Today, we’re going to dive into a fascinating question: Should you take a refreshing cold plunge before or after workout to help your body recover?
Imagine stepping into a serene pool of icy water, feeling the anticipation tingle through your body. But when is the best time to take the plunge? As fitness enthusiasts, we’re always seeking effective strategies for peak performance. In this article, we’ll unravel the mystery and reveal the truth behind the timing of cold plunges.
So, get ready for an exhilarating exploration into the world of fitness recovery. Are you ready to take the plunge? Let’s dive in!
How do ice baths after workouts function?
Ice baths are one of the athletes’ most popular recovery methods because they help speed muscle repair and relieve pain. They’re also great for anyone looking to boost energy, increase range of motion, and decrease soreness. But how does it work?
The short answer is simple: Cold temperatures slow down the movement of blood and lymphatic fluids within your body. Your muscles contract when they’re hot and relax when they cool off. So when you take a cold shower, your skin contracts and pulls tight against your underlying tissues. As a result, blood rushes into your extremities and expands the capillaries, increasing circulation and oxygen delivery.
If you’ve ever had a sunburn, you probably noticed that your skin turns red and swollen. But it doesn’t stop there. Lymphatic tissue — those little sacks of lymphocytes and fluid that collect waste products and toxins from your organs — sits under your skin. When your skin shrinks, it forces lymphatic tissue toward the surface.
This is why taking an ice bath works. It reduces swelling, helping lymphatic fluid move to the surface where it drains. And since ice baths are typically done in a tub full of ice, your body temperature drops even further, causing your core temperature to drop too.
What is an ice bath?
Ice baths aren’t just for professional athletes anymore. They’re becoming a popular way to treat sore muscles and joints throughout the body for everybody who takes sports somewhat seriously. But what exactly is an ice bath? And how does it work? Let’s take a look.
According to Dr. Michael J. Clayton, Ph.D., director of sports medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, “Cold therapy is one of our oldest forms of treatment,” he explains.
“We’ve been doing it since ancient Greece.” He continues, “They used ice packs wrapped around the wrists and ankles and put people in cold rooms. We use cold therapy in many ways, including ice baths.”
Clayton explains three types of cold therapies: hot/cold application, cold compression, and cold immersion. Hot/cold applications include rubbing alcohol on painful areas, while cold compression involves putting a frozen gel pack on the spot. Cold immersion is where someone sits in a tub filled with ice.
But why ice baths? When you apply heat to something, you increase blood flow to that area. When you cool down that same area, you decrease circulation. So when you sit in an ice bath, you don’t circulate blood like you usually would. Instead, you allow the blood to pool in that area and reduce inflammation.
You want to slow things down. You want to reduce muscle tension. You want to reduce swelling. You want to reduce pain. Cooling down the tissue reduces inflammation, which helps alleviate symptoms.
Cold therapy doesn’t necessarily mean you must go into a freezer to reap the benefits. You can make a nice cold compress if you have a regular old ice machine. Just fill a plastic baggie halfway with crushed ice and fold it over.
Place it on the affected area and hold it there for 20 minutes. Then let it melt and repeat once more.
While cold therapy isn’t a cure-all, it’s helpful for everything from treating injuries to helping prevent injury. I “ll recommend it to anyone who wants to improve performance or recovery. I think it’s essential to incorporate some cold therapy into every athlete’s routine, whether it’s during training or competition.
What are the major benefits? Backed by science!
Ice bath therapy is a passive therapy, meaning you don’t actively participate in the treatment. Apart from some gentle movements you might perform, you’re not actively moving or stretching your muscle groups during this treatment.
Some evidence suggests that contrast hydrotherapy might be effective for specific conditions and symptoms. Here’s what the research says.
1- Decreases swelling
A recent study found that a contrast bath reduces swelling caused by inflammation. Researchers tested the effectiveness of a contrast bath in reducing swelling in patients who had undergone knee surgery. They found that those who received the contrast bath experienced less swelling over the next 24 hours than those who did not.
The researchers suggested that the contrast bath works because it increases the fluid drains out of the injured area. This helps relieve the pressure that causes swelling.
2- Decreases muscle soreness
A study published in PLOS ONE examined how intense exercise affects strength and muscle soreness. Intensifying exercise leads to damage to your muscles. But it takes 24 hours for the pain to show up. So we are looking for a decrease in muscle soreness and muscle recovery.
Participants performed intense workouts like high-intensity interval training (HIIT), moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT), or no exercise. All groups lost some strength over the week, but the HIIT group experienced less loss in strength compared to the MICT group.
Both groups had greater levels of muscle soreness than the control group. However, the HIIT group showed lower levels of soreness than the MICT group.
The researchers suggest that the difference is due to the damaged muscle fiber type. Type II muscle fibers are responsible for movement and endurance.
In the case of the HIIT group, the researchers believe that most of the work done during the session involved type II muscle fibers. These fibers are generally larger and stronger than type I fibers. As such, the HIIT group suffered less damage to these fibers than the MICT group because they weren’t working as hard.
3- Reduces risk of injury
Ice baths are one of the best ways to recover quickly from exercise. They work by decreasing inflammation and swelling, which helps speed healing.
A study published in 2017 found that people who used ice baths following a workout had less muscle soreness and improved performance than those who didn’t.
You shouldn’t do too much ice bath therapy because it could cause frostbite. It would be best to start slowly and build up to 10 minutes per session.
You can make your ice bath by filling a sink full of water and adding ice cubes. Alternatively, you can buy a home spa kit that includes everything you need to make an effective ice bath.
4- They Can Help Cool Your Body Down
Ice baths are one of the most popular ways to reduce heat stress. They work because water molecules move faster than air molecules, meaning you don’t feel hot while immersed in them. An ice bath uses cold water to do exactly what it sounds like — chill you out.
One study in the Journal of Athletic Therapy & Performance found that participants experienced a significant drop in core body temperature following a 10-minute ice bath. 2 Researchers theorized that rapid cooling helped prevent muscle damage caused by extreme temperatures.
However, there are some downsides to ice baths. For starters, they take longer than traditional methods, such as drinking lots of fluids or applying wet towels to exposed skin. Another drawback is that they aren’t efficient.
You can’t just hop into a tub of ice water whenever you want; you have to schedule regular sessions. Still, they could be worth considering if you live where you can easily find ice baths.
5- Reduces fatigue
Athletes might feel less tired after ice bath therapy after heavy training.
6- Removes excess lactic acid
When you work out, lactic acid builds up in your muscles. This buildup is normal, but it causes muscle aches and fatigue. Lactic acid buildup can even cause cramping. However, there are some things you can do to relieve the symptoms. Here are four ways to help reduce the effects of lactic acid buildup.
Rest is the most important thing you can do to prevent lactic acid buildup. If you don’t give yourself enough recovery time, you’ll end up feeling worse rather than better. Take a break every hour or so during your workout. Stretch out your muscles and allow your blood flow to return to normal.
– Drink Water
Drink plenty of water throughout the day. In addition to helping flush toxins from your system, water helps keep your body hydrated.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that athletes who drank 8 ounces of water 30 minutes before exercising experienced less muscle pain than those who didn’t drink anything.
–Supplement With Magnesium
Magnesium is one of the best natural remedies for reducing lactic acid buildup. Studies show that people who take supplemental magnesium experience fewer muscle aches than those who don’t.
One study showed that participants who took 500 mg of magnesium thrice daily had lower lactate levels in their bloodstream than those who took a placebo pill.
-Take a nice ice bath
7- Improves quality of sleep
Melatonin is a natural hormone that makes your body feel tired and sleepy, which makes falling asleep easier. Taking an ice bath helps release melatonin. While warm bathing might slightly increase your level of melatonin, ice bathing causes an exceptionally high one.
8- It boosts your mental health
Ice baths are one of those things that everyone knows about but few try. They’re typically used to treat muscle soreness or stiffness, but several studies suggest there could be much more to the treatment than alleviating pain.
In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sports Medicine, researchers found that athletes who took an ice bath before the competition had a better performance during the event compared to athletes who didn’t take an ice bath.
This suggests that ice baths may help improve athletic performance.
Another study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience showed that taking an ice bath helped alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. These findings support previous research showing that exposure to cold temperatures can reduce stress and promote relaxation.
The authors of both studies argue that the effects of ice baths go beyond simply cooling muscles; they say that the body responds to cold temperatures by releasing endorphins — chemicals associated with feelings of well-being — which may explain why ice baths seem to work so well for treating mood disorders.
How long do athletes sit in ice baths?
It would be best to immerse yourself in cold water for 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the sport you practice.
A 2016 meta-analysis of 37 ice bath studies published in peer-reviewed journals found that athletes experienced the most significant improvements in strength, power, speed, and endurance when immersed in water temperatures between 10 to 15 degrees Celsius (50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit).
In some cases, the researchers reported increased muscle size and glycogen storage.
While you can ice your limbs, it’s best to submerge your whole body, so more vessels contract to flush away more significant quantities of metabolic waste during the process.
As a general rule, cold water contracts muscles faster than warm water, meaning that your muscles will work harder when entering the water. This makes sense because you don’t want to contract your muscles while trying to relax.
The optimal duration of immersion varies based on the athlete’s fitness level and the sport they are practicing. For example, elite soccer players typically spend 20 to 25 minutes submerged, whereas recreational runners might only need 10 to 15 minutes.
The time you spend in the ice bath depends on how much time you’ve got, how intense your workout is, and whether you’re warming up or cooling down afterward.
The best ways to recover after a challenging workout
Ice baths aren’t required but may help speed up recovery after strength training. If you have access to one, go ahead and take a cold bath once or twice weekly.
An excellent way to speed up your post-workout recovery is by receiving a massage.
If you can’t afford regular massage, active recovery—light stretches, foam rolling, or even dynamic range of motion exercises such as yoga—are just as effective as ice baths for recovery.
However, the most effective way to recover from an injury is also the simplest: eat and sleep well.
Replacing lost nutrients will help counteract the stress response that naturally occurs after a challenging workout.
The sooner you can enter a more relaxed parasympathetic state, the better it will be for your recovery.
Can ice baths improve your training performance?
Athletes often use cold water therapy during training sessions to help cool down and recover from intense exercise. But do ice baths improve athletic performance? And what exactly happens inside our bodies while we sit under a cold shower?
The short answer: Yes, ice baths can improve physical health and athletic performance.
Are there any risks of taking an ice bath?
If you have high blood pressure or cardiovascular diseases, you should check with your doctor before taking an ice bath after your workout. If you spend a lot of hours sitting down, hypothermia is a potential health risk.
As always, it’s essential to drink plenty of fluids while you are out in cold weather. I recommend getting up every 30 minutes or so and moving around. If you do nothing else, I suggest drinking some water.
In conclusion, if you’re looking to boost your metabolism after a workout, consider taking advantage of cold plunge ice baths.
Cold plunges have been shown to increase metabolic rate and improve muscle recovery. They also reduce inflammation, which helps speed healing.
And because they’re so refreshing, they give you a huge mental boost. Try it today!
So, next time, try it out yourself and let me know your thoughts in the comment below.