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Sauna and Ice Bath Combination: A Look at Contrast Therapy

A woman sitting in a Sauna before taking an ice bath

Estimated reading time: 14 minutes

Delving into the world of sauna and ice bath combination, or contrast therapy as it’s often known, can reveal a fascinating blend of history, science and personal experience. This powerful sauna ice bath combo utilises extreme temperatures to trigger physiological responses that have been linked with an array of health benefits.

This comprehensive guide will explore the origins of sauna bathing and ice baths, tracing their roots through centuries. The unique interplay between hot saunas and cold water immersion is integral to many cultures’ wellness traditions.

We’ll delve into the myriad benefits of these contrasting therapies – from boosting athletic performance to promoting mental wellbeing. We’ll also provide practical guidance on incorporating contrast therapy into your routine using infrared saunas and deliberate cold exposure techniques like cold plunging.

Our discussion aims to present a balanced view by featuring insights from Susanna Søberg’s studies on contrast therapy and Joe Rogan & Andrew Huberman’s experiences with this practice. Finally, yet importantly, potential risks associated with this method will be examined for those considering integrating sauna sessions and ice bathing into their lifestyle.

What is Contrast Therapy?

Contrast therapy, hot-cold immersion therapy or hydrotherapy is like a rollercoaster for your body. It’s all about the thrill of alternating between heat and cold treatments to boost your body’s healing powers. This time-honoured method has been a go-to for sportspeople, health enthusiasts and all who want to increase their wellbeing naturally.

The sauna and ice bath combo is a classic duo in contrast therapy. The sauna generates heat, dilates your blood vessels (vasodilation), and promotes improved blood circulation. Meanwhile, the ice bath induces a cooling effect, causing blood vessels to constrict (vasoconstriction), which aids in reducing inflammation and eliminating toxins from your muscles. Together, these treatments offer a powerful contrast for enhancing your overall well-being.

The Wim Hof Method

Wim Hof, aka’ The Iceman’, is a cool dude who loves contrast therapy. He’s all about combining breathwork exercises with cold exposure to level your physical performance, manage stress, boost energy, and keep your overall wellness game strong.

To learn more, visit our page all about the Wim Hof Method.

Breathwork Training & Cold Exposure Workshops

If you want to dive deeper into contrast therapy, some workshops offer guided breathwork training and cold exposure experiences.

Check out our Breathwork, Ice Bath and Sauna sessions every Saturday in Bangkok.

Cold Plunge Pools & Ice Baths

Dip in a cold plunge pool or hop into an ice bath for the ultimate icy adventure. These controlled environments let you experience the shock of the cold under supervision. A bracing jolt to the body, with advantages like enhanced blood flow and a reinforced immune system – that’s what you can expect from a cold plunge pool or ice bath.

Sauna Sessions

Don’t underestimate the power of a good sweat session in the sauna. It’s not just about relaxation; it’s also a key part of contrast therapy. Saunas raise your core body temperature, causing your blood vessels to open up and toxins to pour through your sweat glands. It’s like a detox party for your body.

In a nutshell, Contrast Therapy = Sauna + Ice Bath = Supercharged Health & Wellness.

Onsens for Contrast Therapy

Onsens, traditional Japanese hot springs, have long been cherished for their therapeutic qualities and are a popular choice for contrast therapy. Combining soaking in the hot mineral-rich waters of an onsen followed by exposure to cold water creates a stimulating contrast that offers numerous health benefits.

In Japan, onsens are deeply rooted in cultural traditions and are seen as places of relaxation, rejuvenation, and healing. The mineral content in the hot springs, such as sulfur, magnesium, and calcium, provides a range of benefits for the body, including improved circulation, pain relief, and skin rejuvenation.

When incorporating onsens into contrast therapy, the process typically involves immersing yourself in the hot spring for a period of time, allowing your body to absorb the beneficial minerals and experience the relaxing effects.

Afterwards, you can transition to a cold plunge or shower to induce a contrast in temperature and stimulate your blood circulation.

The contrast between the soothing warmth of the onsen and the invigorating cold water helps to enhance blood flow, reduce inflammation, and promote overall relaxation. It can also provide a refreshing and revitalizing experience for the body and mind.

It’s important to note that following the specific protocols and etiquette associated with these cultural traditions is essential when visiting onsens. Each onsen may have its rules and guidelines, such as bathing procedures, cleanliness, and respect for others.

By observing and respecting these customs, you can fully immerse yourself in the experience and reap the benefits of contrast therapy.

History of Sauna and Ice Bath Combination

A couple in snow after taking a sauna

Combining sauna sessions with ice baths, also known as contrast therapy, has a fascinating history spanning centuries. This therapeutic technique is deeply rooted in the wellness traditions of various cultures worldwide.

Ancient Origins

The use of saunas dates back to ancient times when people used hot stones to create steam in enclosed spaces. The sauna tradition, originating from Finland, involved individuals sitting in a heated room and then taking a refreshing dip in an icy lake or rolling in the snow – a primitive form of contrast therapy.

Similarly, cold plunges were popular among different civilizations, such as the Romans, who incorporated them into their bathhouse rituals for rejuvenation.

Scandinavian Influence

Due to its perceived health benefits, this combination became popular in Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Norway. It was thought that by alternating between extremes of heat from saunas and chilliness from ice baths, blood flow could be stimulated and the body detoxified. Today, these practices are integral parts of Nordic culture, where they continue to be widely embraced not only for their potential health benefits but also for socializing purposes.

Global Adoption

Beyond Scandinavia, other parts of the world have embraced this unique combination. In Russia, for instance, the traditional Russian steam bath known as ‘banya’ is often paired with jumps into frigid water bodies during winter months. In Japan, ‘onsen’ hot springs are frequently complemented with cold plunge pools.

Sporting World Embrace

In recent years, we’ve witnessed an increased adoption of this practice within sporting communities globally. Crossfit enthusiasts and professional athletes use it as part of their recovery regimen after intensive training sessions or competitions. The likes of the Wim Hof Method, Breathwork & Ice Bath Workshops have played pivotal roles in promoting these practices further, bringing them mainstream attention.

Benefits of Contrast Therapy

2 men at the Breath Inspired Sauna and Ice Bath workshop

Contrast therapy, the combo of sauna and ice bath treatments, isn’t just a trendy fad. It’s been around for centuries with proven physical and mental benefits.

To read more specifically about cold exposure health benefits, check out our blog, all about ice bath benefits.

Reduction of Inflammation:

The sauna’s heat, followed by a cold plunge, can help zap inflammation in your body. This process, known as vascular shunting, flushes out toxins.

Improved Circulation:

When you go from sauna heat to an ice bath, your blood vessels go on a rollercoaster ride, contracting and expanding rapidly. This boosts circulation throughout your body.

Boosted Immunity:

The heat phase, such as sauna sessions, can increase body temperature and promote immune cell activity. On the other hand, the cold phase, like ice baths, may stimulate the release of stress hormones and enhance the immune response.

Heat and cold exposure have also been associated with producing heat shock proteins and cold shock proteins, which play a role in immune function.

While further research is needed, preliminary studies suggest the potential immune-boosting effects of contrast therapy.

Increased Energy Levels:

This unique method also boosts your energy by releasing adrenaline during cold plunges after hot sauna sessions.

Elevated Mood & Reduced Stress Levels:

  • Mood Enhancement: Immersing yourself in cold water after a sauna session releases endorphins, making you happy.
  • Stress Reduction: Regular contrast therapy can lower cortisol levels, promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety.

Faster Recovery Post-Exercise:

Last, contrast therapy speeds up muscle recovery after intense workouts or games due to its anti-inflammatory effects.

To sum up, whether you want to improve circulation, reduce stress, boost your immune system, increase energy, or recover faster from exercise, contrast therapy could be just what you need.

How to Do Contrast Therapy

Stuart teaching a woman how to do contrast therapy

If you’re interested in trying contrast therapy, it’s crucial to understand the correct process and follow safety guidelines. The combo of sauna and ice baths can be intense, so prepare your body properly.

Step 1: Get hot in the sauna for 10-15 minutes. Listen to your body and don’t overdo it.

Step 2: Enter into an ice bath or cold plunge after the sauna. Commence with a short duration. However, if that’s too much for you, dip your toes in initially and gradually build up. 1-3 minutes is all you need at freezing temperature of the water.

Step 3: Repeat these steps 3-5 times per session, depending on how much you can handle.

Safety Precautions during Contrast Therapy Sessions

While contrast therapy has its perks, it’s not without risks. If you have underlying medical conditions like heart disease or high blood pressure, consult a healthcare professional before taking the plunge.

Tips For Your First Contrast Therapy Session

If you’re new to contrast therapy, here are some tips:

  1. Pace Yourself: Don’t rush. Start slow and gradually increase the intensity.
  2. Familiarise Yourself With Each Process: Learn how saunas and ice baths work separately before combining them. It’s like learning to dance – master the steps before busting out the moves.
  3. Never do it alone. It’s always a good idea to have someone around looking out for your safety
  4. You’ve gone too far if you feel dizzy, nauseous or faint. Stop, rest and recover. And next time, reduce the intensity.

Susanna Søberg’s Studies on Contrast Therapy

Susanna Søberg Science Study
Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8561167/figure/undfig1/

In contrast therapy, Dr Susanna Søberg stands out as a researcher extraordinaire. She’s dedicated her career to unravelling the mysteries of this practice and how it affects our bodies. One of her most impressive studies focused on how contrast therapy can kick pain and inflammation to the curb for athletes.

Susanna Søberg’s Research Methodology

Susanna conducted an experiment where participants sweated it out with intense physical activity, followed by contrast therapy sessions. They hopped between hot saunas and icy ice baths, all for the sake of science. This allowed her to witness firsthand the immediate effects of these treatments on muscle recovery and inflammation.

The Findings: Bye-Bye Pain & Inflammation

The results were a breath of fresh air – participants reported less post-workout pain when they indulged in contrast therapy. Those who skipped the treatment didn’t have the same relief. Plus, inflammation markers took a nosedive, suggesting that this method could reduce bodily stress caused by intense exercise.

Contrast Therapy as a Recovery Tool for Athletes

This research implies that for athletes and exercise devotees, supplementing their regimen with sauna sessions and cold baths could be a major boon; it may accelerate recovery time and make arduous training more bearable. It might speed up your recovery time and make those gruelling training sessions less painful. Talk about a win-win.

A Word Of Caution: Everyone’s Different

While these findings are exciting, it’s important to remember that individual responses can vary. Age, physical condition and other elements may have an influence. So, it could be that what benefits one individual won’t have the same outcome for someone else.

It’s always wise to consult with a healthcare professional before diving into new health regimens, like sauna usage or ice baths. They’ll guide you based on your unique needs and circumstances.

Also, remember to stay hydrated during those sauna sessions. Sweating is great, but dehydration is not. So, give contrast therapy a whirl, whether you’re an athlete looking to up your game or want to spice up your wellness routine. Just make sure to do it safely and with professional guidance.

Joe Rogan & Andrew Huberman’s Experiences with Contrast Therapy

Joe Rogan and Andrew Huberman are big names in the world of health and wellness. They both swear by contrast therapy and have shared their experiences far and wide.

Rogan’s Journey with Contrast Therapy

Podcast legend Joe Rogan loves his saunas and ice baths. He combines them in contrast therapy, which he claims boosts his energy, aids workout recovery, and makes him feel amazing.

Rogan’s routine involves spending time in a hot sauna, then dipping in an ice bath. He repeats this process multiple times because he’s all about maximizing those benefits. It might appear to be a bit radical, yet he swears by it.

Huberman’s Insights on Contrast Therapy

Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman from Stanford is also a fan of contrast therapy. He explains that alternating between heat exposure (sauna) and cold exposure (ice bath) can do wonders for our nervous system.

According to Huberman, this thermal regulation triggers specific responses in our bodies, like improved circulation and a boost to our immune function. The result? Better physical performance and mental clarity.

The Science Behind Their Claims

The positive effects experienced by Rogan and Huberman aren’t just talk; they’re backed by science. Research has indicated that frequent sauna use alongside cold showers or ice baths may help decrease inflammation and improve heart health.

For example, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests frequent sauna bathing is linked to a lower risk of sudden cardiac death, coronary heart disease, and fatal cardiovascular diseases.

Moreover, research conducted at University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf demonstrates how whole-body cryotherapy significantly decreases pro-inflammatory cytokines, reducing inflammation.

These findings support these well-known figures: Contrast therapy could be a key component in achieving optimal health.

Possible Risks Involved?

However, it’s important to note that risks are involved like any therapeutic practice. These can include dizziness or fainting due to sudden temperature changes or dehydration from excessive sweating during sauna sessions.

Before beginning any new regimen, it is advisable to seek medical advice, especially if you have a pre-existing health condition.

Contrast therapy remains popular among fitness enthusiasts despite the potential risks because the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Risks Associated with Contrast Therapy

Contrast therapy, the ultimate hot-cold combo, has perks like reducing inflammation and boosting immunity. But hold on tight; there are risks too. Extreme temperatures can make your body go haywire.

Dizziness or Fainting Due To Sudden Temperature Changes

Going from sauna to ice bath or vice versa can make you feel woozy or even pass out. Your blood vessels freak out, and your blood pressure takes a nosedive. Take it slow, newbie, until you get used to the temperature rollercoaster.

Dehydration From Sweating Like a Fountain in the Sauna

Saunas make you sweat buckets but don’t forget to hydrate or you’ll turn into a raisin. Dehydration brings dry mouth, fatigue, and light-headedness. So, gulp down that water before and during your sauna sesh.

Risks For Individuals With Pre-existing Conditions

Some conditions make contrast therapy a no-go. Sorry, but this isn’t for you if you have heart problems, high blood pressure, respiratory issues, or skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis. Pregnant ladies, stay away too.

Tips for Safe Practice

  • Hydrate: Guzzle water before sweating it out in the sauna. You’ll thank us later.
  • Pace Yourself: Don’t rush the hot-cold dance. Take your time and avoid feeling dizzy or fainting.
  • Listen to Your Body: If something feels off, stop immediately and seek medical help. Safety first, folks.

FAQs in Relation to Sauna and Ice Bath Combination

Have questions about the sauna and ice bath combination? We’ve got you covered. This FAQ section addresses common inquiries about this powerful wellness practice.

From benefits and risks to practical tips, we provide insightful answers to help you navigate contrast therapy confidently.

Explore the FAQs below to understand the sauna ice bath combo and embark on your enhanced health and well-being journey.

How to combine a sauna and cold plunge?

Start with a 15-20 minute sauna session, then the cold plunge for 1-3 minutes – repeat this cycle 2-5 times.

Is it healthy to take a cold shower after a sauna?

Definitely. Taking a cold shower after a sauna can cool down your body and boost the benefits of contrast therapy.

Should you do cryotherapy before or after a sauna?

Save the cryotherapy, like an ice bath, for after your sauna session to promote recovery and reduce inflammation. Here’s a source to back it up.

Is it better to take an ice bath or sauna after a workout?

Both have their perks – saunas help relax your muscles, while ice baths are perfect for fighting post-workout inflammation.


The Sauna and Ice Bath Combination, also known as Contrast Therapy, is a hot and cold duo that brings a cool twist to health and wellness.

By switching between sauna sessions that make you sweat like a champ and ice baths that give you a chilly wake-up call, you can enjoy a range of benefits that will make you feel like a wellness warrior.

  • ✅ Improved circulation
  • ✅ Reduced inflammation
  • ✅ Enhanced recovery after workouts
  • ✅ Increased mental clarity
  • ✅ Boosted immune function

And if you need more convincing, studies by Susanna Søberg have shown that contrast therapy can even improve lung capacity and overall well-being.

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