Wellness

I Tried The Ice Barrel's Cold Therapy Tool & Now I Like Ice Baths

Here's what it's like to take the plunge.

I tried cold therapy via the Ice Barrel and now I'm a fan.
Ice Barrel

Cold therapy is making its way into mainstream wellness. Kendall Jenner recently posted on her Instagram about her personal ice bath that she takes cold plunges in, and her sister Kim Kardashian just joined the six-minute-in-an-ice-bath club at wellness hotspot Remedy Place — so the self-care practice basically has no other choice but to become trendy.

Besides being beloved by A-listers, cold therapy has a lot of purported health benefits, like aiding in muscle recovery and injury prevention. It's also been said to boost your mood and help with anxiety and depression, which was very appealing to me as someone whose brain is a buffet of anxieties and ennui. So when the opportunity to try Ice Barrel, a cold therapy training tool that you can use in the privacy of your own backyard, came along, I decided to… take the plunge. (Ba dum tss.)

If you’re intrigued by what it’s like to submerge yourself into a literal barrel full of ice-cold water, read on for my honest review of the Ice Barrel.

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Fast Facts

  • Price: $1,199.97
  • Best for: easy and portable cold therapy you can experience at home
  • Your rating: 4.6/5
  • Brand: Ice Barrel
  • What we like: it makes taking an ice bath super easy and convenient
  • What we don't like: the price

Ice Bath Benefits

Think of cold therapy via an ice bath as a way to shock the system. When you’re immersed in extra cold water, your entire body goes into fight-or-flight mode. As Dr. Holly Schiff, a licensed clinical psychologist at Jewish Family Services of Greenwich, previously told Bustle, your skin’s surface vessels open up upon feeling that chill, which then pushes blood away from the surface of the skin inwards. The end result? Your organs and your brain are supplied with fresh nutrients and oxygen.

“As your body adjusts to the cold water, your sympathetic nervous system declines and slows down while the parasympathetic system increases and takes over,” Schiff says. When this happens, you feel a sense of calm. And, since the plunge is stimulating your vagus nerve, your brain releases beta-endorphins, aka feel-good chemicals in your brain for a mood boost as well as stress relief. In other words: You’re at least getting a long list of benefits when you brave an ice bath.

Cold therapy isn’t something you necessarily need an Ice Barrel for — you can simply take a cold shower, dip into the ocean when it’s not the summertime (polar bear club!), or book an appointment at the spa to hit up a cold plunge pool, all of which would offer the same physical and mental health perks.

The Ice Barrel

The Ice Barrel is a barrel (of course). It also comes with a step stool, a lid, and a cover. The setup was pretty easy — just make sure to place it where you want it to go before filling it with water and ice or it will be too heavy to move. I chose the corner of my backyard that seemed the most hidden from my neighbors.

Filling it with water was easy; I just used a hose. In order to get the water down to the recommended temperature of 40-55 degrees Fahrenheit, you need a lot of ice. Like, at least 40 pounds.

Once the water is chilled, it's time to take the plunge. I found the included step stool to be helpful since I’m very short. Another feature that I really appreciated was the seat inside the barrel, which not only allowed me to sit while taking a cold plunge but also made it easier for me to get in and out (again, I’m very short).

The barrel is made of durable recycled non-toxic plastic, which provides insulation. Put the lid on when you're not using it, and the water should stay cold enough to plunge for a couple of days (depending on how warm it is outside).

My Experience

Once my barrel was set up, I had to work up the willpower to get in. This part is not easy, but I reminded myself that I am a strong, capable woman who has given herself a bikini wax — I can do anything.

Ice Barrel recommends staying in for five to 10 minutes, submerged at least to your abdomen but ideally up to your neck. I made the mistake of trying to ease myself into the cold water by literally dipping my toes in first, but learned you've got to just rip off the wax strip, so to speak. I probably would have stood there, half in and half out, for who knows how long trying to convince myself to get in the rest of the way. After several minutes, I finally went all the way in.

The next five minutes were… something. As you may have inferred, taking an ice bath isn't the fun part of cold therapy. Time in the barrel feels like it's moving extremely slow, like when you look at the clock in Pilates class and somehow it's only been 10 minutes.

To get through uncomfortable and/or painful experiences, I have found what works for me is to squeeze a stress ball, take slow, deep breaths, and tell myself it will all be over soon. It’s not revolutionary, I know, but it has helped me survive situations such as: my boyfriend telling me about his fantasy baseball team, cleaning my dog's paws after he steps in his own poop, getting cosmetic injections even though I am scared of needles — and now sitting in a freezing barrel of ice for five to 10 minutes. The fun part of cold therapy is after it's done; I felt euphoric and accomplished and energized.

Despite that, my second time in the barrel was more challenging. Before, I had only imagined how uncomfortable it was to sit in a barrel filled with ice. Knowing how much it actually sucked meant I had to really psych myself up for the next time. But I did it. And then I did it again. And again. And again.

The Results

I don't use the Ice Barrel every day, but I do like to hop in after working out because I've noticed it helps me with muscle soreness. The cold is also so shocking that it feels like almost a brain reset; when I'm in there, I am only focusing on making it through the next few minutes and not the fear and anxiety normally running through my brain. Do I think it will replace my Prozac? No — I still need that store-bought serotonin. There's no one magic fix for anxiety, and it's not one size fits all —it's all about finding the things that work for you.

The Verdict

At $1,200, the Ice Barrel is definitely costly. There are less expensive ways to take an ice bath, including plenty of DIY options. However, I am not great at finishing DIYs and there is just no way I am going to make the time or effort to track down a giant barrel and figure out how to get it to my house — I know myself. I appreciate the ease and convenience that Ice Barrel brings, but I’d only recommend making the splurge if it’s something you’re going to turn to regularly. Otherwise, maybe see if cold showers do the trick for you.

Studies referenced:

Lateef, F. (2010). Post exercise ice water immersion: Is it a form of active recovery?. Journal of Emergencies, Trauma and Shock, 3(3), 302. https://doi.org/10.4103/0974-2700.66570

Leppaluoto, J. (2008). Effects of long-term whole-body cold exposures on plasma concentrations of ACTH, beta-endorphin, cortisol, catecholamines and cytokines in healthy females. Scand J Clin Lab Invest. PMID: 18382932 DOI: 10.1080/00365510701516350

Shevchuk, N. (2008). Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression. Med Hypotheses. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17993252/