How Cold Therapy Helps With Recovery

by Deion Clifton

Welcome to your complete guide to recovery, a series where we teach you all about the different recovery methods and the related recovery items offered here at HAC. Our goal is to assist in helping you find which method works best for YOU. Your health is important to us! Our mission is to provide you with all the necessary materials to help build the best possible version of yourself.

When you use an ice pack or cold compress after a minor injury, you are actively engaging in a form of recovery called cold therapy. Many athletes and fitness aficionados also use various cold therapy tools as part of their workout cooldowns and recovery routines because they offer a range of potential health benefits.

Cold therapy is the act of exposing your body to cold conditions to produce internal benefits. Thousands of people have seen the benefits of cold exposure, whether bodybuilders, athletes, celebrities, or just everyday people like you and me looking to improve their health and way of life.

Wim Hof, a man who has completely immersed himself in cold therapy, has spent years researching the topic. He has recreated the practice to include breathing techniques, cryotherapy, and commitment (which acts as the foundation of the other two). He is known for putting his body to the ultimate test. Some of his most notable cold temperature challenges include standing in containers filled with ice cubes and running half marathons in the snow on his bare feet. Because he’s able to manipulate his body to tolerate icy conditions, scientists have extensively studied his brain activity and cold response to determine how he’s developed never-before-seen temperature tolerance and whether his techniques can be adopted by others.


There are many health benefits to cold therapy. It can help to boost your metabolism, improve your quality of sleep, focus, and immune response. Research also finds that it can even help fight depression when practiced deliberately. From a post-workout recovery standpoint, many passive recovery tools can assist with inflammation, swelling, and soreness.

Have you ever wondered why we often put ice on injuries such as ankle or knee sprains? Cold temperatures in that specific area help to treat swelling and inflammation. When practicing cold therapy, there are several physiological responses your body goes through to produce heat. These are in response to the cold shock your body receives. When exposed to cold temperatures, the body releases a hormone and chemical messenger from the adrenal glands called norepinephrine. Releasing norepinephrine will cause the heart rate to increase, therefore increasing blood flow and heat production. In simpler terms, it triggers your adrenaline. It also temporarily reduces nerve activity, thus reducing any pain.

Some of the most common remedies involve using a cold compress or a bag of ice. These home remedies are often used for injuries but can also help with recovery. Another beneficial at-home treatment involves the use of ice to massage yourself. During this recovery method, ice is placed directly on the skin and used to massage a specific area. Cryotherapy chambers are another recovery tool sometimes used for recovery. They involve immersing yourself (from the neck down) in dry, cold temperatures.

HAC recently introduced a cold plunge tub to the club, available in the aquatics complex. The temperature of this tub is between 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 35-40 degrees lower than our swimming pools. Spending more than 15 minutes in the cold plunge is not recommended because of the safety concerns found by researchers. Even with these concerns, in short durations, cold plunges have numerous benefits, one of the biggest being building your willpower and emotional resilience. Challenging yourself to do something you are resistant to daily allows for the development of your mental strength and discipline. Another significant benefit is improved immunity. Yes, cold plunging can increase immunity by activating white blood cells.

Cold plunge tubs aren’t only good for post-workout recovery. They can also be used to kickstart your day and your workout, especially when doing intense activities like weight training or HIIT. The cold plunge activates the sympathetic nervous system, increasing your heart rate and blood flow and delivering blood to areas of your body that need more oxygen. The fight or flight response is triggered when immersing yourself in the frigid temperatures of a plunge tub, making it a great way of waking up your body.

The Recovery Realm is home to another cold therapy addition to HAC. Our CryoLounge chairs are a powerful post-workout recovery tool that will maximize your ability to relax and recover from soreness. CryoLounge chairs deliver cold, heat, and pressure therapy. Unlike traditional cryotherapy and plunge tubs, they also offer temperature therapy while remaining clothed. The passive recovery style of this post-exercise tool can provide multiple features within one helpful piece of equipment. Your ability to relax the muscles through compression therapy while delivering targeted cold therapy treatment to specific parts of the body creates a next-level, restful recovery experience.

Safety Concerns

Though there are many benefits to cold exposure, cold therapy can be dangerous. Immersing yourself in cold temperatures is a hormetic stressor. Hormetic stressors are things that we do, use, or even eat that can hurt and help us. They are beneficial or stimulatory effects caused by exposure to low doses of an agent or stimulus known to be toxic at higher doses.

There are some health risks to immersing yourself in cold temperatures. The most common risk is hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when your temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms include rapid breathing, shivering, pale skin, confusion, and drowsiness.

More cold exposure risks include after-drop and frostbite. After-drop occurs when the body temperature decreases after exiting cold water. Frostbite occurs when the skin freezes. It occurs most frequently in fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks, or chin.

You want to portion hormetic stressors in appropriate doses to eventually achieve hormesis. Hormesis is the point of which something that would be otherwise toxic is now favorable in small doses.

Practicing cold therapy is not recommended if you have any of the following:

  • Hypersensitivity to cold temperatures
  • Heart disease
  • Angina
  • Peripheral Vascular disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Are under the age of 18
  • Cold urticaria
  • Cryoglobulinemia
  • Paroxysmal cold hemoglobinuria
  • Open wounds


Ultimately, you should apply cold therapy in appropriate doses. Cold exposure can offer many mental and physical health benefits when practiced deliberately. However, cold exposure is a hormetic stressor, which is dangerous in large quantities. Hence, it is best to work your way up when practicing cold therapy. Everyone’s tolerance for cold exposure is different, especially if you’re new to the practice. Allow your tolerance to cold immersion to build before increasing the time you expose yourself to these cold new conditions. Frigid temperatures, such as a cold plunge tub, might be something you’re not used to, so it’s best NOT to start too strong. If you’re new to cold therapy and want to start small, try dropping the temperature at the end of your shower for ten seconds each morning. Add time when you feel comfortable enough to do so.

When practicing cold exposure, try to challenge your willpower. Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman encourages those new to cold therapy to “Place yourself into an environment that is uncomfortably cold, but that you can stay in safely.” You are encouraged to challenge your willpower, but do not do it at the expense of your safety.


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One thought on “How Cold Therapy Helps With Recovery

  1. Well written and thoroughly explained ,what cold therapy is.
    Nice updates to the HAC fitness area.
    General maintenance and upkeep are really showing .
    Keep up the good work. 🏊🏻‍♀️🧘🏻‍♂️🏋🏽

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