Ice Bathing Terminologies Every Cold Plunge Loving Individual Should Know

Timothy Munene Timothy Munene
Ice Bathing Terminologies Every Cold Plunge Loving Individual Should Know

Cold plunge therapy has gained popularity over the past few years, with many enthusiasts using it to enhance physical recovery and general well-being. This practice involves submerging your body in a cold plunge tub up to the neck, with temperatures below 15°C. Unlike conventional cold showers, cold plunges expose you to a high level of cold. To use a cold plunge effectively, it's important to understand the common terminologies in the field. Keep it here for the details. 

Cold Plunge Terminologies

Have you encountered jargon in your search for the best cold plunge tub? Keep it here to understand common terms in the industry to help you dive in confidently. 

1.     Inflammation

Inflammation occurs when the immune system is activated as a response to an irritant. Often, inflammation occurs in the form of acute triggers like exercise-instigated muscle damage, or chronic diseases like arthritis. So, what’s the relationship between inflammation and cold plunges?

Exposure to cold plunge temperature controls inflammation by compressing blood vessels and reducing hypoxic stress. This relieves muscle soreness and reduces swelling, making cold plunges some of the popular workout practices for athletes regardless of their sport. 

2.     Cold Shock Proteins

Also known as stress or cold-inducible proteins, cold shock proteins are a collection of specialized proteins discharged by the body to respond to various forms of physiological stress such as cold exposure. These proteins protect body tissues and cells from damage resulting from extreme cold plunge temperatures.

Producing cold shock proteins is the body’s form of adapting to the cold. These proteins are crucial in mitigating the negative impact that cold shock has on cellular integrity. It is worth mentioning that having a 30-second cold shower after your warm shower is enough to give you a cold shock protein boost. 

3.     Nervous System

The nervous system is a network of cells and nerves that dispatch signals between different body parts. Immersing yourself in a cold plunge can directly impact the nervous system, generating responses such as the release of neurotransmitters and vasoconstriction.

Every cold plunge enthusiast must understand how the nervous system responds to cold. That knowledge helps them understand how their bodies generally respond to cold therapy. 

4.     Parasympathetic Nervous System

The parasympathetic nervous system is usually called the rest and digest system. It relaxes various physiological processes, promotes digestion, and slows down the heart rate to help the body preserve energy and recover.

The counterbalance to the sympathetic system regulates fight-or-flight responses. This means it prepares the body for tough physical activity. When you enter a cold plunge your body assumes the fight-or-flight state.

When you maintain control and focus inside a cold plunge tub you activate the parasympathetic nervous system and teach your body how to control stress. The first one minute after entering the cold plunge is usually the most difficult part. Once you manage that phase, the parasympathetic nervous system activates and you get used to the process. 

5.     Dopamine

Dopamine is a hormone and neurotransmitter that’s crucial for learning, movement, motivation, and pleasure. Often, this hormone is affiliated with extreme feelings of reward. However, low levels have been associated with depression, tiredness, and Parkinson’s disease.

Researchers have discovered that immersing yourself in a cold plunge can boost dopamine blood concentrations by more than 200%. This could explain why many people report improved mental strength and mood boost after having an ice bath

6.     Vagus Nerve

The vagus nerve is a core component of the parasympathetic nervous system. It regulates the respiratory rate, heart rate, and digestion. Having a cold plunge session can revitalize the vagus nerve, enhancing relaxation, reducing inflammation, and improving mood. 

7.     After-Drop

After-drop is the continued decline in body temperature after leaving a cold plunge tub. It takes place when cold blood flows back to the core, stimulating a further drop in the core temperature. Managing after-drop helps prevent possible detrimental effects of excessive cooling. 

8.     Intention

Intention is a particular purpose or goal you set before entering a cold plunge. Defining your intention can prepare you mentally for the cold shock, help you focus on the desired result, and create a positive mindset for the cold immersion experience.

Setting your intention before cold plunging is crucial to helping you manage your response to cold exposure and maximizing the possible benefits of the practice. Before entering the cold plunge tub consider defining your intention to establish what you hope to achieve out of the experience.

9.     Thermogenesis

Thermogenesis is the generation of heat by biological sources. The two types of thermogenesis are nonshivering and shivering. Nonshivering occurs when the sympathetic nervous system activates fat tissue while shivering thermogenesis is an energy-exhaustive process that involves shrinking of the skeletal muscle. Cold plunges induce both nonshivering, shivering, and crucial biological effects. 

10. Hormesis

Hormesis is a favorable level of challenge or stress that stimulates adaptive responses, leading to enhanced health and resilience. Exposure to cold plunge temperatures is usually considered a hormetic stressor.

When you subject the body to regulated cold stress, hormetic responses like improved circulation, enhanced brown fat activation, and improved immune function can be triggered, boosting overall well-being and health. Cold plunging is ideal for exposing the body to hormetic stress, leading to increased resilience and strength over time. 

11. The Soeberg Principle

The Soeberg principle is named after Dr Susanna Soeberg, an ice bath proponent and metabolic scientist. It states that cold plunge enthusiasts should avoid toweling off, dressing up, or warming their bodies immediately after cold plunging. Forcing the body to rewarm on its own significantly increases the number of calories spent while increasing the stimulation of brown fat. 

12. Thermal Layer

The thermal layer is a thin water section closest to the human skin. It’s usually warmer than the surrounding water due to heating from your body’s heat. Any movement such as water circulation, body movement, or stream current breaks the thermal layer, increasing the intensity of your cold plunge. While the thermal layer can enclose your skin in survival mode, it’s unsuitable, especially when attempting to maximize regulated cold exposure. 

13. Brown Fat

Also known as the brown adipose tissue, brown fat is a form of fat that produces heat upon activation. While white fat stores energy, brown fat burns calories to generate heat. Cold exposure triggers the activation of brown fat, contributing to thermogenesis and possible metabolic benefits. 

14. Contrast Therapy

Contrast therapy is a sequence of alternating immersions in a cold plunge and warm water. Experts believe this process improves blood circulation, loosens stiff muscles, and relieves pain, even though research is inconclusive. Still, contrast therapy introduces a new challenge to your cold plunging routine. 

15. Box Breathing

Box breathing is a relaxation and mindfulness technique that involves a particular pattern of regulated rhythmic breathing. It comprises four equal episodes: inhale, hold, exhale, and hold. Each episode lasts for an equal duration. For instance, you can inhale for five seconds, hold for five seconds, exhale for five seconds, and then repeat.

Box breathing is usually used to manage anxiety, promote mental focus, and reduce stress, which can help you remain composed before or after taking a cold plunge. Concentrating on your breath before immersing yourself in a cold plunge can be crucial for activating the parasympathetic nervous system.


If you’ve decided to begin your cold therapy journey, understanding these terminologies will help you navigate the cold plunging process confidently. Whether you’re looking to improve your overall well-being, improve metabolism, or accelerate recovery, mastering the nuances of cold therapy is crucial to understanding its importance. Further, understanding these terms will help you realize the general benefits of cold plunging mindfully and safely. 

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