I Tried Cold Plunging Every Day for a Week—Here’s What Happened

Updated: May 07, 2024

A writer takes on a teeth-chattering challenge to chill out—literally—and convinces a loved one to take a dip to help expedite knee surgery recovery.

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Cold plunging has been practiced as a wellness modality for thousands of years, but it first came to my attention when my instructor on a yoga retreat told us about Wim Hof, the extreme athlete who popularized ice baths accompanied by a breathing technique he’s credited for his unbelievable immune system.

Always the curious journalist (and a mom who loves discovering natural ways to boost immunity), I started to research this phenomenon. Sure enough, I found account after account of demonstrated ice bath benefits: To boost mental health, improve sleep, increase energy, promote weight loss, offer pain relief and more. As a former sports reporter, I also knew that athletes used cold therapy to recover from injuries and help with inflammation.

Over the past year, it seemed like cold-plunging had gotten hotter than ever when multiple celebrities we interviewed raved about their own health reasons for undergoing cold therapy. Tiffani Thiessen told us she loves “ice baths or cold-plunging. It’s all so important for my body, but also my brain.” TV war correspondent Trey Yingst said he cold plunges daily to manage his mental health while he’s reporting on the ground in Israel. When he can’t, he said he will “turn the shower in the hotel as cold as it can go and try to do my own cold exposure.”

It was one wellness modality I had yet to try.

My cold plunging routine

Before you try any new activity, you should speak with your licensed healthcare provider to see if it’s right for you. I personally was most interested in the mental benefits of cold plunging, as stress and anxiety always seem to be in the backdrop of having two young kids.

Since our Brooklyn loft doesn’t exactly lend itself to setting up plunging tank, I had a solution: We’d be traveling to California for the holidays to see my family. My father had recently undergone knee surgery, and I was interested to see how an ice bath might help the inflammation in his knee and assist with healing.

For Dad and me to try, I ordered what’s been considered the cream of the crop: The Alaskan Cold Plunge Tub from Redwood Outdoors, which was one of the prettiest cold plunge tubs I’d come across in my research but also one of the most practical. This cold plunge also came with a staircase, which is not the case for every product in this category but definitely would be necessary for someone in their sixties, like my dad, recovering from a torn meniscus.

The tub, designed to be filled with cold water and ice with a plastic inner liner and a spruce thermowood exterior, was “built to replicate the Finnish tradition of jumping in the snow between sauna sessions,” the company says. (You can purchase a chiller separately, but it’s more than double the price of the tub.)

The first day, with the Finnish tradition in mind and remembering the Aire Hotel & Ancient Baths I’d once stayed at in Spain, I pretended my dad’s backyard was a fancy spa where there are pools that are different temperatures. I thought it would be a good idea for us start in his hot tub.

We waited until my dad’s knee surgery incision had healed and the wound was fully closed. Then for five days straight, we took turns each spending five minutes in the ice bath after relaxing in the hot tub. We wore our typical swimsuits, and once I felt heated, I was looking forward to the cold.

Five minutes seemed to be the general recommendation for beginners, though we tried to work our way up to 15 minutes by the end of the week. While a lot of cold plunge enthusiasts do the practice first thing in the morning (a swim in the frigid ocean for some!), we usually practiced our ice bath ritual it in the afternoon following a workout because a few of my fitness-loving friends had suggested that it was great for exercise recovery. (Also, it’s pretty hard to motivate myself to workout after any type of relaxation or meditation.)

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What cold plunging every day did to my body

There was a tingly feeling when I first entered the pool each day, and I really had to breathe through it and make sure I wasn’t tensing up my body. I’d done cryotherapy a couple times and it was a similar shock to the system.

Each day became easier and easier, and by mid-week I was able to relax and really let the meditative effects sink in. I’ll be honest: I definitely dreaded the first day, but it helped having my dad there to do it with me. It was sort of like having a friend ask you to start working out together—there’s accountability at the beginning, which helped me set the routine. I found that after the first day, I felt brave enough to experience the cold plunge on its own without relying on the hot tub for a warmup!

My biggest takeaway was how adaptable the body is! By the end of the week my body wasn’t tensing up from the cold anymore. It was a similar experience to doing hot yoga: I thought I would pass out the first time I tried it and now, I look forward to the heat. The power of the human body never ceases to impress me.

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What I discovered by cold plunging every day

The first couple of days, I could barely do a few minutes in the ice bath without wanting to jump into the jacuzzi—I was a true ice bath beginner! Heat and saunas are much easier for me thanks to my years of doing hot yoga. Having grown up in California, I’m just not a natural when it comes to ice.

But by the third day, the first five minutes became much easier. I found that when I was in the ice bath, it had a similar effect to meditation: My mind was clear. I was so cold, I wasn’t able to think of much else! I tried to take in the nature around me and focus on my breath. In this way, I found it similar to when I go for a run or do yoga and I feel my mind completely immersed in the activity and able to block out any exterior noise. I was completely present, which had a meditative and de-stressing effect. I started finding that my ice baths were a moment in my day when my brain would shut out the chatter.

The holidays can be a stressful time in general and being back in my childhood home always brings back a lot of feelings, but doing one thing for myself each day, setting that time, having that meditative experience really brought calm. I have trouble meditating alone unless I’m in a group, and this was just what I needed: An intense experience to focus and force my body to reset.

As for my father, he was initially reluctant to try the ice bath but was a good sport about it, especially when I reminded him that a lot of the beloved athletes he follows undergo ice therapy after their games. As someone who frequently golfs and works out every day, he was desperate to do anything that might help his recent knee heal faster.

By the end of our week of ice baths, the pain in his knee had significantly decreased, and the swelling I’d noticed when we first arrived for our visit seemed to be less. He continued to follow his doctors’ orders to wait six weeks to play golf (though I’ll note his healing knee never slowed him down from playing with his grandkids!). The effects of cold plunging he experienced gave him hope he’d get the all-clear to come back swinging his clubs as soon as possible.