An ice bath is one of the greatest recovery methods after an extreme event like a marathon, triathlon, or Ironman. At some of the top-sponsored events, they’re available, but most of the time, they aren’t.
You could buy one, and it’ll set you back anything from $5,000 to $15,000. The good news is that you can create your own one at home for a fraction of the cost.
So how do you make your own ice bath? Indoors, it is as straightforward as using an existing bathtub. For those with a balcony, repurpose a trash bin, and with more available space, use a chest freezer, or purchase an ice barrel.
The Indoor Bathtub
If there’s a bathtub, of any size, in the home, put it to good use as an ice bath. Many people believe that an ice bath needs to consist of cubes only. They’re incorrect; in fact, the correct ratio is 3:1, with water being the highest number.
Fill the bath halfway with cold water. Next, add as much ice as possible until the water/ice ratio is met. Then, the water will take around 10 minutes to reach the required temperature.
Tips for Taking an Ice Bath in a Bathtub
Despite what you may have seen in the movies, taking an ice bath naked isn’t advisable. Shorts or sweatpants with a t-shirt are the recommended pieces of clothing. Some people go so far as to wear booties to protect their toes.
To avoid hyperthermic shock, don’t jump right in. Slowly lower yourself, begin with your feet, then your legs, and slowly slide the rest of your body in. Take slow breaths as you submerge to avoid hyperventilating. Don’t worry, the temperature shock goes away.
Ten to fifteen minutes is the maximum time to spend in the bath. When you get out, remove the wet clothes and towel yourself dry vigorously.
The Repurposed Trash Bin
Those trash bins seen in the street are perfect for a DIY ice bath. Make sure to get one that a person can fit in. Just like the bathtub, fill it halfway with cold water and enough ice to get it to the 3:1 ratio again. Wait 10 minutes for the temperature to drop, and it’s ready!
Follow the same tips as the home bath for the best experience.
This video shows exactly what it’ll look like when being used.
A Chest Freezer
An unused freezer makes an excellent base for an ice bath. If it’s still operational, it comes with its own cooling system, eliminating the need to add ice. Remember, though, they’re not designed to hold gallons of water so check the weight capacity first before using one.
The other check is that there are no connections or cables that could short-circuit when it’s filled with water.
Once these are all clear, here’s what to do:
- The absolute first thing to do is to clean it, especially if it’s second-hand thoroughly. Any dirt or debris needs to be removed entirely.
- Next, make it watertight by using sealant on any holes or gaps, no matter how tiny.
- The texture of the walls may not be comfortable to lie against, so covering them with a thin sheet of plastic works well.
- Fill it with water. There’s no need to add ice, as the cooling is automatic once it’s plugged in.
- A cheap waterproof digital thermometer is all you need to ensure the temperature is correct.
- Add some food-grade hydrogen peroxide crystals to the water to prevent any bacteria from forming. That way, you can keep it plugged in and filled with water so it’s ready to use anytime.
- Change the water at least once a month to keep it sanitary.
Pro tip: Always unplug it before you get it in. Water and electricity aren’t the best of friends, so be extra careful.
An Ice Barrel
Consider a ready-made ice barrel if there is no bath at home and the other options sound like hard work. Some retail for as little as $1,000 and work similarly to the trash bin option.
Now let’s talk about ice.
How Much Ice in Your Ice Bath?
The correct amount of ice to use in the bath is critical. For optimal results, the water needs a temperature range of 45–58°F. This number may change based on a person’s cold tolerance, but it’s a starting guide. To achieve these temperatures, the average user will need 1–2 lbs of ice for every gallon of water in the bath. (Source)
Remember that everyone has a different cold-tolerance level. Some can handle it much colder and may need more ice to cool it further. On the other hand, especially for newbies to ice baths, even 58°F may be too much to bear, so less ice is needed.
How Long Will 10 Lbs of Ice Last?
Not very long! Consider that an average bathtub can hold 50 gallons of water, and ice gets added once it’s half full, so at 25 gallons. At 1–2 lbs of ice per gallon, that 10 lbs won’t even meet the minimum.
You could start with an amount of ice that low if you’re new to ice baths. Fill the tub halfway as usual and add the ice. After 10 minutes, get into the bath to see how it feels. For the first time, it may be enough. If not, add more as per the instructions above.
How Do You Prepare For an Ice Bath?
Unless taking ice baths is a common occurrence, first-timers should take some precautions. Being mentally prepared is vital. It will be a shock to the system, so accept that. Take the time to do some deep breathing exercises.
Start with 1–2 minutes of steady breathing, alternating nostrils. Then inhale and exhale more heavily than usual, through the nose only, for another 1–3 minutes. Finally, when you’re ready, hold your breath on the exhale and slowly get into the bath.
How Long Should You Spend in an Ice Bath?
It will change from person to person, based on their experience and cold tolerance. First-timers may only handle it for a few seconds. Attempt to stay in it for at least 2–3 minutes and gradually increase it over time. Never spend more than 15 minutes in an ice bath.
Here are some final considerations before using an ice bath for the first time:
- Check with your doctor first, especially if you have diabetes, a cardiovascular condition, or high blood pressure.
- Immerse your body into the bath right up to the back of your neck.
- Set a timer for minute intervals after 2.
- Get out of the bath slowly. A quick exit may shock the body.
- When you get out and towel dry, do some jumping jacks to get the blood pumping again.
For more information about making the best use of ice baths, check out this awesome article Sherif wrote: How Many Ice Baths a Week You Should Take? Does It Work & What To and Not To Do!