Drinking ice water sounds appealing after a long run, but immersing yourself in a tub full of ice water might send you running to the hills. A faster recovery and injury prevention are the benefits of ice baths, but you may cringe at the thought of dipping your toes in frigid water. Knowing the benefits of ice baths and how to ease yourself into the cold temperatures can help you in the decision to take a dip or not.
How It Works
An ice bath can work in a whirlpool (used in athletic training rooms), an inflatable tub or even your home bathtub. Fill the tub with enough ice and cold water to immerse your body up to the waist. Check the temperature of the ice bath before stepping in. The recommended water temperature is between 54 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, but start with a higher temperature, such as 64 degrees, and work your way down to 60 degrees if you have an aversion to cold baths. Wrap your upper body with a thick towel to take the chill off.
Length of Ice Bath
Depending on the temperature of the bath, try to stay in it for approximately 15 minutes. If you are new to ice baths, don't torture yourself; six to eight minutes should be sufficient. If you can stand it, increase the time that you stay in your ice baths by two minutes each time you take a dip.
Ice baths, both before and after workouts, probably improve recovery. Before an intense workout, they may improve next-day training ability, allow optimum fuel recovery and improved muscle activation. There are psychological benefits, including better relaxation and feelings of well-being. After workouts, you’ll see a reduction in inflammation and improved blood circulation to aid in the removal of waste products from the muscles, as well as reduced delayed onset muscle soreness.
Research on ice baths is scanty. According to "The Sport Digest," incorporating an ice bath into your workout routine is better than doing nothing. It’s also equal to other sore muscle remedies, such as stretching or compression socks. The benefits of ice baths seem to be related to the mechanical damage that occurs to the body’s muscle fibers during intense exercise: The muscle fibers tear microscopically and then heal themselves. Ice baths can help to reduce inflammation in the muscle fibers and the pain associated with the fiber tears.
The effects of ice baths before and after intense workouts have not been well studied, and long-term effects are not clear, according to "The Sport Digest." Ice baths can affect blood vessels, the respiratory system and the heart, and your body’s shock at being immersed in cold water should not be underestimated. USA Swimming states that ice baths should only be used under the supervision of a qualified trainer. If you have any health concerns, consult your health-care practitioner before incorporating ice baths into your workout routine.
Danielle Clark has been a writer since 2009, specializing in environmental and health and fitness topics. She has contributed to magazines and several online publications. Clark holds a Bachelor of Science in ecology and environmental science.