Myth buster: What swimmers should know about cold water immersion

Myth buster: What swimmers should know about cold water immersion

Michael Phelps didn’t want to do it. Yet, at the insistence of one of the coaches at the national training center, Phelps got into the ice bath. This first cold plunge lasted for about 10 to 15 seconds.

The next day, Phelps resolved to try the ice bath again. This time, he stayed in the chilly water for 5 minutes. Since then, cold water has been a part of his training and wellness routine. 

While not everyone is going for world-record times or competing at the highest level, all swimmers can use cold water immersion to make sure they are ready for the next session or race. The benefits include reduced muscle soreness, decreased inflammation, and accelerated recovery times.

Yet, even as cold plunging has long been long used by athletes and swimmers like Phelps, myths and misconceptions still surround the practice. Science-backed evidence, though, shows that it is an effective recovery method for competitive swimmers and those who hop in the water for fitness and fun.

Michael Phelps in cold tub

Cold water therapy: Facts and myths for swimmers

The use of cold water immersion for recovery isn’t a new trend. In fact, it dates back to ancient times when athletes in Greece and Rome would take cold baths to soothe their muscles after intense physical exertion. 

It was in the 20th century, though, that the modern practice of cold water immersion began to emerge. In the 1970s and 1980s, sports medicine and athletic training programs were incorporating ice baths and cold water therapy as part of standard recovery protocols. 

Today, research and real-life experience continue to support the benefits of cold water immersion. Whether you're a seasoned competitor or a recreational swimmer, it’s important to know what’s fact and what’s just a myth about cold water. 

Myth: Cold water immersion is only for professional athletes

Michael Phelps was already in the national spotlight when he began to take ice baths alongside his teammates. The recovery method was vital to make sure that he and the other competitive swimmers were ready for the next session.

Many people think that cold water immersion is beneficial for high-level or professional athletes like Phelps. Recreational swimmers and weekend warriors might not think they need to prioritize recovery or go to the “extreme” of cold plunging.

However, cold water immersion offers benefits to athletes at all levels. Whether you’re a Masters swimmer or training for your first triathlon, cold water therapy can help reduce muscle soreness, decrease inflammation, and accelerate recovery times. Research shows that cold water immersion can be effective in reducing delayed-onset muscle soreness and improving muscle recovery, regardless of a person’s fitness level.

Phelps might no longer be competing, but cold water is still a part of his everyday routine. With a Chilly GOAT Cold Tub, he has access to clean, cold water without the need for ice. This convenience allows him to continue his chill routine.

“You need to spend time on recovery,” Phelps says. “For me, that’s the cold tub.”

couple in cold plunge together

Myth: Cold water immersion is painful and uncomfortable

You might feel a prickling sensation in your fingers and toes before noticing a numbing sensation. Other areas of your body, whether it’s the shin or lower back, might seem particularly sensitive to the chill. 

There’s no doubt that cold water immersion is uncomfortable. Some might even say it’s painful. Those feelings can discourage swimmers and others from seeking out the benefits of cold water therapy.

In fact, they might say that the discomfort outweighs its benefits. However, that’s just a myth.

While the initial plunge into cold water can be uncomfortable, most people acclimate quickly. The discomfort is usually brief, and the long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term discomfort. Many athletes find that they adapt to the sensation with regular use, and some even come to enjoy the refreshing and invigorating feeling of cold water immersion. 

Furthermore, starting with shorter sessions and gradually increasing the duration can help swimmers acclimate more comfortably.

Myth: Cold plunging is only effective after exercise

There is a belief that cold water immersion is only beneficial if done immediately after training or competition. Some swimmers think that if they miss this window, they won't reap the benefits.

While cold water immersion is highly effective when used soon after exercise, it can also be beneficial when used later. The anti-inflammatory and muscle recovery benefits are not limited to a specific time frame post-exercise. Regular use of cold water immersion, whether immediately after a workout or at the end of the day, can still help reduce overall muscle soreness and improve recovery. Research has indicated that cold water immersion can be effective even 24 to 48 hours post-exercise.

ben kanute cold tub

Myth: Cold water can cause muscle stiffness

Some swimmers worry that exposing their muscles to cold water might lead to stiffness, counteracting the intended benefits of recovery and relaxation.

Cold water immersion can actually help improve muscle flexibility and reduce stiffness. By reducing inflammation and muscle spasms, cold water therapy can enhance overall muscle function and mobility. A study published in the Journal of Athletic Training found that cold water immersion can improve range of motion and decrease muscle stiffness, contributing to better performance and reduced injury risk in subsequent workouts.

In addition, when you immerse yourself in cold water, your blood vessels constrict, reducing blood flow to your muscles. Once you exit the cold water, your blood vessels dilate, and fresh, oxygen-rich blood rushes back to your muscles. This process helps flush out metabolic waste products, reduces inflammation, and promotes the delivery of essential nutrients to muscle tissues. 

Long story short: Cold water improves circulation, which actually eases muscle stiffness.

“I feel that good blood flow.” Phelps says. “My muscles are looser after I get out of the Chilly GOAT Cold Tub.” 

Myth: Cold water therapy is dangerous

There's a concern that exposing the body to cold temperatures can be harmful, potentially leading to issues like hypothermia or other health risks.

When done correctly, cold water immersion is safe and beneficial. It's important to follow guidelines, such as limiting immersion time and honoring your body. Starting at a more “comfortable” temperature, such as 55 to 59 degrees, and allowing your body to adapt can help avoid any risks. 

Chilly GOAT Cold Tubs have a 2.1-horsepower smart chiller, which allows you to set the water to a temperature between 40 degrees and 104 degrees*. You can begin cold plunging at 58 degrees and lower the temperature using the convenient WiFi app as you become more acclimated to cold therapy. This flexibility ensures you can customize your experience for maximum comfort and benefits.

It is important, though, to talk to your doctor before starting a cold plunge routine — especially if you have any pre-existing health conditions.

Michael Phelps Cold Tub

Myth: You can skip stretching and a warm-up if you cold plunge.

Some swimmers might think that incorporating cold water immersion into their routine means they can skip other recovery practices like stretching and warm-ups.

Cold water immersion should be part of a comprehensive recovery and training regimen, not a replacement for other essential practices. Stretching, warm-ups, proper nutrition, and hydration are all critical components of a well-rounded athletic routine. 

Cold water therapy complements these practices by providing additional recovery benefits, but it does not eliminate the need for them.

Myth: Any cold water will do the trick

A common misconception is that any cold water exposure, such as a cold shower, will provide the same benefits as a structured cold water immersion session.

While cold showers can be beneficial, structured cold water immersion offers more consistent and controlled benefits. Cold tubs, such as the Chilly GOAT, are designed to maintain your preferred temperatures and provide a more effective and targeted recovery experience. The controlled environment ensures that the water temperature remains within the ideal range for therapeutic benefits (40 degrees to 59 degrees) — something that's harder to achieve with a standard cold shower.

Chilly GOAT Cold Tubs also feature dual flow jets, which gently move the water to disrupt the thermal barrier. This continuous movement ensures that your entire body is exposed to the cold water, providing a consistent and effective cooling experience. The built-in seating and armrests adds an extra layer of comfort, allowing you to recline and fully benefit from the cold therapy session.

Michael phelps mental health

Myth: Cold water only helps with muscle recovery

Many athletes focus on muscle recovery and getting ready for the next session when they hop into a cold tub. 

However, it’s a myth that cold water immersion only offers physical benefits. 

The benefits of cold water go beyond speeding up recovery times. Evidence shows that it can support your immune system, help you sleep better, and enhance your mental health. Cold exposure activates the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting a sense of calm and relaxation. Bonus: It also triggers a release of endorphins, aka the feel-good hormones.

“Being able to have access to a cold tub allows me to be my best self … be my most authentic self every single day,” Phelps says. “It gives me the best chance to accomplish my goals, whether that’s in the gym, on the golf course, or at home with my family.”

best cold tub

Choosing the Best Cold Tub

Do you want to enjoy the benefits of cold water therapy without buying bag after bag of ice? Having a Michael Phelps Chilly GOAT Cold Tub by Master Spas allows you to realize the impact of cold water. Enjoy clean, clear, cold water on demand. Click here to learn more about the benefits of incorporating a Michael Phelps Chilly GOAT Cold Tub into your routine. Start your journey today!

*Some limitations using your cold tub as a hot tub may be experienced when water and air temperatures are elevated.