If you’ve ever seen an athlete plunge themselves into a freezing cold ice bath, there’s a method to the madness. Ice baths, also called cold water immersion, are said to improve muscle recovery and hence, improve performance.
In this article, we’ll talk about why ice baths are effective for muscle recovery, how to make one and some extra tips that can help you along the way.
Why ice baths are effective
Ice baths are based on the theory that exercise causes tears in your muscle fibers. These tears are what you need to achieve for the muscles to then repair and grow back bigger and stronger. However, muscle fiber tears can also cause DOMS, delayed onset muscle soreness.
Subsequently, ice baths are used to help with muscle recovery and relief. An ice bath:
- Constricts blood vessels
- Flushes waste products such as lactic acid out of the affected tissue.
- Minimizes swelling and tissue breakdown
It also cools down your body temperature, bringing it down from your workout.
How to make an ice bath
To make an ice bath, follow these steps:
- Fill a tub halfway with cold water. Then, add between one to three bags of ice, the equivalent to 50 to 100 pounds of ice. The water temperature should sit at around 50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 to 15 degrees Celsius. Adjust the temperature according to what you can tolerate by slowly adding in the ice before you reach your desired level.
- Set an alarm for however long you plan on staying in the bath. However, don’t stay longer than fifteen minutes.
- Slowly enter the ice bath, submerging the lower half of your body first. Make sure you ease in slowly so as to not shock your body. To manage the cold, take deep breaths as you do so.
- Meditating is recommended as you sit in the ice bath. This can help keep your mind distracted and calm. The first couple of minutes will be the hardest as your body needs to adjust to the cold temperature. However, your body will start to become numb which can make it easier to cope.
- Once your alarm goes off, get out of the ice bath slowly. Take off your wet clothes and dry yourself with a warm towel and put on your clean clothes. Don’t immediately get into the shower after an ice bath though; you want to gradually and naturally warm up.
Ice bath tips
Here are some extra tips for your ice bath:
Take cold showers
When it comes to an ice bath, preparation is key. It can take quite a lot of mental strength to withstand the cold, but once you do, you can reap all the benefits it has to offer. For beginners who’ve never had an ice bath before, it may be ideal to prepare yourself by taking cold showers in the few days leading up to it.
Wear a long sleeve top and some shorts as you do your ice bath. This can help take the edge off and regulate your body temperature. You could also drink a warm beverage to prevent your body temperature from dropping too low.
Ease into it
Don’t try to go for the full fifteen minutes in the ice bath for your first few times. Instead, aim for three minutes at first and then slowly increase the time spent in there each time you do it. However, you don’t have to stay for the full fifteen minutes to reap the benefits. Only stay in the ice bath for as long as you can reasonably tolerate the cold—everyone is different.
Ice bath health risks
There are potential health risks that come with having ice baths. These include:
If you have a heart disease or high blood pressure, then it’s best to avoid ice baths. This is because ice baths slow down your heart beat which increases the likelihood of a cardiac arrest.
Hypothermia is when your body can’t produce heat fast enough to compensate for the heat it’s lost, causing a very low core temperature. It’s when your body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit or 35 degrees Celsius.
Hypothermia is caused by long exposures to cold temperatures, which is why you shouldn’t stay in the ice bath for longer than you can tolerate, and no longer than 15 minutes altogether. Signs to look out or include slurred speech, confusion and memory loss.