To Ice bath or not to Ice bath?
– by Gail Cameron
With marathon season in full swing we thought it would be interesting to write a little blog about the benefits of the dreaded ice bath.
Now although it might seem like a much more enjoyable prospect to jump into a nice hot bath for a relaxing soak after your long training run, science actually suggests that the opposite is probably more beneficial for you.
Why oh why, I hear you cry?!?!
Well quite simply, after a long hard run the impact and stress on the muscles and joints causes inflammation. This inflammation is technically not a bad thing and is actually essential to promote the cellular repair needed to create muscle change and strengthening. However, it can also be accompanied by swelling, redness and pain and that’s why a nice hot, relaxing bath is not the best option.
Soaking in warm water will only accentuate any swelling as heat dilates your blood vessels and increases the circulation to your muscles and joints. This can unfortunately leave you feeling more stiff the next day.
An ice bath however will constrict the blood vessels and therefore reduce swelling and the inflammatory response. Subsequently as the tissue warms after your cold soak, the increased blood flow helps to flush out waste products from the muscles and reduce stiffness the next day.
Now there is a fair amount of debate about when ice baths should and shouldn’t be used to ensure that they do not interfere with your training gains. Essentially, they should be used sparingly during the training blocks when you are trying to get the biggest gains as limiting the inflammatory response can reduce muscle adaptation. However, they are perfect in the later stages of training and taper phases to reduce stiffness/pain, improve recovery and generally freshen up your legs.
So, how do you take an ice bath?
Firstly fill the bath with cold water, just so your hips and legs are submerged. Get in and adjust to the temperature for a minute or so, then add some ice to bring the temperature down and stay in there for up to 10mins.
For anyone that is particularly sensitive to cold, don’t worry you can get a similar effect running a cold shower over your legs.
And lastly, those of you that are devastated to hear that an ice bath is better than a long hot soak straight after your run, please don’t despair. Hot baths are also great to help loosen up muscles that are already tight, just not immediately after exercise. We like to add some epsom salts to a hot bath for added effect too.
16th April 2019