The benefits of taking ice baths are well known in the athletic community. Ice baths or packs can help reduce inflammation, improve circulation, assist in the removal of waste products from muscles, and reduce muscle soreness.
Exposure to cold is said to combat the small tears in muscle fibres and soreness resulting from repetitive or intense exercise. By exposing the body to cold water (from 10-15 degrees Celsius), the blood vessels constrict, waste products such as lactic acids are flushed outside of muscle tissue, and swelling and tissue breakdown is reduced. As the body naturally warms back up, blood flow increases, giving the muscular repair process a head start.
Before introducing ice baths as a means of muscle recovery, consider the following guidelines.
When introducing ice baths to your recovery routine, ease into it. The recommended temperature for ice baths is 10-15 degrees Celsius. Consider starting at the higher end of the spectrum, and drop the temperature gradually after each exposure.
Remember that everyone has their own comfort zone when it comes to temperature, and it’s fine if you never get down to 10-degree baths. In fact, even temperatures higher than 15 degrees helps. Temperatures of up to 22 degrees can still help in facilitating blood flow to muscles and alleviating swelling.
Being exposed to cold temperatures for too long can be dangerous. When starting out with ice baths, the recommended duration is between 6 and ten minutes. Do not exceed ten minutes if unsupervised or new to ice baths.
Allowing the body to warm naturally after cooling is essential. After an ice bath, do not immediately rush to a warm shower. Consider using blankets, sweatshirts or even a warm beverage to help warm you up. If you still aren’t feeling warm after several minutes, you can then take a warm shower.
Ice baths are most beneficial within 48 hours after training, and are most effective after intense sessions. They should not be used by the average gym goer.
Before adding ice baths into your recovery regime, speak to your personal trainer or GP to discuss whether it’s the right method for your body and exercise goals.