Cold Plunge vs Cold Shower: Which one is Better?

Forget the typical intro about how great ice baths and cold showers are – you are here to know which cold therapy method is superior: cold plunge vs cold shower.

I’ll save you the suspense – cold plunges win.

But rather than just state that, let’s dive in and explore exactly why plunges are best, key differences between the two, and whether investing in a plunge is worth it for you.

No fluff, no filler – just the cold hard facts (get it?).

Let’s get to it!

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Is a Cold Shower as Good As a Cold Plunge?

In short, no. While substantially more affordable and convenient, cold showers don’t offer the same benefits as a cold plunge.

What accounts for this difference?

There are a few key distinctions between the two worth examining.

Let’s break it down!

Temperature:

When it comes to the benefits of cold therapy, surprise surprise, the temperature matters. Cold showers generally only get as low as 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit at best. Depending on location and season, it may vary a few degrees.

To start seeing health benefits from cold water exposure, experts recommend water below 40 degrees. Cold plunges can usually reach 34-37 degrees and are easier to control and monitor the temperature.

Exposure:

When it comes to deliberate cold exposure, most studies have been conducted on cold water immersion therapy, which involves submerging your whole body in cold water. With cold showers, it isn’t possible to do that.

Cold showers can target specific areas well, but full submersion amplifies benefits and is superior.

The Science:

Studies demonstrating the advantages of cold therapy primarily examine cold plunges, ice baths, or open-water swimming – not showers. While helpful, research confirms cold immersion is more effective overall for all the reasons outlined above.

Now, let’s dive into the pros and cons of a cold plunge vs cold shower, shall we?

Cold Plunge vs Cold Showers: Pros/ Cons Overview

Cold Plunge Pros and Cons:

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  • Reaches colder temperatures
  • Better temperature control
  • Full-body submerging 
  • Immediate effects due to intensity

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  • Requires a financial investment

Cold Shower Pros and Cons:

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  • Convenient
  • Can easily practice contrast hydrotherapy
  • Great for beginners

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  • Can't control the temperature
  • No full-body submerging
  • Exposure to cold water is less intense

The Main Differences Between Cold Plunges vs Cold Showers:

To be clear, both methods can provide valuable exposure to cold and both mental and physical effects if you stick with them. In fact, taking cold showers is exactly how I began my own cold therapy journey. I think they’re a great way to start before fully committing to a cold plunge tub.

Cold showers are:

  • Convenient
  • Require zero extra investment
  • Enable contrast therapy by switching the water from hot to cold.

 

Switching the water temperature from hot to cold alternating it can increase sensations, wake you up, and feel great.

The main drawback with cold showers:

  • You can’t control the variables that affect your shower temperature year-round. It usually doesn’t get cold enough during the summer or even in the winter depending on where you live.

 

The amount of water already used can also impact the temperature. Experts such as Dr.Huberman and Susana Søeberg recommend fully immersing your body in cold water, which isn’t feasible with cold showers.

If you are interested in really diving into the science I highly recommend watching podcast episode #66 on The Huberman Lab.

Cold plunges offer:

  • More optimization.
  • It’s easier to maintain and regulate a consistently cold temperature.
  • Due to the extreme cold temperatures, cold plunges are usually shorter.

When it comes to cold therapy sessions research has shown that a total of 11 minutes submerged in cold water is broken down into 3-4 sessions a week. Due to the whole system and optimization of a cold plunge tub, it makes sense why it would be more expensive. Because of its intensity and investment, it’s not for everyone.

In summary, the main difference between a cold plunge or ice bath and a cold shower is the ability to control temperature, the price difference, the intensity and effectiveness of cold immersion, and the duration required from cold showers and cold plunge tubs to see a benefit.

Benefits of Cold Water Exposure:

The benefits of cold water exposure are many. Let’s run through a quick overview of the most prominent wellness benefits from cold therapy.

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1. Increased Muscle Recovery:

Cold water therapy has been shown over and over again to reduce muscle soreness and in turn, speed up recovery time. This happens due to cold water’s anti-inflammatory effect. When you think of working out it is a healthy stressor, but it still inflames your muscles. Cold water therapy has also been shown to reduce a human’s perception of muscle soreness.

For all of these reasons, you see athletes constantly in cold plunges, ice baths, or cold showers.

2. Increased Mental Clarity:

Many say that they get started in the morning with a cold shower to boost their mood, energy, and mental clarity.

This makes sense because it has been shown that icy water can activate the parasympathetic nervous system and release norepinephrine, epinephrine which improves your mood and wakes you up. I can personally say, the shock of cold water always leaves me feeling more alert and refreshed.

3. Improved Metabolic Function:

When it comes to metabolic health, research shows that taking regular ice baths can improve your cardiovascular system over time. Some studies also suggest that exposing your body to the cold could stimulate your brown fat, which is a special type of fat that generates heat through shivering, inducing thermogenesis, and therefore possibly burning fat.

This specific study published in 2018 tested this theory on a group of young men and the results were impressive. After a few sessions of acute cold exposure, their resting energy expenditure increased by 31%.  So by practicing cold therapy, you may be able to activate and improve the function of this brown adipose tissue and boost your metabolism.

4. Increased Resilience:

By using an ice bath or other form of cold exposure consistently, you can build mental toughness and resilience. Essentially, you are practicing being uncomfortable and teaching your body to adapt to much colder temperatures. With regular cold training, your body and mind learn how to handle extremes. Over time, intentional cold therapy develops grit and an ability to push through hard situations when needed.

Final Thoughts:

So which is better – a cold plunge or cold shower? As we’ve reviewed, both have their merits depending on your goals and lifestyle.

If you’re an athlete looking to recover faster, have some extra cash, and want rapid results – go for the cold plunge. The full body exposure, precise temperature control, and intensity of a plunge will give you the fastest effects.

For most people starting with cold therapy, I’d recommend beginning with cold showers. They’re simple, free, and you can work your way toward colder water over time. Start alternating between hot and cold water to get used to the change. Once you’ve made cold showers a habit, then invest in a cold tub if you want to increase the benefits of cold water immersion.

Try out different cold therapy techniques, and see what works for your body. The key is consistency. Stick with it, and the benefits will come.

Ready to take the plunge?

Cold Plunge vs Cold Shower: FAQ

How does cold water immersion work as a form of cold therapy?

Cold water immersion works by exposing the body to cold temperatures, which activates the body’s natural physiological and physiological responses. This includes constricting blood vessels (vasoconstriction), promoting the release of endorphins, reducing inflammation, releasing endorphins, and activating the vagus nerve, which can help improve overall well-being.

Can using a cold plunge or taking a cold shower help with reducing inflammation?

Yes, both using a cold plunge and taking a cold shower can help reduce inflammation in the body.

The cold temperature constricts blood vessels and reduces blood flow to the affected area, which can help decrease inflammation and provide pain relief.

Can a cold plunge or a cold shower improve sleep?

Yes, both a cold plunge and a cold shower can potentially improve sleep quality. Studies still need to be conducted, but cold water immersion has been shown to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and promote relaxation, which can help induce a good night’s sleep.

It is crucial to engage in cold therapy at a time that matches your circadian rhythm (in the morning) when your body is at its coolest core temperature. 

About the Author, Sophia Victoria
About the Author, Sophia Victoria

Sophi is a health, wellness, and lifestyle blogger who uses, research, and tests products and theories to help others improve their mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. With her own eating disorder journey, regulating her hormones, and working with 10+ nutritionists, she deeply understands the health and wellness. Sophi is also well-knowledged in self-development and committed to sharing her knowledge, experience, and expertise with her readers.

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