Ice therapy or cryotherapy is an effective method for workout recovery, injury prevention and pain relief. If you have ever had swelling or pain after exercise you have probably tried an ice wrap. An ice bath does the work of an ice wrap but with a turbo-charged boost. Here’s how.
Ice baths cover more surface
Ice wraps cover a comparatively small surface area. If you have had a particularly hard workout you may need a recovery strategy that soothes all of your large muscles. In that case a bath is the way to go. Of course the idea of slipping into chilly waters may seem anything but comforting. The key here is to get comfortable (you can wear clothes) and stay focused on what you are trying to accomplish.
How the ice bath helps
Ultra runner and physical therapist Nikki Kimball writing for Runner’s World says that the ice bath provides more deep tissue benefits than the ice pack. The cold water constricts blood vessels and reduces metabolic activity. If not exactly a fan, Kimball has been an advocate of ice baths for many years. Ice baths are more effective for flushing metabolic waste from your body than ice packs, too. As your body returns to normal temperatures your body can more efficiently recycle byproducts of the cellular breakdown to the lymph system.
Ice packs are portable
Ice baths may provide more benefits but they aren’t nearly as convenient. Although they don’t cover a lot of surface, ice packs are always on the spot. Gel or ice packs can bring immediate relief if an injury brings swelling on the court or the trail.
Ice baths shouldn’t be part of your regular recovery plan. Likely, the average workout does not warrant such drastic recovery methods. Use them only if you have had a particularly long or grueling exercise session – think marathon or triathlon training level effort. Otherwise, strategies like foam rolling, turning the shower on cold for a few seconds, ice packs and stretching can be good ways to get some muscle relief and promote recovery.
This isn’t your normal bath. You can keep on your exercise shorts and even wear a jacket. Make the bath shallow with a bag or two of ice. Stay in for 5 to 10 minutes. Aim for temperatures somewhere between 50 and 60 degrees. Start warmer and add ice as your body adjusts. If you begin to feel extremely uncomfortable you can step out for a few seconds every minute or try a hot drink as you soak.