Ice baths are extremely popular within athletics. Many athletes get one the day before competition, some even every day. However, is this just a a crazy fad, or is this a legitimate treatment? I personally take an ice bath every training day, but is this the correct application? There’s actually two questions to the argument: Are ice baths beneficial in any way, and if so, when and how often should I take one?
How It Works
I talked a little bit about ice baths in my blog, How To Prepare For A Race, and I would like to go deeper into it.
During a workout, particularly a hard one, your muscle fibers are repeatedly being broken down. After the workout, they need to be rebuilt. Your body rebuilds itself with the oxygen that your blood vessels move to your muscle tissue and removes lactic acid on the way. Too much lactic acid will lead to muscle soreness and slower recovery. When you submerge yourself in 50 degrees of water, it causes your blood vessels to retract/tighten. This is what will get rid of the lactic acid in your muscles, and reduce swelling to promote blood flow. Then, when you stand up from the miserable bath, your muscle tissues warm up again, producing the return of the oxygen that your muscles need in order to recover.
Now that we have covered how the cold therapy works, lets look into how to apply it to our training. Ideally you should hop in the tub immediately after your workout, but I am a firm believer of stretching, so I suggest you stretch out first. Many athletic trainers suggest to have the water between 54 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. So grab a thermometer and lots of ice, and head over to your tub. Fill up the tub with cold water and ice until it is high enough to cover up to your hips while you are sitting. Keep adding ice until the temperature is between 54 and 60 degrees. Although it is called and ice bath, the ice doesn’t have to be physically present within the tub. Just as long as it is the right temperature. If it is your first time, go for the warmer temperature as your body won’t be used to the cold therapy. I also suggest wearing a hoodie and watching a movie on your phone to distract yourself from the pain and misery. You should sit and soak for 5-10 minutes. Once again, if it’s your first time, go for the shorter amount of time.
After The Bath
When your timer goes off, the first thing your going to want to do is jump into a hot shower. DON’T. This will kill the muscle recovery process and make the ice bath useless. Your body needs to gradually warm itself up, producing a steady flow of oxygen to your muscles. Don’t speed up this process.
When you stand up, you’re most likely going to feel like your legs are week and can’t balance very well. This is completely normal. Your legs became numb because your blood vessels had tightened up from the cold water. Just dry your legs off, put some pants on, and be patient. You’ll be able to walk normally in a few minutes.
Do not stretch immediately after the bath. You’re going to feel stiff and think you’re going to need to stretch out, but you shouldn’t stretch when you are cold. Just like I mentioned before, you don’t want to speed up the warming process, so don’t warm up so you can stretch. Wait about an hour, then you are good to go to warm up your muscles and begin a stretching routine.
What Do You Think About Cold Therapy?
Personally, I think ice baths are great. Granted, I would not put this over stretching if you had a muscle related injury. Based on the research that I have done, I am confident that cold therapy will greatly improve muscle recover, but I don’t have the personal experience yet. With that being said, please comment below on whether or not this is a good method for muscle recovery. If not, do you have an alternative suggestion?