Cold Plunges Are Different From Cold Showers - Here’s Why

Joey Randazzo

Published: Oct 18, 2023

Last Updated:

You jump into an icy cold shower for 60 seconds…

You sink into an icy cold plunge for 60 seconds…

☝️Are those two things the same? ☝️Is one better than the other?

This guide explains the similarities and differences between cold showers and cold plunges (and yep, they are different).

Quick Summary Answering if Cold Showers Are The Same As Cold Plunges

With cold showers, the water is hitting different parts of your body at different times. So you’re never “fully” in the cold. Your back is getting hit while your chest is exposed to the air.

With cold plunges, you’re fully submerged in cold water. If you do a natural cold plunge in a river or in a commercial tub with good circulation, then your entire body is constantly getting hit with intense cold, restricting your ability to build up a thermal barrier.

As a result, cold plunges are better than cold showers for deliberate cold exposure (according to Dr. Andrew Huberman).

With that being said, cold showers still have awesome benefits! So, if you only have access to a cold shower, then that is absolutely sufficient.

Defining Cold Plunges

To properly compare cold plunges to cold showers, we need to have some definitions.

We’ve heard many people say they’re doing a “cold plunge” in different ways:

  • One person considers a cold plunge to be getting your lower body into a 60 degree pool for 20 seconds
  • Another person considers a cold plunge to be chipping through the frozen, top layer of a lake and then fully submerging up to their neck for 5 minutes

As you can tell, people think of cold plunges as different things… That’s why defining is important!

I will define it according to Dr. Andrew Huberman's interpretation:

A "cold plunge" is characterized by immersing yourself in cold water up to the neck while submerging your hands and feet. 

The water should be cold enough to provoke the immediate thought of wanting to escape ("shit, I need to get out of here"), but simultaneously, it should feel safe enough to remain submerged. This definition applies whether you choose to jump into the ocean, use a commercial cold plunge tub, or fill your bathtub with ice water. 

All of these scenarios fall under the category of "cold plunges" according to Dr. Andrew Huberman.

Defining Cold Showers

This one is a little more straightforward. It’s stepping into your shower and cranking the water to cold.

But there is some nuance to this one.

Some people take a cold shower by:

  • Getting one leg and arm wet at a time to manage the cold
  • Jumping right on in to the cold shower, head and all

So we will also add that a cold shower is getting your entire body, from your neck down, consistently wet (meaning you are regularly rotating front, right, back, and left side).

Cold Plunges > Cold Showers (According to Dr. Andrew Huberman)

It has to do with building up a thermal barrier.

When you’re fully submerged in cold water (that’s flowing or circulating) then your body doesn’t have the ability to build up a thermal barrier.

Basically this just means that the cold is penetrating deeper and more intensely, causing your body to “work harder” with more stress (the good kind of stress!).

On the other hand, if you get into a cold shower, many things are different:

  • You’re exposed to more air since the water droplets are hitting you instead of you being submerged in water
  • You’re likely not having your whole body get hit with cold water (unless you’ve got one of those fancy showers with like 8 water heads)
  • This means that your while your chest is getting blasted with cold water from the shower, your back isn’t getting any cold water

Dr. Andrew Huberman says that the best forms of deliberate cold exposure, in order of benefits, are:

  • Full body cold submersion up to the neck (cold plunging)
  • Cold showers
  • Going outside in cold weather with minimal clothing
  • Cryotherapy 

You can read more about Dr. Andrew Huberman’s thoughts on cryotherapy here. Within that article, we link directly to his website and resources so that if you’d like to go deeper, you can continue your research on cold showers and cold plunges.

You can also read another article on our site talking about the differences between cryotherapy vs. cold plunges.

Cold Showers Still Have Benefits! Here’s What Wim Hof Says:

If you don’t know who Wim Hof is. Then that’s a problem. I recommend you… 

  • Immediately stop reading this article
  • Go to YouTube
  • Type in Wim Hof into the search bar
  • Spend 1-7 hours watching videos about him or that he has created

But here’s what Wim Says - for his exact wording, you can read his article here.

  • Reduced Stress Levels: Incorporating regular cold showers introduces a mild stress to your body, leading to a process known as hardening. This gradual adaptation of your nervous system helps you better handle moderate levels of stress and keeps you composed in challenging situations.
  • Higher Alertness: Cold showers have a refreshing effect, promoting a heightened state of alertness. The cold water also encourages deeper breathing, reducing CO2 levels in the body and enhancing concentration, thus keeping you focused and prepared throughout the day.
  • Strengthened Immune Response: Scientific research indicates that cold showers increase the presence of white blood cells, which play a crucial role in defending the body against illnesses. This boost in the immune system is thought to be related to an increased metabolic rate induced by cold exposure.
  • Enhanced Willpower: Enduring cold showers requires mental strength and resilience. By making cold showers a part of your daily routine, you can effectively strengthen your willpower, benefiting various aspects of your daily life.

Weight Loss: Studies have shown that cold showers, along with exposure to cold in general, can directly increase metabolic rate. Additionally, cold showers stimulate the production of brown fat, a type of fat tissue that burns calories to generate energy. As a result, cold showers can be a valuable tool for those aiming to shed a few pounds.

My personal thought on cold showers compared to cold plunges

I think that taking cold showers, for most people, is much more accessible than doing cold plunges.

  • You can do cold showers every day pretty “easily” - no need to run to the store to buy ice
  • Cold plunges (using ice from the store) are NOT cheap. Every time I do a cold plunge, it’s $12.50. I try to do 2 per week. That’s $25 per week or $1,300 per year!
  • The benefits of cold showers are still there. While cold plunges may be “better”, sometimes it’s just best to focus on the benefits that already exist with the easier option.

So if you have access to regular cold plunges, either at your local gym, through a commercial tub that you purchase for your home, or financially by going to the store and buying ice, then I’d say keep doing them!

But for the average person, cold showers will do just fine.

Not Everyone Has Access To Cold Showers

I grew up in Las Vegas, NV. Yes, people live there.

It gets wicked hot there. I’m writing this article in July of 2023 and as you can see, it’s supposed to be +110F many days this week.

As a result, the shower water in the summertime doesn’t come out too cold, even if you crank it as cold as possible.

Many areas of the USA have this “problem”:

  • Nevada
  • Parts of California
  • Arizona
  • Utah
  • Texas
  • Florida
  • Etc.

If you live in an area where the water in your shower doesn’t really get cold and you’re wondering if taking a cold shower is the same as doing a cold plunge, then it is definitely not the same.

A cold plunge (either a commercial tub or getting ice from the store and putting it in your tub) is a much more effective form of deliberate cold exposure.

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