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The Cold Plunge

light steam graphic
Endorphin rush after cold plunge between sauna rounds

Cold water between sauna rounds is an integral part of the authentic sauna experience. Cold water plunge between sauna rounds is not some macho ploy. Cold water between sauna rounds:

  • Flushes your exposed skin pores, cleaning your body naturally.
  • Increases blood flow and helps your immune system.
  • Reinvigorates your mind and body via endorphins and all kinds of great stuff that is hard to put into words.

Next time you see someone leave the sauna hot room, towel off their sweat, and start getting dressed to go home, call them out. You have my permission to call them a dumb shit. They are missing half of the goodness of sauna. What’s worse, they will keep sweating and their exposed pores will absorb crap like poly and poly by products from clothes and who knows what else.

BONUS: Just like with water being tossed on sauna rocks, the cold plunge may become your favorite part of your sauna experience. As Wim Hof says, “at one point the cold will feel just as comfortable as wearing your favorite pajamas.”

With Cold Plunge + Sauna, 1 + 1 = 3

Whether it be a part of the Wim Hof Method, a thermogenesis club, or simply losing a bet at a bar, more people are getting into cold plunge therapy.

The clinical benefits of cold exposure include:

  • Fights Inflammation.
  • Strengthens the Nervous System.
  • Speeds up metabolism.
  • May Heal Injuries and Speed Recovery.
  • Regulates Blood Sugar Levels.
  • Suppresses an over active immune system (by relieving of symptoms caused by autoimmune diseases).

Great! Yet those of us well familiar with sauna have incorporated cold plunge therapy as part of our sauna practice for decades and generations because it feels so damn good to do both! The study results are surely a bonus.

10-15 minutes enjoying a hot sauna round, then a dip into an ice cold lake, a cold plunge pool, a bucket rinse, outdoor shower, or any other cold water practice, takes the sauna experience to an 11.

Another way to calculate it: with cold plunge + sauna 1 + 1 = 3

Sauna and Cold Plunge is About living in the Present Moment

Let’s review the cycles of a good sauna session:

  1. Hot room: Settling into the soft light and silence (or some ambient sauna music), we are brought right into the present moment.
  2. Cold plunge: A cold shower, jump into the lake or cold plunge, we are brought right into the present moment.
  3. The cool down: Relaxing outside in Nature or hanging out in the cool down room, we may enjoy some casual conversation and a cold beverage, endorphin rushing body equalizing, we are brought right into the present moment.

Consider how great it is to be able to live in the present moment. According to a 612 Sauna Society poll:

612 sauna society poll

Stress relief & relaxation are the top two reasons why members of the 612 Sauna Society come to sauna. The primary way to relieve stress and to relax is to separate ourselves from any worry about our past or anxiety about our future. We separate from these thoughts and emotions when we are able to just “be” in the present moment.

Looking at Sauna, Cold Plunge, and the Present Moment Another Way

  1. Hot room: When you are sitting in a hot sauna, we can’t help but be in the present moment.
  2. Cold plunge: When you’re sitting in an ice bath, we can’t help but be in the present moment.
  3. The cool down: When you’re feeling great between rounds. Body equalizing, enjoying nature, we can’t help but be in the present moment.

How Sauna and Cold Plunge Help Improve Our Immune Systems

We in the sauna community are trying to digest the interesting report from Dr. Rogert Seheult, MD. Many of us have been taking saunas for decades, and few of us have suffered from major colds or flus. But this is anecdotal, and not clinical. Dr. Seheult, in this video below, takes us through well researched studies and analysis of how hot/cold therapy may boost immunity – and fight off the effects of Covid-19. You can skip to around the 2:00 mark to learn more about the immune system. The immune system is like our country’s Armed Forces. There are a lot of threats that can affect the human body. And the body fights back in multiple ways.

The virus is able to “down regulate” our immune system. When our innate immune response is a critical factor in disease outcome. Monocytes (part of the innate immune system) and “Natural Killer Cells.” – two terms we may need to learn more about. Suppressed innate immune response is what is making people sick. Thermal infected fever monocytes. A thermal effect of fever directly activates monocytes.

Immune changes of humans during cold exposure effects of prior heating and exercise. 1990

Dr. Seheult “heat can improve the immune system, then subjecting to cold can actually enhance the immune system, especially the innate immune system which .. that’s the portion that is affected with Covid-19. exposure to cold.” Statistical increase in white blood cell count. Thermal stress dampens analogous to a natural fever. Check out Dr. Seheult’s chart of current Nordic Countries Covid-19 reported effects:

And if this isn’t enough, he brings Japan into the mix, a country where thermic bathing is also very popular. Causation or correlation? Not sure, but it gets one thinkin’, especially as:

Fever Can Reduce the Cytokine Storm and Improve the Innate Immune System

The Austrian study: in six month time, there were significantly fewer colds with the sauna group. Regular sauna bathing probably reduces the common cold.

Backyard Cold Plunge Between Sauna Rounds for Under $100

As more and more folks are discovering the authentic sauna experience, more and more folks are understanding that sauna is not just about the hot room. Athletes, like football players, use cold plunge for relief, after beating the shit out of each other. Wim Hof applies cold plunge therapy as a key part of the Wim Hof Method.

With more and more people enjoying their own backyard sauna retreats, farm and garden stores are seeing an uptick in 100 gallon stock feed sales.

We buy this cold plunge stock tank once, and get to use it over and over. Once back home, we are able to carve out our cold plunge within our backyard sauna cool down zone.

To the right of the tree: outdoor shower. To the left of the tree: $72.99 cold plunge trough. Out of camera range: sauna guests smiling.

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21 thoughts on “The Cold Plunge”

  1. I attached a garden hose shut off valve to my new $72.99 100 gallon feed trough. After sauna session is complete, I can recycle the water, attaching garden hose and watering the backyard garden while draining the cold plunge. Note the antithesis to chemically infused hot tub. (Water temp isn’t the only thing that’s opposite).

  2. we have an inflatable pool that we fill up for the kids every once in a while, close to the sauna. i take advantage of that when available, with a rinse off before getting in, of course. i have a shower on the side of the sauna with a hose connection. this is normally rigged up to the hose bib on the side of the house (city water) for most sessions but if hitting it up pre-work, i hook it up to a bib on the irrigation pump (we only run it during the morning). this water is typically colder than what comes out of the house and with the irrigation pump on its own well, there is no chlorine, etc. in it.

  3. More heat than light in this video and I think the author would acknowledge this. The studies that he is drawing from go back 30 years and the number of patients enrolled in the trials is low (7, 9, 22 , 50). I also don’t see from the table showing an increase in white blood cells that there is an increase in monocytes which is what he is proporting would yield an effective viral response. The underlying hypothesis that heat then cold stimulation stimulates monocytes response may have more implications for fever control than sauna practice. He is pretty clear that the mortality dataset have many confounding factors.
    I have a huge appreciation for your site and podcast and while I think that sauna is great for the body I occasionally see ideas floated that I do not think are supported by mainstream medicine (ie an alkaline diet). I don’t want sauna enthusiasm or anything else to diminish the importance of evidence based medicine. I say this as an ER doctor who will be heading back into work in a few hours where I very likely will be intubating another COVID + patient and I am just as thirsty as anyone for effective treatment strategies.
    My kuuma is still in my garage, my wife and I can’t wait for it to be in a backyard sauna. Thank you for your passion!

  4. Hi Andrew: Yes, for sure. You’re spot on about the age of the studies and low populations. I’ve emailed Dr. Seheult hoping for some follow up discussions, and thinking he’s probably busy looking for the next straw of optimism to grab onto.

    Yet his work reminds me of sauna building. Sometimes you just have to get started and do the work, otherwise nothing gets accomplished. I appreciate a guy out there hammering away. We are going to hit our thumb and cut a board short, but we’re tryin!

    Speaking for many of us, I thank you for your hard work as an ER doctor during this difficult time. I’ll email you separately, Andrew, as I have some follow up thoughts, relating to the Sauna Research Institute and the Kuuma in your garage.

  5. Glenn-

    To begin with some background / my story.
    I am a fellow-avid sauna user who lives within the city limits. I’m up in Palmer, AK. My sauna is wood fired, and built in the back corner of my 1/4 acre lot. (Also I am a millennial who would 10/10 a dirt floor tarp-sauna over a light bulb closet)

    I am a huge advocate of the hot/cold. I do an ice cold hose in between rounds and a final cold rinse as well. Sauna-snow when it’s freshly fallen, and sauna-swim thru the ice at every opportunity.

    My roots grow back into the U.P. I grew up with wood fired sauna always a stones throw away, and sauna-swim the rule. My roots continue on back to Finland.

    To get down to it, it only recently dawned on me a thought regarding the loylya. And I think this may have also crossed your mind, being a city-dwelling sauna user. The additives in my water are pungent, especially when the water gets hot or evaporates. I.e. tossed on the rocks. I’m assuming chlorine and fluoride and who knows what else they’re dumping in there. I certainly miss my well water back in the yoop. Anyways, do you think it pays to filter the city water prior to sauna? I am confident that the 400 degree rocks will evaporate any potentially harmful bacteria…hence I have never worried about tossing lake or river water and breathing it in. Does the same rationale apply for chemical additives? Do we need to consult a scientist?

    Wood fired or bust,
    Eric K.

  6. Eric:

    You’re living up to your millennial status well, with concern towards using tap water for loyly water!

    I’ve not gone to this level, and i’m thinking that if one wants to, yes, this is probably a job for a scientist (and a millennial scientist at that!) who can get in the weeds about what you’re introducing here as potential concern (which, as a baby boomer weened on Raviolios, I have no concern, myself).

    I will say that it’d probably be something to collect rain water for use as loyly water as it is free range, organic and all that good stuff.

    Yes, wood fired or bust, Eric!

  7. i am on city water and don’t use it in the sauna, i grab filtered water out of the fridge dispenser. it doesn’t make 100% ‘pure’ water but does a decent job of cutting out the chlorine. haven’t really tested it side-by-side with straight-up tap water, no plans to try. i rarely throw plain water on the rocks anyway, big essential oil fan.

  8. I’m new to sauna life and am looking to learn more about the cold plunge aspect.

    Cold shower vs. Ice bath, ect. Also, how long do you stay in the cold plunge?

    Would like to hear any feedback and also to hear the nitty-gritty of this topic discussed more on the podcast.

    Thx, Michael

  9. Hi Mike:

    I change the water in my backyard cold plunge only about every 4-5 sauna sessions.

    The trick is to de-jankify after every sauna round with a full clean rinse under the outdoor backyard shower.

    Now, as we get into the season where our outdoor showers fueled by our backyard garden hoses are shut down for the Winter, we can replicate the program with the freeze proof faucet. and a 5 gallon water bucket.

    Entering the cold plunge rinsed off and clean extends life of water. This is pretty obvious but it made sense to me, while reading this New York Times Magazine article about the many pools in Iceland.

    “Most Icelanders have a story about taking visitors, often American, to the pools and then seeing them balk in horror at the strict requirement to strip naked, shower and scrub their bodies with soap from head to toe. Men’s and women’s locker rooms feature posters highlighting all the regions you must lather assiduously: head, armpits, undercarriage, feet. Icelanders are very serious about these rules, which are necessary because the pools are only lightly chlorinated; tourists and shy teenagers are often scolded by pool wardens for insufficient showering. “

    Anyhow, you asked in a few words and I answered in many, including links to hopefully drive us all back into the cold plunge.

  10. mike, we ‘upgraded’ to one of those intex caldron pools over the summer so it is available all the time. the pump/filter helps keep it clean and we do treat with chlorine tablets but a very light amount, probably not much more than regular tap water. same deal as when we had the cheapo inflatable pool, rinsing off with a hose after a sauna round helps reduce the gunk that makes its way into the pool.

    that pool is super sweet once it starts getting cold, an actual cold plunge instead of a semi-warm pool. the family has long since given up on going in it at that point of the year so i get it all to myself! jumping into that thing with 50 degree water is awesome but the ‘real’ cold is here now, pool is taken down and it is back to water buckets in the winter.

  11. Dear Glen,

    I only recently discovered your website and have been enjoying it thoroughly, particularly the Sauna Talk podcasts!

    I am putting together a page for my web site containing info on sauna culture and sauna benefits. I’d like to link to the Sauna Times website, as suggested further reading/exploring. Would it be ok if I used your banner logo (“SaunaTimes – Your Guide To A Healthy Escape”) as a button for the link?

    All the best to you from the currently unseasonably warm Mid-Hudson Valley, NY.

    Kind regards,

    Henning Grentz
    Spa Fleet – Mobile Sauna Rental
    Instagram @spafleet
    Member of The North American Sauna Society

  12. Hi Glenn,

    Enjoyed my first ever cold plunge this past weekend. I have a diving stone and there are some underwater stones I use as steps…they were a bit slippery so I opted to simply dunk up to my neck.
    Still quite invigorating !
    I have since built a wooden ladder and will enjoy full immersion this weekend.
    I see on your site others use wooden ladders too, I am fortunate to have a big stone (on the bottom) that I could wedge the ladder against to keep it from floating up…curious what others do ?

    Best regards,
    Joe in Vermont.

  13. Hey Glenn,

    Love this site, thank you for all your wonderful information. I recently built a custom sauna in my basement and wanted to add a cold dip between rounds. I purchased the 100 gallon feed tank. I am wondering what you recommend to keep the tank from freezing solid in the winter? Any tips or helpful hints would be greatly appreciated! Thanks again!

  14. Hi Jacob:

    Glad you are enjoying saunatimes.

    As far as keeping your 100 gallon feed tank from freezing in winter, well, I’ll be honest. My exact feed tank (the one in the photo) is flipped over for the cold couple months. I gave up. I’ve been zen’ing out with Nature’s luffa (snow angels), and the bucket rinse (one of the best ideas i’ve ever heard).

    After which, sitting outside on a cold Winter’s night, steam billowing, is akin to a cold dip. (and that’s about when i’ll take a sip of a libation from a drinking glass made entirely out of ice). Not sure if it’s the endorphins rushing or what, but man, oh, man I hope my wife never wants to leave the great 4 season state of Minnesota! I love it! You too?

    Back to the practicality of your question. In the same department at Fleet Farm, where you can purchase the 100 gallon feed tank, you can purchase this Tank Deicer. $42.99. You plug it in and put it in your feed tank. One of its great features, should the cold plunge enthusiast become too excited, is that it has a ‘fully grounded cord with metal anti-chew protector.’

    I haven’t used the tank deicer, but a couple buddies crazier than me have them and use them. I’ll check to see if the anti-chew protector has been a useful feature for them.

  15. Hey Jacob,

    I’ve used tank deicers to keep stock tanks clear, but they would definitely work for a cold plunge. Usually they run continuously, but that seems excessive if you only use it a couple times a week. I don’t know how long one would take to thaw a partially frozen tank, though I don’t see any reason it couldn’t do it. Throwing a piece of plywood over the top while it’s working would probably help. When it comes time to actually get in the tank I’d just unplug and remove the heater entirely. You’ll want the room to stretch out anyways.

  16. We use a Japanese soak tub. The most effective way we have found to keep the water relatively free of algae/bacteria growth is to add enough salt to bring it to 3 ppt. This water salinity keeps the water free of most things that grow and foul the tub via nature. The last bit of water lasted over a month, I only put in a mechanical fish filter once to remove the stuff that people bring into the water. I’ve been using an ocean water mix (I keep saltwater tanks) but regular salt with perhaps added epson salts might be a cheaper solution. This greatly reduces the need for replacing water.

  17. Below are some questions I posed to Glenn along with his answers . . .

    Hello, Glenn~

    I’ve been meaning to ask you a few quick questions now that I’ve been using my sauna for a few months, if you don’t mind:

    a) What is your personal ideal temperature in the hot room?
    “I like it about 180f. hotter and the benches are too hot and my time on the bench is too short. the best temp is one that allows you to get fully heated.”

    b) How long, generally, do you personally stay in the hot room?
    “It depends upon several factors. And i never time myself. it’s all feel for me. i like my friend Clint’s line: “the time to leave the hot room is when the idea of an ice cold lake plunge is about the best idea you’ve ever heard.” i like that!”

    c) I’ve been plunging into my cold pond immediately after each (usually three) hot room session. Is that what you recommend? Or, do folks just do a cold plunge after one or two sessions?
    “Totally! That’s how i do it too. plunge after every hot round.. usually.”

    d) When I plunge in the cold pond, I’m in the water for only 60 seconds or so. Is longer recommended to somehow get the full/better benefit?
    “I think it’s all by feel. My friend Mindstrong Harvey coaches pro athletes on breathing. He has a 5/15 method. Instead of timing oneself in the cold plunge, try this one… go in the cold… take 5 full breaths to center yourself. Then 15 more.”

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