Healthy Living

Wellness Girlies Swear This Ritual Is the Ultimate Body Transformation Hack

(and you can do it at home for free!) 🔥❄️
written by HAILEY BOUCHE

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Source: @sindiarifi & @cottonbro | Pexels
Source: @sindiarifi & @cottonbro | Pexels

I’d rather be too hot than too cold any day of the week. Long hot showers, saunas, and hot yoga classes are basically my love language, but when I leave those warm slices of heaven and immediately get goosebumps from the drop in the temperature of the outside world, that’s my version of hell. So imagine my surprise when I learned that going from hot to cold temperatures has health benefits and that people regularly do it… for multiple minutes at a time… on purpose.

Don’t get me wrong, I will do almost anything if it means that it will help me optimize my health, but I was positive that this was never something I could get behind—after all, I don’t even like to drink freezing cold water, let alone stand in it. However, curiosity got the best of me and I did some research to learn all about what happens when we alternate hot and cold exposure (a.k.a. Contrast Therapy), and I have to say, I’m equally impressed and shockingly intrigued.

Ahead, I am breaking down everything you need to know—from what Contrast Therapy is to the benefits and possible drawbacks, as well as tips to do it at home. Whether you’re a serious skeptic or you’re ready to take the polar plunge, here’s everything you need to know.


What is Contrast Therapy?

Contrast Therapy involves alternating exposure to hot and cold temperatures whether that be between a hot bath and a cold shower, a sauna and a cold plunge, a sauna blanket and a cold shower, or any other combination of hot and cold. Even though you’re probably most familiar with seeing videos on Instagram and Tiktok of wellness gurus and influencers alternating between a cold plunge and a sauna, the majority of people use their bath (which is more specifically called Contrast Bath Therapy) or their shower since it is the most convenient and affordable.

Just like with anything, consistency is key to seeing and maintaining the benefits of contrast therapy, so many people choose to follow a routine or protocol to get the most out of their exposure. According to neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman, 11 minutes of cold therapy per week is all you need, and for heat therapy, specifically in the sauna, you should aim for 5-20 minutes per session at least 2-3 times per week. 

With that said, contrast therapy usually looks like standing in a cold shower for three minutes at a time four days a week before laying in a sauna blanket for 10 minutes, or if you are like Lauryn Bosstick who has access to a sauna and a cold plunge right in her backyard (you go girl!), following a back-and-forth timed protocol between the two a few times a week (pro tip: many spas and wellness studios offer saunas and cold plunges).



What are the benefits?


Muscle recovery

The rapid change from warm to cold temperatures can help to quickly open up and close the blood vessels in your body. This creates a pumping action that’s thought to help decrease swelling and inflammation, according to a study conducted by M. J. Joyner from the Mayo Clinic. This can help alleviate muscle soreness and fatigue and also help with injury recovery. There is even a study that proves that contrast therapy improves both the soreness and weakness of muscles better than passive resting alone. So, next time you’re sore after a tough workout, look to hot and cold therapy to aid in recovery on your rest day.


Energy and focus

According to Huberman, cold exposure causes a significant release of adrenaline and norepinephrine (or noradrenaline) in the brain and body. These chemicals can make us feel more alert and with that, there is an ongoing effect after the exposure that helps to increase the level of energy and focus throughout the day that we can apply to other activities like work and physical exercise.



Huberman states that “cold exposure increases metabolism as the body has to burn calories to increase core body temperature.” And while the total calories burned from cold exposure is not significant, it can help convert “white fat (energy storage) to beige or brown fat (which are highly metabolically active)”. Similarly, he says that heat can trigger your heart rate and blood flow to increase like you are engaged in cardiovascular exercise. So, while contrast therapy isn’t a primary tool for weight loss, it can aid in “triggering further and more sustained increases in metabolism.”


Mental health

Medical research supports the use of hot and cold therapy to decrease our stress hormones (like cortisol) and help the balance of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin, which can be beneficial for an overall sense of relaxation and aid in relieving feelings of anxiety and depression. Additionally, Huberman says that “cold exposure causes the prolonged release of dopamine, which is a powerful molecule capable of elevating mood, enhancing focus, attention, and goal-directed behavior.”



Are there any side effects or drawbacks to it?

The primary concern with hot and cold therapy is the harm that the temperature of the water can have on your skin; if the water is too hot, you can burn your skin, and if the water is too cold, your blood flow rates can drop and cause potential pain and damage to your skin. This is why it’s important to always keep hot water temperatures between 98-100°F and cold water temperatures between 50-60°F. If you are in a tub, this is easy to monitor with a thermometer, but if you are in the shower, be aware of how your body is reacting to the water temperature and adjust accordingly. If you are using a sauna for heat exposure, Huberman recommends heating it between 176-212 ℉.

After safe temperatures are taken into account, contrast therapy is safe for the majority of individuals; however, you should always, always consult a doctor or a mental health professional before beginning any treatments. Most commonly, if you are pregnant, have a hypersensitivity to cold, have heart conditions, have poor circulation, or even have open wounds or broken skin (since cold and hot therapy can slow down the healing of your skin tissue), you should not participate in contrast therapy.


How to Do Contrast Therapy at Home

As much as I would love to have a wellness playground with a sauna and a cold plunge in my backyard as many wellness influencers do, that’s not my reality. But thankfully, there are so many more ways to take advantage of the benefits of contrast therapy without the bougie (and expensive) equipment. Here are some of the best ways you can implement contrast therapy from home—and even some ways that are totally free!


Take hot and cold showers or baths

A shower or a bath is all you need to be able to reap the benefits of hot and cold therapy at home, which makes this accessible to anyone. You can alternate from a hot bath to a cold shower, or, even easier, take a hot shower (as long as you’re mindful of the temperature!) and finish off your shower with a cold rinse for a few minutes.


Invest in a cold plunge

I’ve seen hundreds of videos of people slowly lowering into their fancy at-home cold plunge tubs, but don’t get it twisted: You don’t have to invest thousands of dollars into a special tub to have access to a cold plunge at home. There are dozens of options on the market for cold plunges ranging from a few thousand dollars to a few hundred, so you can invest in whichever one best accommodates your budget and the space you have for it at home.

Polar Recovery
Portable Ice Bath Tub

This portable tub can be set up and taken down in minutes, making it a great choice for anyone who doesn't have a permanent space for a cold plunge. Plus, it's under $130!

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The Cold Pod
Insulated Ice Bath Tub

This tub has four layers of insulation to ensure that your water stays icy cold every time. It holds 116 gallons of water (meaning it's a little bit roomier) and is also portable.

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Use a sauna blanket

No product has had as much of a chokehold on me as a sauna blanket. As a heated blanket girlie through and through, sitting in a sauna blanket, to me, is the peak of self-care. These can range anywhere from $80-$700, so there are several options for every budget. Catch me lying in mine while I watch re-runs of my favorite comfort show.

Higher Dose
Sauna Blanket

Considered the top sauna blanket on the market, this blanket has eight different levels, a self-timer, and a comfortable, warm interior. Plus, it folds up for easy storage.

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Sauna Blanket

With a velcro close and body wraps on the inside to increase heat, there is no doubt you'll break a sweat in this blanket. It even comes with a carrying case and a spray bottle for easy clean up.

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Use a bowl of ice

Believe it or not, you don’t have to immerse your entire body to feel the benefits of contrast therapy. You can use a bowl or even a bucket of ice to stick your face, feet, or hands in. This is not only a simple way to ease into cold therapy, but it is accessible to anyone. Seriously, all you need is a bowl and a sh*t ton of ice to do contrast therapy.


Please consult a doctor or a mental health professional before beginning any treatments. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.