relaxed, which has a positive effect on your energy levels. In combination with a cold plunge, your body releases even more positive hormones, especially norepinephrine, which boost focus, attention, and energy.
Both methods trigger certain reactions in the body, which will assist in burning excessive fat.
While a sauna increases the heart rate and makes your body sweat, which in turn can assist in increasing the metabolic rate, an ice bath will trigger your body to activate its brown fat, which burns energy to keep you warm.
Please note that the weight loss you might be experiencing after the sauna can be due to losing a lot of your water weight and not actual fat; therefore, make sure to hydrate yourself enough after sweating in the sauna.
INCREASES BLOOD FLOW
When you are in a hot sauna, your blood vessels expand and facilitate the transport of oxygen through the body while lowering your blood pressure. The opposite occurs when you are in cold water: your arteries and capillaries contract, and this, in turn, leads to higher blood pressure, which then sends the oxygenated blood even faster through your body.
This pumping motion of your blood vessels can improve your overall blood circulation.
IMPROVES IMMUNE FUNCTION
As your core body temperature increases in a sauna, a mild fever is being mimicked in your body, which causes it to create white blood cells to fight off bacteria and pathogens. The increased oxygen flow through your body also aids in killing off these anaerobic organisms.
Cold therapy will release crucial antioxidants which activate your body’s natural killer cells that aid your immune system in fighting off diseases as well.
On top of that, exposing your body to such a vast temperature spectrum will make your immune system less fragile to catch colds or flu with the changing of the seasons and be more resilient to extreme weather in general.
The release of endorphins and norepinephrine has a positive effect on stress release and elevates your mental health.
While taking a cold plunge does not sound very relaxing at first, exposing your body to the extreme change of hot and cold will trigger your sympathetic nervous system, i.e. put you into a flight or fight response. When cold plunging, you learn to slow down your breathing and focus, thereby regulating this nervous system.
Training this skill will aid you in mastering daily-life stressors better.
IMPROVES SLEEP QUALITY
Reduced stress and a relaxed mind are always beneficial for better sleep; however, scientifically, a lowered core temperature is necessary for a good night’s sleep, with which dilated blood vessels after a hot sauna followed by an ice bath can certainly assist.
BOOSTS YOUR MOOD
The feeling of relaxation and having done something good for your physical and mental health on top of having a natural high from hormones such as dopamine and norepinephrine will elevate your mood in the long run and help you to sustain it.
SAUNA VS ICE BATH: WHICH IS BETTER FOR HEALTH AND RECOVERY?
This depends on whether you look at the short-term or long-term effects of both. While sauna use has a better long-term effect on muscle recovery as it actively assists in the healing of the tiny tears created during a workout, a cold plunge aids in relieving the sensations of muscle soreness in the short run.
CAN YOU TAKE A COLD SHOWER INSTEAD OF TAKING A COLD BATH AFTER A SAUNA SESSION?
Yes, a cold shower after a sauna session is also very beneficial and can be a nice way to ease into the sauna cold plunge routine.
SHOULD I TAKE A HOT SHOWER AFTER AN ICE BATH?
Avoid exposing your body to hot water right after an ice bath, as it is better to let your body warm up naturally. Should you struggle to get warm by yourself, try a shower with lukewarm to warm water after a few minutes.
SHOULD I STRETCH BEFORE AN ICE BATH?
You should never stretch your body on cold muscles as this can cause injuries. If you went for a sauna or infrared sauna session, it is best to stretch your muscles afterwards as they are warm and relaxed and then proceed to take ice baths.
HOW MANY ICE BATHS SHOULD YOU TAKE A WEEK?
You can take ice baths daily if you like. Otherwise, take an ice bath as often as you go to the sauna. Ideally, at least two to three times a week to gain the full list of benefits.
Heat therapy such as going to the sauna or infrared sauna, as well as ice water or cold plunges, have incredible benefits on their own. Combining the effects of hot and cold through a nordic cycle protocol can further enhance these positive impacts on your body and improve your mental as well as physical health significantly if done right.