An ice-cold bath may sound painful, but some believe it is one of the easiest and fastest ways to relieve post-workout pain.
"Ice baths have been around for a while, and they are gaining in popularity and popularity," says Nick Clayton, C.S.C.S., program manager of the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Although ice baths can relieve sore muscles, they are not for everyone – and can be counterproductive depending on your fitness goals.
What is an ice bath?
Ice bath, also called cold dipping, is a form of cryotherapy that requires 1
"The first time you get in, it takes your breath away. It's an experience, but after 5 to 10 minutes it will be easier, especially if you breathe and relax, "says Clayton. "The first few times it is very uncomfortable and painful, but you build up a tolerance."
Mike Reinold, DPT, CSCS, a physical therapist and former sports director for the Boston Red Sox, recommends this method to all athletes.
"Ice baths help people to move and feel better, which can help them recover," he says.
How do ice baths work?
Ice baths reduce inflammation and improve recovery by changing the way blood and other fluids flow through your body. When you sit in cold water, your blood vessels narrow (or reopen) when you get out. This process helps eliminate metabolic waste after exercise, says Clayton. This is especially true for lymph, a clear fluid of white blood cells and fluid from your gut, he explains.
While your heart is constantly moving blood in your body, your lymph nodes have no pump. Ice baths constrict and open the vessels manually, causing stagnant fluids in your lymph nodes to move throughout the body. Increased blood flow also floods your cells with nutrients and oxygen to theoretically recover your body, adds Clayton.
In addition, Reinold and Clayton believe that ice baths prepare you for other difficult conditions.
"From a spiritual point of view, you challenge your body by exposing yourself to various stresses and stimuli that will make you more resilient and prepare you for different challenges in the future," says Clayton.
What is Contrast Therapy?
Contrast water therapy is an alternative to cryotherapy, which alternates between cold and warm water baths. Research suggests that it is as effective as an ice bath for temporary pain relief.
"We do a lot of contrast because people like it," says Reinold. "When you're in an ice bath and jumping into a hot tub, your whole life is up. The body tingles for 30 seconds, and you feel that you're getting something out of it. "
Do ice baths reduce inflammation?
Some research suggests that ice baths can reduce post-workout pain. They examined the effectiveness of various recovery methods – including contrast water therapy, massages, and ice baths – in reducing muscle retardation pain, perceived fatigue, muscle damage, and inflammation after physical exertion. It turned out that ice baths and massages relieve inflammation the most. In addition, massages were best suited to reduce muscle soreness and fatigue.
Clayton notes that research on ice baths is mixed. A small 2017 study found that ice baths were no more effective than active recovery to reduce inflammation and recovery times. A review of 17 studies from 2012 found that ice baths were no more effective than active regeneration to reduce muscle soreness.
In addition, ice baths can hinder muscle growth, says Clayton. A few small studies from 2015 have shown that men who used cold water therapy for active recovery had lower long-term muscle gains.
"The damage after a workout signals the body to build up this area more. If you remove this signal, you have no growth impulse, "says Clayton. "Even reducing inflammation may not have a positive effect on your training."
Can ice baths improve athletic performance?
Ice baths after the game will not make you a better athlete. "If you work out and jump in an ice bath, your performance will not be better the next day," says Clayton. "They will feel better, but they will perceive more than anything else."
Ice baths have a positive effect on the central nervous system, helping you to sleep and feel better. This, in turn, can improve response time and explosiveness in future workouts.
One caveat: ice baths can improve performance if you train a before on a hot and humid day.
"Driving a cross country race in Florida has shown that pre-race icing can reduce the effects of heat and humidity and improve your performance," says Clayton.
Just hop in an ice bucket for about 20 minutes before a race or game to lower your body temperature a few degrees.