There is a long standing tradition of athletes of all levels taking ice baths after a serious workout, game, you name it. But does it really help to speed recovery? Here at WODCare we aim to bring you the most effective recovery methods so we took a deep dive into the current research out there on ice baths.
As with most hotly contested ideas out there, there is research supporting both sides of whether or not ice baths are beneficial to aiding recovery. These vary all the way from showing that ice baths can decrease inflammation and help ease sore muscles all the way to increasing your risk to cardiac events. In any case, more research will need to be done before a consensus is reached.
So if research doesn't shed any light on the issue where else can we look? Elite athletes. By taking a look at those athletes that are on the top of their game we can deduce whether or not there is some benefit to ice baths. If you take a look at most major sports team, whether its football, basketball, or baseball, they all utilize ice baths regularly in their training programs. This leads us to believe that ice baths may contribute to aiding in an athletes recovery. Keep in mind, these athletes are training every day for multiple hours a day and yet they are still able to keep their bodies going. Based on this evidence, we here at WODCare believe that ice baths may help in aiding in an athletes recovery.
Let's take a look at some of the potential benefits to using an ice bath.
1. Limiting the inflammatory response
In theory, using an ice bath after an intense training session will limit the inflammatory response of your body and aid in speeding recovery efforts. The science is still out on whether this is actually the case as the inflammatory response may aid the recovery process to some degree.
2. Easing sore muscles
There's no doubt that ice baths will ease sore and aching muscles in the short term. By numbing the peripheral nerve endings, you decrease your ability to feel discomfort in those aching muscles and joints.
3. Training your CNS
Similar to training our muscles by applying stress to them, our CNS can be trained as well. In theory, by applying a stressor to our CNS we train it to be able to handle that stress and push it's boundaries. This can be seen when squatting heavy which places a huge load on your CNS. The next time you squat that same amount it gets easier and easier and part of the is due to your CNS acclimating to the increased stressor.
1. Increased cardiovascular stress
The main reason that ice baths are seen as harmful is the likelihood that they increase the your bodies cardiovascular load. By using an ice bath you are constricting your blood vessels which requires your heart to work harder to pump blood throughout the body. In some cases where athletes are more prone to cardiovascular stress this can be detrimental to their health.
2. Potential peripheral nerve damage
If incorrectly using an ice bath, too cold of a temperature or too long of exposure, there is the potential for peripheral nerve damage.
Be Smart About It
Ultimately, the choice to use ice baths to aid in your recovery is your decision. While we think it might be beneficial to your recovery here are some tricks that may help your experience.
1. Start nice and easy. Don't be in the ice bath for longer than a few minutes until you know you are capable of handling the extreme temperatures.
2. Keep track of everything you can and notice trends. This is a key. Keep track of the water temperature, the length of exposure, how hard your training was, how much sleep you got, etc. The more data you can keep track of the easier it is to find trends and to see if ice baths are helping.
3. Wear socks. Our feet are the farthest part of our body from our hearts and therefore will get coldest the quickest. Show them a little love by putting on some socks before you hop in.