Should you do a cold plunge before or after a workout? It depends.

Joey Randazzo

Published: Oct 24, 2023

Last Updated:

Should you do this first?

Or this first?

In this guide, we share the pros and cons of doing cold plunges before/after working out.

Quick Summary on Doing Cold Plunges Before/After Working Out

If you’re simply looking to recover after a hard, competition-based workout (a basketball game, an endurance run, etc) then doing a cold plunge directly after can help with recovery and inflammation.

However, if you’re exercising to get bigger, faster, and stronger, then the recommendation would be to do a cold plunge at least 4 hours before your workout.

Defining “Working Out”

Are you going for a 15-mile run or looking to build massive biceps?

Are you “working out” in competition mode? Such as during playoffs for your college basketball season?

Or are you working out to improve, build muscle, and get stronger?

What are your workout goals?

For some folks, it might be to lose weight.

For others, it may be to improve PRs and finally get 2 plates on the bench.

It’s really important that, when determining if you should do a cold plunge before or after a workout, you have clear goals.

Logically, Cold = Recovery (Watch Out With This Thought Process!)

Before digging into the scientific research on this, I was cold plunging ALL WRONG.

I’m working out for muscle growth and increased strength/performance.

I thought: “Man, my muscles are going to be sore after this workout. If I get into a cold plunge, then my recovery will be better and I’ll be less sore.”

The problem? I was right about this.

As you’ll see in the next section, cold plunging after a workout DOES result in increased muscle recovery. However, it interferes with muscle growth.

Cold Plunging Stunts Hypertrophy = Less Gains

Muscle hypertrophy is the process of increasing the size of muscle fibers, resulting in overall muscle growth. It typically occurs in response to resistance training or other forms of intense physical activity that cause muscle fibers to undergo damage. 

After the muscle fibers are repaired and adapted, they become larger and stronger, leading to muscle hypertrophy.

Now, about cold water plunging and its potential impact on hypertrophy, there's a scientific study that sheds some light on this. 

One such study is titled "Post-exercise cold water immersion attenuates acute anabolic signaling and long-term adaptations in muscle to strength training" by Roberts et al. (2015).

In this study, the researchers investigated how cold water immersion after strength training affects muscle hypertrophy. They found that when participants engaged in strength training and then immediately underwent cold water immersion, it blunted the usual post-exercise anabolic signaling. This signaling is essential for muscle protein synthesis, which is a crucial mechanism for muscle growth.

Essentially, the cold water immersion seemed to interfere with the body's ability to initiate the process of building up the muscles after the workout. As a result, the long-term adaptations in muscle size and strength that are usually observed with strength training were reduced.

So, if you're focused on maximizing muscle hypertrophy and gains, it might be best to avoid cold water plunges right after your strength training sessions. Instead, consider waiting a few hours before taking that refreshing icy dip. Keep in mind that individual responses can vary, and this is just one study, but it provides valuable insights into the potential impact of cold water immersion on muscle hypertrophy.

If you’re looking to make gains, you have 2 options:

Option 1: Cold Plunge at Least 4 Hours Before Exercise

By cold plunging 4+ hours before exercising, you don’t risk interfering with the hypertrophy process.

This will allow your muscles to properly break down, recover, and grow back bigger and stronger after your workout.

Option 2: Cold Plunge at Least 6-8 Hours After Exercise

Dr. Andrew Huberman says:

“It’s better to wait 6 to 8 or more hours until after training, or do it before training UNLESS your goal is simply to recover without adaptation”

If you’re in competition mode and you want maximum recovery, then cold plunge right after working out

If you’re mid-season for sports or finishing “working out” after a half marathon or something, and your goal is to limit muscle soreness and achiness, then definitely plunge right after.

There are studies suggesting that cold-water immersion (CWI) after working out may help speed up recovery. Here are a couple of scientific studies supporting this claim:

1. Study: "Whole-body cryotherapy (extreme cold air exposure) for preventing and treating muscle soreness after exercise in adults"

  • Authors: Hohenauer E, Taeymans J, Baeyens JP, Clarys P, Clijsen R.
  • Published in: The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2015.
  • Link:

Summary: This meta-analysis evaluated the effects of whole-body cryotherapy (cold air exposure) on muscle soreness after exercise. The researchers analyzed several studies and found that cryotherapy was effective in reducing muscle soreness after exercise in adults.

2. Study: "Cold Water Immersion: An Effective Model for Enhancing Recovery Following Strenuous Exercise"

  • Authors: Vaile J, Halson S, Gill N, Dawson B.
  • Published in: European Journal of Applied Physiology, 2008.
  • Link:

Summary: This study investigated the effects of cold water immersion on recovery after strenuous exercise. The researchers concluded that cold water immersion is an effective method for enhancing recovery after intense physical activity, particularly for reducing perceptions of muscle soreness and maintaining muscle strength.

3. Study: "Effect of cold water immersion on repeated cycling performance and limb blood flow"

  • Authors: Ihsan M, Watson G, Lipski M, Abbiss CR.
  • Published in: British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2016.
  • Link:

Summary: This study examined the impact of cold water immersion on repeated cycling performance and limb blood flow. The researchers found that cold water immersion effectively improved repeated cycling performance and maintained limb blood flow after intense exercise, indicating potential benefits for recovery.

Keep in mind that the research on cold-water immersion and its effects on recovery is ongoing, and new studies may have emerged. Additionally, individual responses to cold-water immersion may vary, so it's essential to consider personal preferences and needs when incorporating it into your recovery routine. 

Popular athletes use cold plunges (& general cold exposure) to maximize recovery mid-season

Christiano Ronaldo

Christiano Ronaldo has been harping on the benefits of cryotherapy for a while now. 

He probably hasn’t read our article on cold plunging vs. cryotherapy, otherwise he might consider doing cold plunges instead!

 LeBron James

LeBron does something called Contrast Baths. They’re basically ice baths but he does them in a dark room. 

LeBron said that the cold plunges “just help the body and when the body feels fresh, then the mind feels fresh, as well. They work in tandem…”

Always consult with a healthcare professional or sports therapist if you have any specific concerns about using cold water immersion for recovery purposes.

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