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Dive into the Chills:
The Science of Ice Baths

July 8th, 2023/Next Level AMS

Have you ever wondered what it means to take the plunge into frigid waters and how this chilling practice can aid athletic performance and recovery? Let’s unfreeze the mysteries of ice baths and discover the potential benefits of this cold exposure therapy.

No, we aren’t referring to lazy Sundays or the mornings where you repeatedly hammer the snooze button to enjoy a few more moments of restful slumber. We’re addressing the crucial recovery period your body requires between sessions of targeting the same muscle set. This is more vital than you may realize.

Rest days are a fundamental component of a balanced exercise regime. Your body approximately needs a 48-hour break to recuperate between workouts that engage the same muscle groups. However, this doesn’t imply you must abstain from exercise — you can maintain a daily routine, simply focus on different body parts.

Decoding Ice Baths

Ice baths, also known as cold water immersion or cryotherapy, have long been employed as a recovery tool in the athletic world. This technique entails submerging substantial parts of your body, usually your lower limbs, in an icy bath for around 10-15 minutes. The bath typically maintains a temperature ranging between 50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 15 degrees Celsius). Subjecting your body to this cold stress forces it into a form of “survival mode”, working tirelessly to uphold its core temperature.

The Power of Cold Exposure

Ice baths serve the function of promoting vasoconstriction – a narrowing of the blood vessels. This process is beneficial in mitigating inflammation, minimizing tissue damage, and numbing pain receptors. Moreover, it assists in flushing out waste products and metabolic by-products that accumulate during strenuous exercise. The soothing sensation from the cold water can also produce a psychological benefit, fostering a calming effect and reducing muscle soreness.

Ice Baths in Practice

The use of ice baths is widely seen in sports therapy and training regimens, especially in endurance sports like long-distance running or cycling, where muscle damage and inflammation are common occurrences. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that ice baths remain a subject of debate. Some research suggests alternative recovery methods, such as active recovery or contrast water therapy (alternating between hot and cold water), might provide equal or superior results.

Case Study: A Deeper Dive

In her article, Dr. Fatimah Latee presents two cases where athletes experienced delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after using ice bath therapy, emphasizing the significance of individual variation and potential risks linked to extreme temperature exposure. Although ice water immersion and contrast temperature therapy are known for their effectiveness in reducing DOMS, one should also consider the duration and intensity of exposure, along with personal factors such as cold sensitivity or any underlying medical conditions.

Given the absence of large-scale trials and consistent evidence supporting these therapies’ routine use, it’s essential to approach them with caution. Athletes are advised to consult healthcare professionals, sports therapists, or trainers who can provide personalized advice based on their specific needs and circumstances.

As a rule of thumb, we recommend weighing the potential benefits and risks of any recovery technique and considering alternatives better suited to the individual or sport. Methods like active recovery, stretching, foam rolling, and other evidence-based strategies should be incorporated into a comprehensive post-exercise recovery plan, especially for beginners.

What’s Next?

Looking to dive deeper into the benefits of cold exposure?
Stay tuned for expert insights from Guy Shpak in our June 8 monthly newsletter where we’ll chill out and explore more about this cool topic!

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