There has been a lot of discussion about ice baths in recent years, with the post-workout treatment gaining popularity with sportspeople in a variety of disciplines. While they may not sound appealing to everyone, they do have some great potential benefits. Below we explain all you need to know about ice baths so you can decide if they are the right options for you.
What is an ice bath?
An ice bath is used when an athlete submerges themselves into chilly water for a period of time post workout. The recommended temperature for an ice bath is between 50 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Also known as cold water immersion, you sit in the water up to your chest and slowly acclimatise to the lower temperature. It usually take around 5-10 minutes to adjust to the initial shock to system, with the individual becoming more resilient if taken on a regular basis.
How does an ice bath work?
By submerging yourself in colder water it alters the way blood and other fluids move around your body. This is because the blood vessels constrict in the water before opening up again when you leave, which helps the body to flush away metabolic waste. This can be very beneficial for lymph, the fluid and white blood cells found in your intestines. With better blood flow and more oxygen and nutrients heading towards your cells it also helps athletes recover much faster.
How long should you take an ice bath for?
It is recommended that you spend no longer than 15 minutes inside an ice bath. Studies have been conducted to show that athletes enjoyed the most benefits when submerged for 10 to 15 minutes at temperatures ranging between 50 to 59 °F. To ensure the bath is at the right temperature, use a thermometer to check the water. You can choose to cover only your legs and arms, but athletes will see more benefit from submerging their entire body to allow more bloody vessels to contract.
Are there any risks involved?
There are some potential risks involved with taking an ice bath and you should be aware of these before taking one. The cold water could possibly lead to hypothermia if submerged for too long, so be sure to only stay in the ice bath no longer than 10-15 minutes.
Anyone with a history of cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure should seek medical advice before taking an ice bath. With the flow of blood slowed around the body, the risk of experiencing a cardia arrest or stroke is also increased.
What are the benefits of an ice bath?
Improved sports performance
Ice baths are used to help you recover faster, which can reduce fatigue levels and maintain higher levels of performance on a more consistent basis. An ice bath will also have a positive effect on the central nervous system, which will help you recover faster and feel more refreshed before starting another workout. As a result, this could increase your explosiveness and reaction time when you are next working out.
While ice baths are generally viewed as a helpful recovery tool, they can also be used to prepare for an endurance-based activity. Taking an ice bath before a long run on a hot and humid day will lower
the core body temperature by a couple of degrees. Heat and humidity has been shown to negatively affect performance levels, and taking an ice bath can help negate this.
Reduces muscle inflammation
Due to the strain put onto your muscles during a workout they will become hot and inflamed by the time you have finished. Rest is needed to fully recover and being able to reduce muscle inflammation plays a big role in being able to return your body back to its normal state.
Studies have been conducted that compared different types of recovery methods, measuring things like ice baths, massage and contrast therapy (warm and cold baths) and how effective they were at managing muscle damage, fatigue and inflammation. One in particular found that ice baths were on of the best ways to lower inflammation, with massages great for dealing with fatigue and muscle soreness.
Reduce stress and anxiety
When you step into an ice bath the best way to remain in control for the 10-15 minute period is to control your breathing. This allows you to centre your mind and only focus on the task at hand, taking away any stress and anxiety you may be feeling. At the same time it increases your ability to deal with anxiety-drive situations as you acclimatise to the sudden change in temperature.
Of course, an ice bath is not a long-term solution or replacement for dealing with serious depression or other forms of mental illnesses. However, it can help you become more resilient and deal with difficult situations with a new approach, especially if you take them regularly.
Strengthens immune systems
According to some studies, taking an ice bath can have a positive effect on the immune system. This is because exposure to cold water will increase the number of white cells present in the body. They play a vital role in fortifying the immune system as they are able to fight off germs, viruses and pathogens that try to spread within your system.
It has also been found that the metabolism can increase as a result of taking regular ice cold baths. Brown fat is encouraged to convert into energy at a faster rate to combat the lower temperature, potentially lowering the chances of putting on excess weight.
Relax and sleep more easily
As we mentioned in the first benefit above, taking an ice bath has a direct effect on the central nervous system, which enables you to relax much more easily. This is beneficial when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep – an essential part of any athlete’s daily routine in order to get the most of their body.
With lower levels of cortisol in the body (a steroid hormone), this should also help improve your general mood so you have a positive mind set ahead of your next workout. It’s these sort of small changes that can have a big impact on how you feel mentally before exercise, so you can focus on performance and nothing else.