From David Beckham to Elle Macpherson, there’s barely a celebrity on Instagram not currently videoing themselves cold plunging into an ice bath. Kerry Potter takes a deep dive into the coolest (literally) new wellbeing trend and finds the best ice bath for your budget
“The first time I lasted five seconds and jumped out but it’s becoming weirdly addictive,” says Steve Gregory, PT and founder of Fitlife boutique gyms. His new year’s resolution was to take an ice bath every day and film it for Instagram (“Have you even done it if you haven’t posted it?” he jokes).
Steve has history with ice baths; an ex professional footballer for Bournemouth AFC, he used a cold plunge for physical recovery after matches. But this time it’s different. The Ice Strong bath in his garden is much, much colder for a start (his little boy breaks the ice on the water with a stick on these Baltic winter days) and it’s for mental health benefits rather than athletic recovery.
“My work life is currently challenging and requires a lot of discipline to get everything done that I need to do each day,” says Steve. “So doing this every morning gets me into the mindset of overcoming obstacles and stretches my perception of my limitations. If I can sit in that bath, I can do anything.”
Steve isn’t the only one to have drunk the (very) Kool-Aid when it comes to ice baths. Recently David Beckham described plunging in as “a little self-care on a frosty morning”. (One follower expressed concern that the cold would mean his famous “golden balls” would resemble “golden grapes” afterwards.)
Elle Macpherson, a follower of the original ice man Wim Hof, looks serene in her tin tub (watch this space for Elle’s new Get The Gloss column where she talks about this and her other favourite biohacks).
Meanwhile TV presenter Emma Willis takes the plunge, saying, “A year of trying new things. Of leaning into my fears. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone and taking down the scaffolding of limitations I’ve built around myself”.
And Dr Rangan Chatterjee does it in the name of research, for his podcast. Last year's cold shower craze, it seems, was a gateway drug - now it's all about full immersion.
Ice bath benefits
“It supports your immune system, reduces inflammation in the body and is great for your cardiovascular system,” says Anna Marie Gough, cold water therapist and breathwork expert. “And it’s so good for the mind. It brings you into the present moment. You can’t start worrying about work or what’s for dinner when you’re in an ice bath. You’re focusing on your breathing.”
Immersion in cold water causes ‘hormetic stress’ – a short, sharp dose of healthy stress that’s good for us. “By going to extremes, we are learning to be more adaptable and more resilient. It helps us handle external stressors in our wider lives,” says Anna.
MORE GLOSS: Benefits of cold water swimming
How long should you ice bath for? And at what temperature?
Immersion in water less than 15 degrees Celsius is considered cold water therapy, says Anna. As a point of reference your bathroom bath/ shower tap likely goes down to about 12 degrees. “Prime your body – don’t just roll out of bed into a freezing ice bath,” says Anna. “Practise your breathwork and start gently with a quick blast of a cold shower before working your way up to the bath and gradually lowering the temperature.” Anna suggests eventually aiming for 12 to 15 minutes per week, broken up across several days (she does five days per week).
Ice bath safety
If you have a heart condition or epilepsy, check with your doctor first. And have someone with you when you do it, in case you encounter difficulties.
Can you just do it in your normal bath?
You can but there is a key benefit to the tall, upright ice baths in which you sit rather than life – you can easily submerge the back of your neck, where your vagus nerve begins. “The vagus nerve plays a role in keeping our our parasympathetic nervous system in balance, which makes us feel calm, restored and rested.,” says Anna. “The cold water gives the vagus nerve a boost.”
Fancy splashing out on an ice bath?
They vary hugely in price, depending on whether you buy a glorified bin that you fill with a hose or a jazz-hands one with a pump, filter and temperature control. Here are seven best cold plunge tubs and ice baths to choose from.
Find the best ice bath for you
The bargain ice bath: Lumi Recovery Pod Ice Bath, £95
You don’t need an A-list bank account for the Lumi. This no-nonsense tub is thermal-insulated so keeps your water at a steady temperature and comes with a lid. The accessible price point makes it perfect for dipping a toe into the trend (*gets coat*).
The hot (well, cold) new ice bath Gen-One Monk Smart Ice Bath, £4995
Launching spring 2023, this high-tech tub currently has 2,500 people on the waiting list. Thumbs up for the curvy design and snazzy in-bath control pad with lights to guide your breathing.
The portable ice bath: Polar Recovery Tub, £115
This UK company have built a no-frills bath that you can set up in just 3 minutes and weighs only 3kg, so you can even take it on holiday with you (if you are a masochist).
The rustic luxe ice bath: The Ice Bath Company Oval Ice Bath, £3329
Emma Willis’s torture device of choice, this is handmade, filters the water and can cool it as low as 2 degrees Celsius. The wooden step doubles up as a seat.
The big spender ice bath: Brass Monkeys The Barrel & Chiller, £5750
This British brand do a range of tubs, including this one crafted from restored Scottish whiskey barrels (yes, they do clean them first so you don’t smell like you’ve just rolled out of the pub). You control it with an app. If this isn’t fancy enough for you, they do other styles that cost up to £14k. Dr Rangan Chatterjee and Joe Wicks are fans.
The hipster ice bath: Urban Ice Tribe Oblong Stock Tank Ice Bath, from £290
Urban Ice Tribe isn’t just a retailer, it’s a community – they offer breathwork, transformational coaching and retreats. The galvanized steel baths are made in Nebraska and were originally used as water troughs for cattle.
The chic ice bath: The Cold Plunge, £4129
The clean, white lines of The Cold Plunge wouldn’t look out of place in an Elle Decoration magazine spread. The filtration system means you can leave the water in for six months, it is temperature controlled and there’s underwater lighting for night plunging.