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Article: Try this Powerful Sauna and Cold Plunge Routine

Try this Powerful Sauna and Cold Plunge Routine

Try this Powerful Sauna and Cold Plunge Routine

Written by Chris Lang

Saunas have been used since ancient times to provide relaxation and numerous health benefits by increasing body heat and ambient humidity. On the other hand, cold plunge therapy has become increasingly popular both as a fatigue relief and recreational relaxation tool. But did you know that you can combine these two techniques into a holistic full-body treatment?

Referred to as contrast therapy, the combination of a sauna and a cold plunge right after aims to help the body recover from injury or stress by shocking the system with alternatively low and high temperatures. This helps the body relieve ambient stress, improve circulation, and ultimately boost the metabolism.

Read on to find out more about this popular treatment technique.

How to Perform a Sauna Cold Plunge Routine

There are two contrasting methods on how to perform a sauna and cold plunge contrast therapy routine. Both will yield similar results, but you can consult your physician to check which one would be better for you.

The first method is pretty simple:

  1. (Optional) Take a warm shower to prepare for the sauna.

  2. Get into a sauna and sweat up for about 10-15 minutes.

  3. Plunge yourself in cold water for 30 seconds.

  4. Rest for a few minutes.

  5. Repeat Steps 2 to 4 two to four times in total.

The second method employs the cold-hot-cold concept:

  1. Take a cold plunge for half a minute.

  2. Go for a 10- to 15-minute sauna session.

  3. Take another 30-second cold plunge.

  4. Repeat the sauna session.

  5. End with a cold plunge.

There are differing accounts of how each of the methods is supposed to help your body, but the broad benefits are largely the same.

The Sauna Session

The sauna sessions promote vasodilation—widening the blood vessels—and increased heart rate. Heat therapy through a sauna temporarily speeds up the metabolism, allowing it to process blood faster and open up smaller blood vessels throughout the body. This increases total blood flow and allows more oxygen-rich blood to enter deeper into tissues.

A sauna shouldn’t be too humid. For optimal results, a traditional sauna (non-IR) dry sauna will work best, with an ambient humidity of no more than 20%. The dry heat promotes heart health without heavily affecting your breathing.

The temperature range for the sauna can vary greatly depending on whether you stick to a traditional sauna, but temperatures around 130 F are the most commonly used for traditional heat therapy.

The amount of sweat you shed won’t make much of an impact on whether the sauna portion of the contrast therapy has been “successful.” In some cases, such as when using an infrared sauna at home, you might not sweat much or at all. If you’re concerned about what it means if you don’t sweat in a sauna, it might just be your genetic makeup providing you with a higher heat tolerance.

The Cold Plunge

A cold plunge, sometimes referred to as an ice bath or cold water immersion, is a relatively simple therapy tool that utilizes the body’s natural response to exposure to cold. The actual bath can vary in type and severity from a combination of ice and water (at around 50F) to simple cold water (with temperatures from 60F to 68F).

The immersion itself doesn’t have to be complete. You can plunge into the water up to the waist or neck and still get most of the benefits and minimize the shock.

The point of the cold plunge lies solely in shocking the body with a cold environment. The cold exposure causes rapid vasoconstriction—narrowing the blood vessels. While originally an instinctive defense mechanism to protect vital organs (heart, lung, and brain) from shutting down, controlled vasoconstriction allows therapists to restrict blood flow to the muscles.

When used after an exercise session, the restricted blood flow and reduced sensation provide near-immediate soreness and fatigue relief. The method is also useful for quickly reducing core body temperature, which can help in some cases of sunstroke or overheating due to exertion.

Additionally, the jolt of cold and the associated shock can provide an instant focus boost and refresh you. Cold plunges by themselves are often used first thing in the morning to improve awareness and wake you up faster than drinking a coffee.

New research has also posited that a cold plunge can promote the conversion from white fat to brown fat. White fat, also known as adipose fat, covers the internal organs or is spread out in large cells across the body, typically in the midsection. It’s a slow-burning long-term energy storage that the body taps into slower.

By contrast, brown fat resides mainly around muscles, neck, and shoulders, is more energy-dense, and quickly burns up for immediate energy release.

Creating more brown fat allows the body to keep more of its energy reserves for immediate use rather than long-term storage. The more rapid cycling of fat storage means that the body is less inclined to build up fat reserves. As such, cold plunges can be a potential weight loss or control method and have a positive impact on blood sugar levels.

The Sauna to Cold Transition

While it might seem that saunas and cold plunges work in opposite directions, combining them creates an effect that can be greater than the sum of its parts. The long-term benefits include improved circulation and mental well-being.

However, the body naturally doesn’t want to be in rapidly changing environments. Too much heat or cold shock can have detrimental effects or not trigger the appropriate metabolic response, making part of the process futile.

If you’re new to contrast therapy, it’s usually best to take things slow and steady. Start with less severe temperature fluctuations. Turn down the heat on the sauna to a lower temperature and skip the ice in the bath altogether, using only cold tap water. While you can usually work out in a sauna, it might be better to reduce the strain on your body and rest to avoid compounding your fatigue too much.

Additionally, you can rest for a minute or two between each part of the contrast therapy session to let your body start acclimating to the ambient temperature. If you’re not used to a cold plunge, stepping right into icy water after a sauna can cause you to breathe more rapidly or experience harsher cold shock.

When starting out, it might be best to avoid plunging your head into the water as a result. The rapid change in temperature can instinctively cause you to take a breath, which can be deadly if your head is submerged. You can use a Komowa cold plunge tub and fill it only part way to ensure you can’t flip over or submerge your head accidentally.

Maximizing the Benefits

The individual benefits of sauna therapy and cold plunging help your body heal both physically and mentally. When combined, this effect gets enhanced beyond what each individual therapy can offer.

The rapid change from hot to cold and vice versa triggers quick changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and circulation. When you leave a sauna, your blood vessels are wide and push more blood through. Then when you plunge into cold water, those same blood vessels constrict to limit blood flow.

This push and pull helps redistribute oxygen-rich blood from the outer parts of the body to the core organs. It has been theorized that doing so ultimately helps blood vessels stay healthier and treats muscle injuries.

On the other hand, since both saunas and cold plunges positively affect mental health and stress relief, combining them can transform the individual benefits into a more holistic treatment.

Sauna Cold Plunge Routine Timing

Regardless of the method you choose for alternating saunas and cold plunges, it’s best not to overdo either.

Research has suggested that the optimal time to spend in a cold plunge is 11 minutes per week. Note that this is a weekly limit. When spread around 3-4 sessions, each session should have no more than 4 minutes of cold plunging in total. If you’re a beginner, keep the plunges closer to 15-second sessions, then move into 30-second sessions until you feel you can last longer.

In general, avoid spending more than 2 minutes in an ice bath at once. However, the National Center for Cold Water Safety points out that spending even a minute in cold water can be deadly due to loss of breathing control. As such, if you opt for longer sessions, do not submerge your head.

Additionally, there’s also a diminishing return on the time spent in a sauna. Going for 15 minutes in a sauna at a time with multiple cycles should be enough to trigger your body’s heat response and fully benefit from the upcoming short plunge. If you’re just starting, you can spend 10 minutes in the sauna per cycle.

It also helps if you minimize the time between the sauna and a cold plunge. While it might take time for the body to get used to the shock and require you to take a short break, immediately going from one extreme to the other provides the most long-term benefits. You can aid the process by putting your Komowa home sauna and cold plunger next to each other and keeping them at their optimal working temperatures.

Muscle Recovery and Soreness

Saunas help relax muscles and reduce fatigue, and a sauna after deep tissue massage can remove some of the soreness. On the other hand, a cold plunge curbs muscle fatigue and removes pain associated with muscle strain.

With contrast therapy, these benefits combine to provide the ultimate muscle relief method. The sauna helps by improving blood flow and general heart health. But a cold plunge takes things to a new level. It causes a spike in norepinephrine, a powerful hormone that promotes alertness, creates an anti-inflammatory response, and constricts the blood vessels. It’s also been connected with converting white fat to brown fat.

Since the sauna doesn’t create this response, including a cold plunge in your therapy can greatly accelerate muscle recovery after exercises or particularly strenuous activity, and sometimes can help when repairing muscle damage.

The sudden cold also causes a rush of adrenaline and noradrenaline, spiking alertness levels. As an additional benefit, this makes you ache less, allowing the sauna to work its magic to relieve muscle soreness.

Wellness and Overall Health

The combined heat and cold can have a long-term effect on your physical well-being and mental health. The release of endorphins during a sauna session followed by norepinephrine and adrenaline in a cold plunge can relieve stress and regulate your nervous system.

The calming environment of the sauna can help you meditate, while the increased alertness from a cold plunge can wake you up. Together, the contrast therapy creates a balancing act on your emotional state, allowing you to process your emotions and thoughts through a new lens. Doing it early in the day also creates an energy boost that tapers off naturally and allows you to sleep better.

Both therapy options have also been suggested to improve your immune response in different ways. By utilizing them in quick succession, you can reap the benefits of contrast therapy to create a more holistic healing experience.

Conclusion

By taking a cold plunge after sauna, you can help your body heal more naturally and improve the already numerous benefits of sauna use alone. The combined hot and cold promote a balance in your nervous and circulatory systems, providing long-term benefits for your mental health, heart health, and even exercise regime.

All that’s left is to outfit your home with a state-of-the-art personal sauna and cold plunge gear so you can stay safe throughout the process. And for that, there’s no better place than Komowa.

 

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