The thought of an ice bath alone is enough to make one’s balls retract right up, but some believe it’s one of the easiest, quickest ways to soothe post-workout pains.
We’ve heard of foam rolling, a sauna or steam room or a massage, but ice baths are fast becoming a popular way to “cool down” after a workout (literally).
Known also as cold water immersion (CWI), ice baths are a form of cryotherapy that call for sitting in chilly water, ideally up to your chest, for 10 to 15 minutes (hello fripples). There’s no need to get into actual freezing water to get the full benefit – anywhere between 10-15° works. Just be warned that it’s not a fun time. Our advice – GET IN FAST.
The first time will be difficult, but after 5-10 minutes, your body adapts and it gets much easier. The more you do it, the more you’ll build up a tolerance.
How do ice baths work?
When you are exposed to cold water, your blood vessels constrict and get smaller. And when you get out of the water, the change in temperature causes them to rapidly re-open, which can help to flush the muscles’ metabolic waste products. This can help to deliver much-needed oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, which should help them recover quicker.
While many professional athletes, bodybuilders, and physical fitness aficionados support ice baths as an effective recovery tool, the jury of experts is still out on whether this is an effective post-workout ritual.
A recent study suggested that the previous ideas about ice bath benefits for athletes is flawed, and that there’s no benefit to sore muscles.
While the study argues that an active recovery — such as 10 minutes of low-intensity exercise on a stationary bike — is just as good for recovery an ice bath, experts in the field still believe in using ice baths.
“The study does not prove 100 percent that there are no benefits to ice baths,” says Dr. A. Brion Gardner, an orthopaedic surgeon. “It suggests that the previously believed benefits of faster recovery, reduction of muscle and tissue damage, and improved function aren’t necessarily true.”
It’s important to note the sample size of this study – the study consisted of 9 young men between the ages of 19 and 24 who were doing resistance training two to three days a week. More research and larger studies are necessary to debunk the benefits of ice baths.
If you’re considering trying an ice bath, you might be wondering what the potential benefits are, and if it’s worth subjecting your body to the extreme cold.
The good news is there are some potential benefits of using an ice bath, especially for people who work out or are competitive athletes.
- Prevent Muscle Soreness – Plunging into an ice bath after intense exercise can reduce the onset of delayed muscle soreness compared to basic rest. This is thought to occur by decreasing inflammation to help you recover faster.
- Help Cool Your Body Down – Captain obvious here – It will help your body cool down fast! One study published in the Journal of Athletic Training found that taking a cold shower (very similar to an ice bath) can help relieve exertional hyperthermia. At the same time, full immersion therapy was even more effective in reducing high body temperature.
- Boost Your Mental Health – Ice baths also offer potential mental health benefits. Over time, many people will build up a tolerance and find it an important part of their recovery process. This resilience and adaptation have obvious applications elsewhere in exercise, sport, and life. There is also some scientific evidence that even taking two cold showers a day can help improve depressive symptoms.
- Improve Your Sleep – Dan Bowen, NPTI, NASM personal trainer, explains that ice baths may help improve your sleep. The cold water can have a positive effect on the central nervous system, “which helps you sleep and feel better after spending ten to fifteen minutes in it,” he says.
- Boost Your Immunity – There is some scientific evidence that ice baths work as an immunity booster. One 2016 study published in the journal PLoS One found that people who take cold showers are almost 30 percent less likely to call in sick for work or school.
At the end of the day, there are plenty of pros and cons to ice baths. The research questioning the benefits of ice baths is limited.
If you choose to use ice baths as a form of recovery after an athletic event or intense training session, make sure to follow the recommended guidelines, especially time and temperature.
This blog is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your medical practitioner.