--Your guide to ice baths and recovery --
Ice Ice Baby?
It seems like every year or so there is a new hot way to recover after training. Stretch, don’t stretch, heat, cool, ice bath, contrast, cool down slowly, stop suddenly, use a roller, don’t use a roller… so many options, who knows? And like anything else, you can always find some ‘scientific study’ or ‘expert’ who claims to know with absolute certainty. I’ve talked to a lot of different athletes, trainers and doctors and every one has some post workout routine that they swear by, and all are usually different. The only thing I can say for certain is that everybody is different and reacts to things in a different way. As an athlete who doesn’t compete anymore, but still likes to train till I collapse, I’ve come to the conclusion that for me personally, I like it chilly.
I’ve recently become addicted to ice baths and other forms of cryotherapy after I train. I do them at night when I get home from practice and the next morning I feel much better than I would have without it (I think). I do believe it works, I can feel cold getting into my muscles and the inflammation reducing. One thing I know for certain is that is that it does help me sleep – and its cold, really cold, really really cold. Oddly enough though, it does make you feel warm once you get used to it (*cough* hypothermia).
I’ve read a lot of articles about ice baths relating to how long to be in them and whether or not they actually work. Some say no more than 10 minutes, some say at least 10 but no more than 20. Personally, I go for 10-15, longer if I haven’t done it in a while but 10 if I’m doing them consistently. I’ve noticed that if I do them any longer I’m stiff the next day and if I don’t do it for that long I don’t feel any better.
Not too many scientific studies have been done on ice baths. If you think about it, it makes sense, how can you do a double blind study with them, put someone in a bath and just tell them it’s cold? No, there is really no way to measure the placebo effect. The only thing that’s been scientifically proven is that cold therapy reduces inflammation. After working out your body and muscles are inflamed with blood flooding to repair broken down tissues, which makes the swollen and stiff. However, now we get into the debate over whether or not inflammation is bad or good and I’m not going to get into that.
Anecdotally speaking though, I can say it works for me personally. So give it a try. Fill your tub up about halfway with water and add ice. I generally use 20-30lbs of ice and that gets my tiny tub down to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Fair warning, the first few of times are absolutely miserable. Miserable. After about half a dozen sessions though you start to build up a tolerance. I get in as deep as I can, all the way up to my chin, and keep my hands out of the water, so I can read a book. It helps me focus on something other than my misery and passes the time. I always have a nice piping hot cup of coco as soon as I get out too.
First however, before you get in the ice bath, make sure you’re properly re-hydrated. At the end of the day, if you’re dehydrated and cramping, it doesn’t matter what you do, its not going to work. So grab some Rapid Rehydration, drink it down and jump on in that ice cold tub.