What are the Benefits of Ice Baths?
From footballers to runners, the ice bath has become one of the most frequently used forms of recovery used by athletes today.
We have all seen the pictures of rugby players jumping into ice baths after a match.
We have seen the pictures of Craig Mottram.
And other elite athletes immersing themselves in the icy waters of Falls Creek after a hard training session.
For those that have been brave enough to immerse themselves in an ice bath for 10-15 mins.
They will no doubt tell you how much better they feel afterward. How much better they feel going into their next training session.
Ice Baths benefits
When an athlete jumps into an ice bath and remains there for up to 10-15 mins, the cold water causes their blood vessels to tighten and constrict, draining blood from their legs. In addition, blood is drained from their legs of the waste products produced during the training session, primarily lactic acid drain.
When the athlete finishes with the ice bath, their legs will then fill up with ‘new’ blood carrying more excellent oxygen—helping the cells and muscles in the body to regenerate and function better.
Are Ice Baths Good for You?
Ice Baths in Training
Some simple ways in which athletes can incorporate this into their training. Either fill up a large garbage bin or auto-bin with cold water. And then add a packet of ice (easily bought from a service station or 7/11). Next, immerse their legs for 10-15 mins.
Alternatively, if the athlete has access to a bath at home, they can run the bath with cold water and then fill it with ice to achieve the same effect. It is important to note that an athlete should not stay in an ice bath for more than 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, the body cells begin to vasodilate instead of vasoconstrict, which increases inflammatory reactions.
If the athlete has any form of soft tissue injury, any increase in inflammation of the area will prolong healing time.
What are the benefits of ice bathing for runners?
As researched, ice baths help speed up the recovery process by reducing inflammation and assisting close-up micro-tears in muscles. The microtears in your strengths make you feel “sore” the day after some muscle strain, such as after a hard workout.
As an athlete, I rarely ice bath unless it’s within two days of completion and an important one. This is because it helps eliminate the soreness and closes those microtears, making more muscle usable.
The better able I am to use my muscles, the better I perform.
I rarely ice bath unless it is this case (did I say that already?).
If I were to ice bath every day after a run or workout, it prevents me from utilizing my training and making the largest gains over time. It stops or slows our body’s way of making itself better by closing up those microtears.
When those microtears are healed back up, the muscle is that much stronger than it was before. I want to be able to utilize that process. But in a temporary situation, where I want to perform well in a couple of days, I ice bath. It depends on the problem, short-term or long-term.
As far as research goes, it is a relatively unresearched topic, and samples are small. So hard research will have several different viewpoints and stances.
How do Ice Baths Work?
Is it beneficial or harmful to have an ice bath after doing gym exercise?
First, let’s keep this in mind. Exercise itself is not good for your body. At all. The body’s response to the stress caused by exercise is extremely beneficial and outweighs the stress itself.
The benefits your body receives from exercise (considering the gains in muscle mass or endurance) respond to the stress received during a workout. Your body kind of says to itself:
‘Oh, I’m facing some stress; let me make some changes to the physiology that will ensure that I am better equipped to handle this stress in the future.’
The response includes making you stronger than your gym program aims to increase.
For your body to receive these benefits, it MUST experience stress. With regards to exercise, these stressors are largely inflammatory. It takes about an hour after the workout for all the beneficial responses to start showing themselves.
Keep these points in mind.
Now, like working out, cryotherapy of any sort (there isn’t any research about a bath in particular, but it’s similar to ice water immersion, so I’m going to use immersion) is not good for your body either, it’s extremely stressful, but the benefits of the body’s response outweighs the direct effects of the stress.
The cold itself is a hormetic stressor (something that is extremely beneficial to your body but in limited quantities, beyond which it is toxic/harmful) responsible for activating a whole host of anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant pathways. Its benefits specifically include:
- anti-inflammatory responses (through inhibition of TNF-α)
- anti-oxidative responses (through the expression of glutathione peroxidase and glutathione reductase)
- a massive increase in norepinephrine production
We are interested in the anti-inflammatory responses here.
Your body requires the effects of inflammatory stress caused by working out to remain for about an hour to experience exercise benefits. If you go for cold water immersion during this one-hour period, which has anti-inflammatory effects, you will effectively blunt the body’s response to the workout (inflammation) and thereby not get the full benefits from the workout that you could have otherwise. As mentioned above, the inflammation must be present for about an hour to experience the workout’s benefits.
Going for an ice-water immersion one hour after your workout ensures that your body
- responds to the inflammation caused by the stress of a workout
- gains the anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, norepinephrine response to the stress of cryotherapy
How cold should an ice bath be?
Much of your ice bath temp depends on the type of ice you use. If you use really high-grade ice, the freezing stuff, your water temperature will be cold enough to deserve the name ice water.
But if you use a lesser grade of ice, the stuff that is a bit warmer, you are stuck with ice water.
If you are on a budget, though, and you get the ice out of your freezer, then your ice bath will be relegated to just being filled with ice water. It is this temperature variation when you add ice to water that makes your question so sensible.
How painful are ice baths? Are they worth the benefits?
Making an ice bath is straightforward, but there are some precautions to consider before taking the plunge.
Anyone sensitive to cold, heart problems, or breathing problems should not take an ice bath.
If you’re unsure or hesitant about your health history, consult your doctor first.
I don’t need to tell you that your first ice bath will be a somewhat unpleasant experience.
Just remember that the discomfort is temporary, and you may be saving yourself some soreness and possibly even an injury.
Is there any evidence to support ice baths as a means of recovery from strenuous exercise?
Bodybuilding workouts (hypertrophy workouts) cause microtears in the muscle, which need to be repaired for the tissue to grow bigger and stronger.
Thus, there is increased cellular activity to cause repair. Hypertrophy workouts can also cause Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), which peaks 24–72 hours. However, there are many causes of DOMS like microtears, increased lactic acid accumulation, prolonged muscle spasms, connective tissue damage, or a combination of these resulting in DOMS.
Ice is applied on a body part to cause vasoconstriction for either reducing swelling if there is some or for minimizing, if not stopping, the blood flow to that area. Ice bath does this to the whole body. It flushes the waste products (like lactic acid) out and can be useful to avoid DOMS. It also prevents tissue breakdown by slowing the metabolism and, thus, the physiological processes.
When you get done with an ice bath (or ice-cold water immersion therapy), there is an increased blood flow in the whole body, thus accelerating the recovery process by providing nutrients to muscle cells. Also, there is an increased cardiac output, stroke volume, and other cardiovascular benefits.
I believe there must be negative effects of ice bath as well, as there are two sides of a coin, which I would recommend reading through research papers on PubMed.
P.S. I haven’t tried an ice bath at all. Considering the science behind it, if I were to recommend it to someone, I would do so only if they have done a really high-intensity hypertrophy workout to reap the benefits from it; otherwise, I won’t suggest it.
Look up cryotherapy in sports with google scholar, not exactly ice baths, but similar. This article is from 2004:
and it concludes that there may be a positive benefit but that most studies are inadequate.
You might also be interested in:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contrast_shower.
“It is also used as a method for recovery after strenuous exercise.”
Of course, this is Wikipedia, so you may want to read the references. But anecdotal evidence from weight lifters suggests that contrast showers help alleviate soreness.
Is ice bathing an effective way of putting my body through stress to help build muscle in the gym?
Muscle grows during periods of rest, not while working out.
Stress to the body, such as extreme temperature changes, has never been proven to contribute to hypertrophy or muscle growth.
After a workout, I would consider a cold shower much more beneficial to one’s feeling of well-being and definitely less painful.
If you have shin splints, ice bathing the lower legs can help with that particular issue.
Ice bathing likely involves effects on naturally released endorphins, but endorphins don’t affect muscle growth. Although endorphins make people feel great, they are more of a secondary result of working out, exerting, or enduring significant work like distance running or other endurance exercises.
Sensational Ice Massage Faster Recovery
What is Ice Massage?
Article By: Stephen H. Hochschuler, MD from spine-health.com
A simple ice massage is a more effective, proven method to treat a sore lower back or neck in a sophisticated medical care world.
Ice massage is effective when used either alone or in combination with other treatments.
Ice massage is one effective form of recovery.
For patients experiencing back pain, ice massage therapy is quick, free, easy to do.
Ice massage can provide significant relief for many types of back pain, and ice massage is especially effective for a sore back caused by a lower back muscle strain.
Ice massages Therapy can help provide relief for back pain in several ways:
- Ice Massage application slows the inflammation and swelling that occurs after injury. Some inflammation accompanies most back pain, and addressing the inflammation helps reduce the pain Ice numbs sore tissues (providing pain relief similar to a local anesthetic)
- Ice Massage application slows the nerve impulses in the area, interrupting the pain-spasm reaction between the nerves. Icing decreases tissue damage.
- The Ice massage adds the beneficial effects of gentle manipulation of the soft tissues.
Ice massage therapy is most effective if applied as soon as possible after the injury occurs, usually within 24 to 48 hours.
- The cold makes the veins in the tissues contract, reducing circulation. Removing the cold, the veins are overcompensating, dilating blood rushing into the area.
- The blood infusion in the area brings the necessary nutrients to help the injured back muscles, ligaments, and tendons heal.
To read the full article on Ice Massage, please click here.
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Andrew was elected Vice President of the Association of Track and Field Statisticians in 2020 after being a member for 7 years.
He has worked as a PSC Consultant and Research Assistant from 2013-2015, Consultant, and Sprint Coach at Zamboanga Sports Academy from 2015-2017.
Current editor and chief of Pinoyathletics.info, and has recently done consultancy work for Ayala Corp evaluating the Track and Field Program.
Coaches Sprints, Middle and Jump events he is working towards his Level 3 Athletics Australia Coaching Certification in Sprints and Hurdles.
He can be contacted on [email protected]
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