Taking an ice bath has been a widespread practice for millennia. They were extremely popular among the Spartans of ancient Greece, and Hippocrates used them as a treatment for hemorrhages, fevers, and ulcers. Other civilizations, like the Israelites, and other places like Egypt, India, and Iceland, also used them for their therapeutic benefits. More recently, the United States military has been incorporating them into training regimens, and professional athletes like Michael Phelps and LeBron James swear by them.
What Exactly Is an Ice Bath?
It is a form of cold therapy involving full-body immersion in icy-cold water after a workout to reduce muscle soreness and inflammation, among other things. (This is not to be confused with cryotherapy, which gets much colder – -220°F to -280°F versus 45°F to 60°F – and uses freezing air.) Some baths will have ice cubes in them, while others (like the one at Podium Gym CrossFit) are regulated by an external device that keeps the water as cold as if it had ice in it.
The Science Behind Cold Therapy
The fundamental premise behind an ice bath is that exposure to cold aids in the mitigation of microtrauma (small rips) in muscle fibers and the resulting discomfort associated with intense or repetitive activity. According to Leada Malek, a board-certified sports clinical specialist, “researchers suspect that your perception of pain is lowered as nerve conduction velocity slowed.” In other words, your body’s method of signaling pain goes into slow motion.
How Long Should You Stay In?
If you are new to it, the recommended time frame is between 4 and 8 minutes, then work your way up as your body gets used to it. Ultimately, you want to aim for 10 to 15 minutes, with 15 minutes being the sweet spot, according to research focused on how to get the most out of cold therapy.
Is It Best to Stay in the Ice Bath as Long as Possible?
Not necessarily. You should not exceed 20 minutes because it can cause frostbite. Since blood vessels constrict and circulation decreases, long sessions are not beneficial. However, you can step out, let your body recalibrate, and jump back in for another round (or two).
How Often Should You Do It?
Regularly taking an ice bath once or twice a week is ideal.
What Should You Wear?
You can wear a long-sleeved sweater, shorts, and socks in an ice bath to help regulate your body temperature. Socks are beneficial if you are a newbie because your feet are sensitive to temperatures, and they will get cold and turn numb quickly. This discomfort can distract you from the mindfulness aspect of the experience.
Should You Stretch Before or After?
If you did not have time to stretch or jumped straight into an ice bath after practice, do some mild stretching when you get out of the bath after your body has warmed up. Ideally, however, you should stretch after your training’s cool-down session, then take an ice bath.
How Long Should You Wait Before Taking a Hot Shower Afterwards?
Let the body warm up naturally before a warm shower is advisable. A hot shower immediately after you get out of the ice bath shocks your body. However, if you still cannot get warm after several minutes, it is OK to go ahead and take a warm shower.
A cold bath is a unique and initially difficult sensation. Ice baths are physical and mental. You can take cold showers before your first plunge to prepare yourself for the experience.
Even if you do not like cold water, try the ice bath at least once. It can boost your mood because it produces endorphins, which function as an antidepressant. You might even love cold water after trying the Podium Gym CrossFit ice bath!