Sauna vs. Cold Plunge: Which is better for Recovery?
Everyone knows how much a nasty hangover sucks, but new research has recently found that there’s a new type of hangover …
It’s called a workout hangover - and it’s simply a result of not recovering properly after you exercise.
And for the worst part - over half of Americans have suffered from it before.
See, here’s the problem …
We often focus on the performance aspect of exercise, which is great, but …
We often tend to neglect the recovery side.
Not allowing your body to properly recover can cause some serious health issues like fatigue, stress, anxiety, poor sleep, and more.
Lucky for you, today we’re talking about two of the most effective recovery tools in health and fitness (along with a cup of STRONG Coffee of course) - the Sauna and the Cold Plunge.
Lucky for you, today we’re talking about two of the most effective recovery tools in health and fitness - the Sauna and the Cold Plunge.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- Sauna vs. Cold Plunge: What each does to your body
- Sauna & Cold Plunge together?
- The Final Verdict
What each does to your body
Before we get into Saunas and Cold Plunges, you should first understand how these two allow your body to recover.
Let me break it down for ya …
The main biological function that Saunas and cold water therapy targets is something called hormetic stress.
Hormetic stress is essentially a very quick, yet intense form of stress to put your body under.
You’ve most likely experienced some form of hormetic stress before. Working out, fasting, endurance training, and cold plunges/saunas all involve putting your body under different forms of hormetic stress.
And while chronic stress can heavily damage your body in many different ways, research shows that hormetic stress rejuvenates cells and even forms new neural pathways in the brain.
This is exactly why we use hormetic stress: by putting your body through small, acute doses of stress, it strengthens your body to become resilient to the larger forms of stress and inflammation in your body.
So, now that you know a little bit about how these methods generally affect your body, here’s an in-depth look at the unique properties of the cold plunge and sauna.
The cold plunge is pretty self explanatory. You submerge yourself in cold water (ideally between 40-60 degrees F) and gut out the cold for 2-3 minutes. Short, sweet, and simple.
And while it's hard to imagine receiving amazing benefits from something only 2-3 minutes long, that’s all it really takes to receive benefits such as mood boost, enhanced immune system, increased blood circulation, and of course - helping your body recover.
So, for those benefits to happen, what’s really going on inside your body?
It’s quite simple actually - the cold causes something called vasoconstriction.
This is simply the tightening and constricting of your blood vessels in your body. When your blood vessels do this, it pushes blood towards your organs, which supplies your blood with more oxygen and nutrients.
From here, once you get out of the cold, your blood vessels open back up. This now allows for healthy, oxygen-filled blood to rush throughout your whole body, cleaning out your system of waste products.
And interestingly enough, this is where the energy and mood boost comes from once you get out of the water. With healthy blood now flowing throughout your body, it triggers your brain to release endorphins - the “happy chemical” in your brain that causes things like runner’s high.
When it comes to the sauna, your blood vessels do exactly the opposite of the cold plunge.
When you get in that hot, humid sauna, your body slowly begins to heat up. From there, something called vasodilation happens.
Vasodilation is when your blood vessels open up, allowing blood flow to increase throughout your body.
Contrary to vasoconstriction, vasodilation allows blood to easily flow to all of the important organs in your body. Once your heart, brain, and muscles start receiving more blood, many different benefits can happen, such as improved heart health, decrease in inflammation, excretion of toxins, and even improvements in depression and anxiety.
And, along with the cold plunge, the high heat from the sauna also causes the release of endorphins, giving you a mood and energy boost.
Sauna & Cold Plunge together?
Now that we’ve discussed the benefits of each, here’s a crazy thought for ya …
What if you used the Sauna and Cold plunge together? What would that look like?
Known as contrast therapy, using the cold plunge and sauna one after the other has shown many benefits in aiding your body in recovery.
This practice has been used for thousands of years, but modern day research is now showing the various benefits of using these two wellness tools together.
One study found that using contrast therapy allowed its participants to fully recover in just 24-48 hours after usage. It was found that contrast therapy significantly helped combat muscle fatigue and inflammation much more than the cold plunge by itself.
Contrast therapy has also proven to improve blood circulation, clear your body of toxins, help treat soreness, and even treat the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Now, when it comes to the best ways to go about contrast therapy, here’s a great way to start out and give it a try: 20 minute sauna session -> 2-3 minute cold plunge -> another 20 minute sauna session.
The Final Verdict
So, when it comes to which is better, cold plunge or sauna, the answer is … well … both.
Let me explain …
The sauna and cold plunge are used for two different things, and each have different outcomes.
One is a detox that relaxes you. The other is a short and sweet immune and energy boost.
So maybe a better answer is … it depends on what you’re looking for.
You can’t go wrong with either one, because they both provide amazing benefits.
If you want to take a 30 minute relaxing sauna to clear your system out, then the sauna’s the way to go.
But, if you’re looking for a quick energy boost and challenge, then go hit the cold plunge.
If You Read Anything, Read This…
Cold plunges and saunas have been used as recovery tools for many years, but new research is starting to show just how effective they really are.
From aiding in recovery, to boosting your immune system, to even improving mood and energy, cold plunges and saunas have proven to be a valuable recovery method.
The list of benefits for each goes on and on, but to keep things short and sweet, I’ll say this…
Both have proven to be incredibly healthy for your body in many different ways, so instead of weighing your options, just pick one and take action… your body will thank you.
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