A woman closing her eyes while taking a cold plunge before or after a workout.

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Should You Cold Plunge Before or After a Workout? Why Timing Matters

Determining your goals for a chilly dip can help you decide when to do it.

By Sarah KleinJune 3, 2024


It’s become a bit of a statement to take a cold plunge. Submerging yourself in a tub of icy water is no longer reserved for professional athletes hoping for a competitive edge. Now, it’s the stuff of everyday social media shares.

“It’s one of those things that’s a badge of honor to some people,” says Benjamin Gordon, PhD, instructional assistant professor in applied physiology and kinesiology at the College of Health & Human Performance at the University of Florida. “You get to say, ‘Yeah, I was able to do that, can you do that?’”

But if you’re going to cold plunge, you probably want it to actually deliver some benefits, right? One crucial aspect that may impact your performance and recovery, in particular, is timing. So should you cold plunge before or after a workout? And does the answer depend on your fitness routine and training goals? Here’s where the current research lands and what physiology experts want you to know before you dip. 

What Is Cold Plunging?

The term “cold plunging” (or “cold water immersion” as it’s often called in research) typically refers to periods of up to 20 minutes or so spent submerged in water that’s usually around 10–15 degrees Celsius, says Gordon, who is also the senior editor for the American College of Sports Medicine’s Resources for the Exercise Physiologist 3rd Edition. That’s about 50–60 degrees Fahrenheit (aka not freezing, which is important for safety’s sake).

While cold water immersion is still an under-researched topic, some worthwhile cold plunge benefits have begun to emerge: The practice seems to improve post-workout soreness, immunity, circulation, and mood.

But cold plunging isn’t for everybody, says Mike Tipton, a professor of human and applied physiology and a member of the Extreme Environments Lab at the University of Portsmouth in the UK. “Contrary to popular belief, not everyone can, or should, do cold water immersion,” he says. A range of medical conditions could deem the practice harmful, including heart conditions and nervous system issues, as Tipton detailed in a 2022 editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine

That’s because plunging into cold water can spike your blood pressure and throw off your heart rate, potentially exacerbating existing health issues. “We are keen to make sure people are fit and healthy enough to undertake what is a significant challenge to a ‘tropical animal’ (humans), and that they minimize the risks and maximize the benefits,” he says. 

Those benefits vary depending on when you take the plunge. If you are in the clear to try it (and it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before your first time, Gordon says), consider these pros and cons of cold plunging before vs. after a workout.

Cold Plunging Before a Workout

Admittedly, an icy soak may not be part of most typical warm-up routines—and there’s more research about post-exercise cold plunging than pre-exercise, Gordon says. Still, are there scenarios that could benefit from a cold plunge before a workout? Here’s what experts know so far. 

Pre-Workout Cold Plunge Benefits

You’ll benefit most from a chilly dip before your workout if you’re exercising in hot temperatures. That’s because a cold plunge before exercise can help keep your core body temperature lower and improve workout performance in a hot environment, Gordon says. This is known as “pre-cooling” in research, he adds.

In fact, cold water immersion is considered to be the most effective method of pre-cooling, according to a 2012 research article in BMC Medicine, and outperforms drinking ice water, per 2017 research in the European Journal of Sport Science.

You might enjoy your workout more after a cold plunge, too. The shock of the cold water activates your fight-or-flight response, Tipton says, which could make you feel more alert and fired up to exercise. In a small 2023 study in Biology, researchers found people who spent five minutes in a 20-degree Celsius cold tub reported feeling more “active, alert, attentive, proud, and inspired and less distressed and nervous” afterward. That said, more research is needed to truly understand whether or not those mood changes carry over into exercise.

Pre-Workout Cold Plunge Drawbacks

With all that in mind, the shock of cold water before exercise isn’t always a good thing. The biggest issues have to do with “physical incapacitation,” as Tipton wrote in a 2017 review article in Experimental Physiology. Essentially, chilling your muscles and then asking them to work for you might backfire: Strength, power, jumping, and sprinting can all suffer as muscle temperature drops, and your arms are especially vulnerable to these temperature changes.

Cold Plunging After a Workout 

If you’ve ever iced an achy muscle, it probably makes some intuitive sense that cold plunging after exercise might help reduce soreness, but it’s not without risks. 

Post-Workout Cold Plunge Benefits

There’s a reason those professional athletes are lounging in cold tubs after the game: The biggest perks of cold plunging after a workout are tied to speedier recovery. A 2012 Cochrane review of 17 different studies of the effects of cold water immersion on muscle soreness found some evidence that a cold plunge really did make people feel less sore, and the relief lasted for up to four days post-workout.

However, Tipton points out there aren’t many studies that show physiological changes in the body that would account for this. Rather, cold water immersion might just be making people perceive less soreness. (But hey, whatever works, right?)

When it comes to what’s actually going on within your muscles, the research isn’t as robust: One very small 2014 study in the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology found that 10 minutes in 10-degree Celsius water helped male athletes’ muscle function rebound faster after an intense strength workout than active recovery with cycling. That’s a vote in favor of cold water immersion, the researchers wrote, because it could allow you “to complete more work during subsequent training sessions, which could enhance long-term training adaptations.”

“You basically see a faster recovery to normal strength levels and to less muscle soreness in that recovery time period,” Gordon explains. Still, more research is needed to support these findings fully.

Post-Workout Cold Plunge Drawbacks

Sparing yourself some soreness sounds pretty great, but it’s not all good news: If you’re committed to a strength training routine, you might not want to take a cold plunge on the regular.

“Over time, if a person is training long-term with resistance training and doing cold water immersion after repeatedly, [there’s] a negative effect on training adaptations and a decrease in strength gain over time,” Gordon says, pointing to the results of a 2020 meta-analysis in Sports Medicine. When you’re progressing your strength workouts, you’re training your body to adapt to the work and grow stronger over time, but cold plunging could essentially stall that momentum, in other words. The researchers didn’t find any issues with adaptations to cardio exercise, though.

So, Should You Cold Plunge Before or After a Workout?

It all depends on what you’re looking to get out of the cold plunge.

You should cold plunge before a workout if that workout will be in a hot, humid environment, like a hot yoga class or a long run outdoors in the summer. The cold water can help your body temperature stay lower so your performance doesn’t suffer due to the heat, but your muscles could be a little stiff and slow to respond.

You should cold plunge after a workout if you’re looking for recovery benefits. The cold water may help reduce perceived muscle soreness and potentially speed up how long it takes your muscles to return to their baseline strength. But frequent cold plunging after strength training could limit your gains over time.

At either time, remember “there are a lot of variables that need to be managed and monitored,” Gordon says. For example, research on cold plunging focuses on water that’s between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, which may be a lot warmer than a tub at home you’ve dumped loads of ice into, he points out. Colder temperatures could hurt more than help.

The duration of your plunge matters, too: “If there is a benefit, it probably comes from the first minute of immersion (also the most dangerous period),” Tipton says, especially for people with underlying health conditions. “From the point of view of ‘cold,’ I see little reason for staying in any longer than this. With cold water, more is not better,” he adds. (Hypothermia usually doesn’t set in until people have spent at least 30 minutes submerged in cold water—but why risk it?)

Once again, it’s crucial to speak with your doctor to get the green light before cold plunging at any time, especially if you have a nervous system issue or heart condition.

The Takeaway

We need more and larger studies to help us fully understand the benefits of pre- and post-workout cold plunging, as well as more specific research examining the effects following different kinds of exercise, Tipton says.

For now, a cold plunge before a workout is best for exercising in hot temperatures but could limit exercise performance if your muscles get too cold. A cold plunge after a workout can offer some recovery benefits but could limit strength gains over time.

Whether you decide to cold plunge or not, it’s important to remember other exercise recovery best practices such as cooling down and stretching, making time for active recovery and rest days, and fueling your body with a balanced diet and plenty of water. The Peloton App offers tons of guided cooldown and stretching classes to choose from, as well as an array of active recovery and rest-day meditation options (and more).

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.


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