Taking a post-workout dip in an ice water bath is a common practice among many athletes. Known as cold water immersion – or alternatively cryotherapy – this practice is favoured among athletes to help them with their post-workout recovery as well as reduce muscle pain and soreness after intense training sessions or competitions.
As well as the ice bath, some athletes utilise and contrast water therapy (alternating between cold water and warmer water) in order to get the same effect. From elite runners to many professional rugby as well as football players, the post-workout ice bath is a common practice routine.
The notion of ice baths have been around for a while and, right now, they’re picking up steam and popularity. Although ice baths may soothe sore muscles in a post-workout recovery session, they aren’t for everyone—and could be counterproductive depending on what you want to achieve in terms of your fitness goals.
What Is The Theory Behind An Ice Bath?
The theory behind ice baths is linked to the fact that intensive exercise causes microtrauma, in other words, tiny tears in your muscle fibres. This microscopic muscle damage is really a goal of exercise as it stimulates muscle cell activity in addition to repairing the damage as well as strengthening the muscles (muscle hypertrophy). However, this microtrauma is also linked with delayed onset muscle pain and soreness (DOMS), which happens between 24 and 72 hours after exercise.
The ice bath is believed to:
- Constricting blood vessels and flush waste products, such as lactic acid, out of the affected tissues
- Decreasing metabolic activity in addition to slowing down physiological processes
- Reducing swelling as well as tissue breakdown
Then, with the process of re-warming, the increased blood flow is believed to speed up circulation, and in turn, accelerate the process of healing.
While there is no current protocol about the ideal time and temperature for cold immersion routines, most athletes or trainers who use them for post-workout recovery recommend a water temperature between 12 to 15 degrees Celsius as well as immersion times of five to 10 minutes – sometimes up to 20 minutes.
When Should You Have An Ice Bath?
At the moment, there’s no time period which has been shown to be most effective. However the sooner that you can hop in the ice after an intense workout or game, the better you’ll feel. If you work out and then wait for an hour, a lot of those healing processes are already taking place so they’ll have a different effect.
Whether the science is supportive of the ice bath theory or not, many athletes swear that an ice bath after intense training assists them with recovering faster, preventing injury, and just feeling better. You can give this a try to see if it works for you however if you decide you don’t like it, feel free to skip it the next time!
A personal trainer can advise you of the best possible ways to recover after an intense exercise. Why not become a personal trainer yourself and see what other benefits this great career path brings? Have a look at our accredited Personal Training Diploma for additional information about how you can become a personal trainer.