Mythic as it may sound, ice baths have caught on not only among elite athletes but also with most serious runners who are interested in preventing injuries.
But why not simple ice packs? When an individual removes an ice pack after the typical 20-minute application, temperatures within the muscles increase instantly. However, this is not so with ice baths. Ice packs may suffice for surface-level pain, but for deep lasting treatment ice baths prevail.
Ice baths offer two distinct improvements over traditional techniques. First, immersion allows controlled, even constriction around all muscles, effectively closing microscopic damage that cannot be felt and numbing the pain that can. You may step into the tub to relieve sore calves, but your quads, hams, and connective tissues from hips to toes will gain the same benefits, making cryo-hydrotherapy an attractive preventive regimen.
The second advantage involves a physiological reaction provoked by the large amount of muscle submerged. Assuming you have overcome the mind’s initial flight response in those first torturous minutes, the body fights back by invoking a “blood rush.” This rapid transmission circulation flushes the damage-inflicting waste from your system, while the cold water on the outside preserves contraction. Like an oil change, the blood rush revitalizes the very areas that demand fresh nutrients.
Feeling intrigued? Here’s how you should perform your own ice bath.
Modern research points to 12–15º C or 54–60º F as the ideal ice bath temperature range; remember that the temperature will rise steadily with your body heat. Significantly colder baths offer no additional perks and can actually perpetrate cold-induced muscle damage or spontaneous fainting—a good reason to have a friend watch your back while sharing in the misery.
Once you feel the blood rush around the six-minute mark, stay in for a couple more minutes, but don’t overdo it. Muscles and tissues can tense up with too much cold, and to avoid tightness you should take a warm shower 30 to 60 minutes later.
Though ice immersion may seem fantastic from afar, the superior recovery from your toughest days will find you burning a path back to your bath sooner than you think.
Hit the ice baths before the ibuprofen. Pain relievers can disguise injury, ice baths treat both injury and soreness. The next time you’re nursing an injury…just chill out!
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