Sauna and Cold Plunge [Which is Better for Exercise Recovery]

sauna and cold plunge

Discover the world of sauna and cold plunge, an ancient practice embraced by many cultures for its numerous health benefits.

In this detailed guide, we’ll investigate the science behind these two different treatments and consider their potential effect on your health.

As you read this post, you’ll learn about the various saunas and cold plunges available and how to prepare for a session to maximize its effects properly.

Additionally, we’ll discuss essential safety considerations to keep in mind while enjoying these practices.

Finally, we’ll provide valuable aftercare tips that can help enhance your overall experience.

By understanding the intricacies of these powerful wellness tools, you can unlock their full potential and incorporate them into your regular self-care regimen.

Hot Sauna/ Cold Plunge: Which Is Better For Recovery?

hot sauna

When it comes to exercise recovery, various methods are available.

Two popular options are hot sauna sessions and cold plunges, also known as ice baths.

Both have unique benefits and drawbacks, so which is better for exercise recovery? Let’s take a closer look.

Benefits of Hot Sauna Sessions

Regular sauna use can provide numerous health advantages beyond just post-workout recovery. Here are some potential benefits:

  • Improves circulation: The heat from the sauna induces vasodilation (widening of blood vessels), which increases blood flow throughout the body.

  • Induces heat shock proteins: Heat stress triggers the production of these proteins, which help protect cells from damage caused by stressors like exercise.

  • Increases endurance: Regular exposure to hot temperatures may improve your ability to tolerate intense workouts by increasing your core temperature tolerance.

Benefits of Cold Plunges

Cold water immersion has been used for centuries to reduce inflammation and promote healing in various parts of the body. Here are some potential advantages:

  • Reduces inflammation: Cold water exposure activates vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels), reducing swelling and inflammation in sore muscles.

  • Enhances muscle repair: Studies suggest cold therapy may increase protein synthesis rates, promoting faster muscle repair after exercise-induced damage.

  • Boosts immune function: Exposure to cold temperatures can stimulate white blood cell production, potentially improving overall immune function.

Mental Health Benefits

  • Mood Enhancement: Cold water immersion stimulates the release of endorphins – chemicals responsible for producing feelings of happiness – which can lead to improved mood levels following treatment sessions. Furthermore, relaxing in a warm environment such as a hot sauna allows you to unwind mentally, reducing stress and anxiety.

  • Sleep Improvement: Regular sauna sessions have been linked to better sleep quality, as heat exposure helps relax muscles and release tension. Cold plunges can also promote restful sleep by activating the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for relaxation and recovery.

  • Mental Resilience: Enduring extreme temperatures during the sauna and cold plunging therapy can help build mental resilience over time. This practice encourages individuals to push through discomfort, ultimately strengthening their ability to handle challenging situations in everyday life.

Which One Should You Choose?

cold plunge

The answer depends on what type of workout you’re recovering from.

If you’ve done an intense cardio session or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout that left you feeling drained and exhausted, hopping into an ice bath might be more beneficial due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

On the other hand, if you did strength training or resistance exercises that left your muscles feeling tight or sore afterward, warming up in a hot sauna might be the better option.

Heat can help relax your muscles and improve blood flow, which may speed up recovery.

In summary, both saunas and ice baths have unique exercise recovery benefits. Please look at what type of workout you’re recovering from before deciding which one to use.

Try incorporating both into your routine to reap the full range of benefits each offer.

key takeaway

Sauna and cold plunging therapy offer numerous physical and mental health advantages. Alternating between hot saunas and cold plunges can help reduce muscle soreness, improve immune function, enhance mood levels, promote restful sleep, and build mental resilience.

How I Leverage Cold Plunges and Sauna Sessions

cold shower

I have a flexible schedule for my sauna and cold plunging sessions. 

I keep things as random as possible so my body doesn’t get used to it.

Depending on how much time I have or what my recovery needs are at the moment, I incorporate 1 or 2 of these routines:

  • A quick dip in an ice bath

  • Cold water immersion (such as taking a cold shower)

  • Sauna sessions (either traditional heated or infrared)

  • A combination of both sauna bathing and cold plunging

The key is not doing everything every day but listening to how your body feels each day. Some days may call for more intense therapy than others.

Finding What Works Best For You

What works for me might not work for you. You can experiment with different tactics until you find what works best based on your needs.

If you’re dealing with elevated stress levels or recovering from an injury, combining sauna bathing with cold plunging can be particularly effective in reducing inflammation throughout the body.

Cold Plunging Routine Tips:

  1. Increase exposure gradually over time if new to this practice

  2. Stay in the cold plunge for at least 2-3 minutes to reap full benefits

  3. If feeling mentally weak, stay in longer (up to 12 minutes) to teach your brain that weakness isn’t an option

Remember, what works best isn’t always comfortable. If you want to improve your resilience and become mentally stronger, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is necessary.

Incorporating regular sauna sessions and cold plunges into my routine has been a game-changer.

I feel better physically and mentally, as it’s helped me develop a greater sense of discipline and mental toughness.

Combined Health Benefits

cold plunge

If you’re looking for a way to magnify your health and wellness routine, combining cold therapy with sauna bathing can amplify the individual benefits of each practice.

This combination is known as contrast therapy.


Hormesis is the body’s ability to adapt to stressors and become stronger.

Exposing your body to unusual or extreme temperatures (both hot and cold) stresses the body, causing adaptation and a chemical response that makes the body more resilient.

Infrared Sauna Use

The energy carried by infrared radiation causes your tissue to heat up, which triggers your nervous system’s response.

The affected blood vessels dilate to cool down the body, increasing blood flow to your skin and muscle tissue.

This helps reduce pain and transports oxygen and nutrients efficiently throughout your cells, speeding up recovery after intense workouts while reducing muscle soreness.

Improved Circulation

  • Studies show that regular sauna sessions improve circulation.

  • Sauna use has also been shown to be effective at improving endothelial function.

  • Cold water exposure activates similar mechanisms of improved circulation through vasoconstriction followed by vasodilation once out of the cold pool.

Cold Plunging Routine

Chilly plunges cause an initial increase in blood flow towards the skin, but when the brain realizes the water is too cold, it begins constricting extremities’ blood vessels and redirects flow towards vital organs.

Once out of the cold water, blood vessels start dilating to provide nutrient-dense warm blood to the affected tissue, which helps with pain reduction and improves recovery.

Induces Heat Shock Proteins

  • Cold exposure induces heat shock proteins (HSPs) that help protect cells from stress.

  • Cold therapy is effective in reducing inflammation levels throughout the body.

  • Athletes have also used ice baths for decades to speed up muscle healing after intense workouts.

Incorporating regular sauna sessions and cold water plunges into your wellness routine can offer numerous benefits, such as improved circulation, reduced inflammation levels, and faster muscle recovery times while protecting cells from stressors through HSP induction.

The contrast between hot saunas and icy plunge pools is an excellent way to challenge your body’s resilience while enhancing its ability to adapt positively.

Types of Hot Saunas and Cold Water Plunges

sauna montage

Various hot sauna and cold plunging treatments are available, each offering unique benefits.

Understanding the distinctions between these treatments can help you select the most suitable one.

Dry Saunas

Dry saunas, or Finnish or traditional saunas, use heated rocks to create a high-temperature environment with low humidity levels.

The temperature in dry saunas typically ranges from 160°F to 200°F.

Dry saunas promote relaxation, detoxification through sweating, and improved circulation.

Infrared Saunas

Infrared saunas utilize infrared light waves that directly warm up the body rather than heating the air around it.

This allows for lower temperatures than traditional dry saunas – usually between 120°F to 140°F – while providing similar health advantages such as muscle pain relief and stress reduction.

Steam Rooms

A steam room, sometimes called a wet sauna or Turkish bath, uses steam from boiling water at high temperatures.

Steam rooms have higher humidity levels than dry saunas but generally operate at lower temperatures ranging from 110°F to 130°F.

They offer similar benefits like relaxation and detoxification but may be more suitable for those who prefer moist heat.

Cold Plunge Pools

Small, deep pools containing icy water (ranging from 50°F to 60°F) make up cold plunging pools.

After a sauna session, immersing in the cold can help reduce inflammation and muscle soreness while promoting improved circulation and mental well-being.

Cold water plunges also provide mental health advantages such as increased focus and stress relief.

Ice Baths

An ice bath is another form of cold therapy similar to a cold plunging pool but uses ice or ice packs to maintain colder temperatures around 32°F to 35°F.

Ice baths offer many of the same benefits as cold plunging but may be more intense due to the lower temperature.

key takeaway

Different types of sauna and cold plunging treatments are available, each with unique benefits. Dry saunas use heated rocks to create high temperatures, while infrared saunas utilize infrared light waves that directly heat the body. Cold plunge pools and ice baths relieve inflammation and muscle soreness after a sauna session.

Preparing for a Sauna and Cold Plunging Session

sauna preparation

To maximize the effectiveness of your sauna and cold plunge session, it’s essential to mentally and physically prepare.

In this section, we’ll discuss how to get ready for your treatment so you can reap all the benefits these therapies offer.

Hydration is Key

Proper hydration is crucial before entering a sauna or taking a cold plunge. Please ensure you knock back plenty of water throughout the day leading up to your session. 

A general guideline is 8 cups (64 ounces) daily, but individual needs may vary based on age, weight, and activity level.

Eat Lightly Before Your Session

Avoid hefty meals at least two hours before your sauna or cold plunge appointment.

Opt for light snacks like fruit or yogurt instead if you need something in your stomach beforehand.

This will help prevent any discomfort during the treatments.

Dress Appropriately

You should wear comfortable clothing that allows freedom of movement when using saunas or participating in cool plunges – think swimsuits or lightweight athletic wear with moisture-wicking properties.

Remember to bring towels – one for sitting on while in the sauna and another for drying off after each therapy session.

Warm-Up Before Entering The Sauna Or Cold Plunge Pool

  • Sauna: Engage in some light stretching exercises outside of the sauna room before entering. This will help to increase blood flow and prepare your muscles for the heat.

  • Cold Plunge: Before submerging yourself in cold water, perform a brief warm-up exercise like jumping jacks or jogging in place. This helps raise your core body temperature slightly, making the transition into cold water more comfortable.

Set Your Intention And Relax

Please take a minute to set an intention for the session, be it relaxation, stress relief, muscle recovery, or something else – then focus on deep breathing and prepare yourself mentally before entering the sauna or cold plunging.

Close your eyes and focus on deep breathing exercises as you mentally prepare for the experience.

By following these steps before entering a sauna or taking part in a cold plunging treatment, you’ll be well-prepared to enjoy their physical and mental health benefits while ensuring safety throughout each therapy session.

Being well-prepared before beginning a sauna and cold plunging session is essential.

key takeaway

To prepare for a sauna and cold plunging session, it’s important to hydrate well beforehand, eat lightly, wear comfortable clothing, and warm up before entering. Setting an intention and relaxing is also vital to maximizing these therapies’ physical and mental health benefits.

Safety Considerations for Sauna and Cold Plunge

cold plunge safety

When engaging in a sauna or cold plunging treatments, it’s essential to prioritize safety to avoid any potential risks or complications.

Consult a Medical Professional

Before starting any new health regimen, it’s always wise to consult with a medical professional.

This is particularly important if you have pre-existing conditions like heart disease or high blood pressure.

Your doctor can provide personalized advice on whether sauna and cold plunge therapy suits you.

Hydration Matters

Proper hydration is crucial in sauna sessions since the heat can cause excessive sweating.

Before entering the sauna, please drink plenty of water and continue hydrating throughout your session.

Bring a water bottle into the sauna room to quickly replenish fluids lost through sweat.

Time Limits & Temperature Control

  • Time limits: To prevent overheating or overexposure, limit your time spent inside the sauna according to guidelines provided by the facility or based on personal comfort levels (typically between 15-20 minutes).

  • Temperature control: Ensure that temperatures within saunas remain within safe ranges (between 150°F -195°F). Always start at a lower temperature and gradually increase it if desired.

Cold Plunge Precautions

When transitioning from a sauna to cold plunging, take the following precautions:

  1. Gradually lower your body temperature briefly before getting into the icy plunge. This helps prevent shock or discomfort caused by sudden temperature changes.

  2. Avoid submerging your head in the cold water immediately. Instead, enter feet-first and gradually immerse yourself up to shoulder level.

  3. Limit your time in the cold plunge pool (usually between 30 seconds and 2 minutes), as staying too long can lead to hypothermia or other complications.

Listen to Your Body

Paying attention to how you feel during the sauna and cold plunge sessions is crucial for ensuring safety.

If you’re feeling unease, like dizziness, nausea, or difficulty breathing while in the sauna or plunge pool, quickly leave and seek medical help if necessary.

It’s essential to consider safety when using a sauna and cold plunge to enjoy its benefits without any potential risks.

Following some simple aftercare tips is essential to ensure maximum comfort and enjoyment after these activities.

key takeaway

Before engaging in sauna and cold plunge treatments, please consult a medical professional to ensure they are appropriate for you. Stay hydrated throughout your session, limit time spent inside the sauna according to guidelines provided by the facility or personal comfort levels, take precautions when transitioning from a sauna to a cold plunge pool, and listen to your body during both sessions.

Aftercare Tips for Sauna and Cold Plunge

sauna and cold plunge aftercare

Taking care of your body after a sauna or cold plunge session is essential to ensure optimal results and maintain overall health.

To maximize the benefits of these treatments, let’s explore some essential aftercare tips.

Rehydrate Properly

Both sauna and cold plunge sessions can lead to dehydration due to excessive sweating and increased metabolic activity.

It’s crucial to rehydrate properly by drinking plenty of water immediately after your session.

Consider consuming electrolyte-rich drinks such as coconut water or sports beverages to replenish lost minerals.

Nourish Your Body with Nutrients

Your body requires adequate nutrients for recovery following a sauna or cold plunge treatment.

A balanced meal rich in proteins, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals within an hour post-session can aid in muscle repair and energy restoration.

Foods like lean meats, fish, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables are great options for nourishing your body.

Gentle Stretching Exercises

Stretching exercises are beneficial in improving flexibility and reducing muscle tension after intense heat exposure from saunas or the shock experienced during frigid plunges.

Engage in gentle stretches targeting major muscle groups while focusing on deep breathing techniques for relaxation.

  • Calf stretch: Stand facing a wall with 1 foot forward; press against the wall while keeping the back leg straight.

  • Hip flexor stretch: Kneel on 1 knee with the other foot flat on the ground; gently push hips forward.

  • Hamstring stretch: Sit with one limb outstretched and the other bent, and lean towards your toes while keeping your back erect.

Rest and Relaxation

After a sauna or cold plunge session, giving yourself enough time to rest and recuperate is essential.

Avoid strenuous activities immediately after treatment, which may lead to muscle strain or injury.

Instead, opt for relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or warm bath infused with Epsom salts.

Maintain Proper Hygiene

Proper hygiene is crucial after using shared facilities like saunas and cold plunge pools.

Shower using mild soap to cleanse any sweat or impurities from your skin.

Additionally, ensure you wash any clothing items worn during the session before reuse.

Incorporating these aftercare tips into your routine can help enhance the benefits of sauna and cold plunge sessions while ensuring overall health and well-being.

key takeaway

To maximize the benefits of sauna and cold plunge sessions, it’s essential to rehydrate appropriately, nourish your body with nutrients, engage in gentle stretching exercises, rest and relax after treatment, and maintain proper hygiene.

cold plunge

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it Good to Do a Cold Plunge After a Sauna?

Yes, doing a cold plunge after a sauna session benefits your health.

It helps improve circulation, reduce inflammation, and enhance recovery.

The contrast between hot and cold temps can also uplift the immune system and release endorphins for overall well-being.

Is it Good to Cold Plunge Before a Sauna?

Cold plunging before a sauna session is not recommended as it may reduce the effectiveness of heat therapy.

Starting with the sauna allows your body to warm up gradually, dilate blood vessels, and increase circulation.

A subsequent cold plunge then provides optimal contrast therapy benefits. 

How Often Should You Cold Plunge and Sauna?

The frequency of incorporating chilly plunges into your sauna routine depends on individual preferences and tolerance levels.

Generally speaking, 1-2 times per week is sufficient for most people to experience health advantages without overexertion or risk of injury.

Always listen to your body’s signals when determining frequency.

What Are the Negatives of Cold Plunge?

Potential negatives associated with regular use of a cold plunge include:

  • Hypothermia, if done improperly or excessively

  • Worsening symptoms in individuals with Raynaud’s disease

  • Increased stress response for those sensitive to temperature changes

  • Contraindications for specific medical conditions such as cardiovascular issues or pregnancy.

Hot and Cold Therapy are Great for Recovery

By including these practices in your routine, you’ll experience reduced inflammation, improved circulation, increased relaxation, and more.

Preparing properly before a session is essential, by staying hydrated and wearing appropriate clothing.

Safety considerations should also be taken seriously to avoid potential risks or adverse effects.

If you want to try out a sauna and cold plunge, check out Yvonne’s Guide for more information on getting started!

Medical Disclaimer

Content on this blog is meant for educational purposes only and should not be relied upon as medical advice from medical doctors or registered dietitians, as we are not qualified to provide such advice. It should not be used to prevent, diagnose, or treat any medical condition. It’s important to talk to a doctor before beginning a new exercise plan, taking supplements, or making any other changes that could impact your medications, treatment, or health. Please note that the information provided on is based on personal experience and research, and we cannot be held responsible for how you choose to use it.

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