Did you know that ice bath therapy comes with an impressive range of proven health benefits that are guaranteed to keep your body and mind performing at peak levels?
It is no secret that athletes and health enthusiasts often jump into an ice bath after a long race or a particularly intense workout. They know that cold therapy works, and that exposing the body to extreme cold is a sure-fire way of kicking the immune system into a higher gear.
But what are the exact benefits of ice bath submersion, and how is it done correctly? Keep reading to learn this and much more.
Cold therapy facts
Cold baths have been used for decades to alleviate muscle soreness and boost the immune system, as well as to increase the body’s natural resiliency and ability to produce energy.
While some studies have been carried out to irrefutably prove the physical benefits of ice baths, so far, they have all been inconclusive. This is at least in part due to the very small sample sizes of these studies (One focus only on young males aged 19 to 24 who were working out three times weekly).
In the meantime, professional athletes and health gurus alike cannot stop raving about the health-and-energy boosting effects of cold therapy, which include delayed onset muscle soreness, the reduction of lactic acid and metabolic waste post workout, the shortening of the recovery process of tired muscles, the declogging of arteries, the prevention of tissue breakdown, and the reawakening and rebooting of the entire central nervous system.
Let us take a closer look at what just some of these effects are, before moving on to looking at how you can tap into the power of ice baths yourself.
Potential benefits of cold water immersion
What are the health benefits you can expect from cold water therapy, and are they worth the initial discomfort that cold immersion inevitably entails? Here is a non-exhaustive list of some of the effects you can expect to experience when you take the plunge into the ice cold tub.
Eases sore and aching muscles
Perhaps the best known effect of immersing yourself in ice cold water is the ability of the practice to soothe and alleviate muscle aches and soreness – particularly post in the wake of an intense workout.
If you want to experience less pain and want to encourage your muscles to recover faster after a gruelling training session, nothing beats cold exposure. Taking an ice bath after your workout, particularly after a sessions where you have really been pushing yourself and your body to or even beyond the limit, full-body coldwater immersion is a much more effective way of getting to all of the sore muscles than simply placing an ice pack where it hurts the most.
Alleviating muscle soreness can help with muscle growth and recovery.
Reduces inflammatory response post workout
Hardcore workout causes your muscles to have an inflammatory response – particularly if you’ve neglected to warm up properly beforehand.
Sometimes cold water immersion is the easiest way for you to lower your core body temperature, which causes your blood vessels to contract. When the blood vessels constrict, this reduces blood flow to your muscles. The reduced influx of blood inhibits the ability of your muscles to produce lactic acid, which is what causes sore muscles.
Reducing muscle inflammation can help your muscles recover faster from intense exercise and can dramatically shorten the recovery time you need between this and future workouts.
Activates your nervous system
The nervous system consist of the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system, each dividing further into several sub-systems, including the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic system.
Together, the different aspects of your nervous system control the functions of your body and mind. When you immerse yourself in an ice bath, the cold activates your nervous system and kicks it into full alertness and action. The cold water immediately quickens your breath, your heart rate, and your mental function.
If you take ice baths on a regular basis, the effects of the cold water on the nervous system accrue, meaning they stack up and become amplified. Regular ice baths galvanise your entire circulatory system into full wakefulness and functioning.
Weakens the impact of heat and humidity
Warm and humid weather can have a detrimental impact on your physical performance, but taking an ice cold bath before you hit the running track – or simply, the day’s activities – will lower your core body temperature by a few degrees, which can be enough to give you the increased energy you need.
Strengthens your vagus nerve
The vagus nerve is central to the parasympathetic nervous system, and its function is to supply and connect the heart, the lungs and the upper respiratory tract.
Cold water therapy trains your vagus nerve, which means you will be able to face high-stress situations with greater calm and ease.
Increases athletic performance
Taking an ice bath prior to an intense training session can lead to dramatically improved performance when you know you have to perform to the highest level on the running track or at the gym.
Cold showers have a similar effect, but nothing works as well as ice water when it comes to preparing the entire body for next-level performance.
Lowers blood pressure and improves circulation
If you are struggling with high blood pressure, cold water therapy may be the answer, or at leat one of them.
When you immerse your body in an ice cold tub, the pressure of your blood is reduced, as does your heart rate. In addition to this, your circulation improves and it is even possible to clear congested arteries in this manner.
Tapping into the power of ice baths
Now that we have taken a detailed look at some of the benefits of cold water baths, the next thing you are going to want to know is how to prepare for your own ice bathing experience. Most likely, you are also going to want to know what the potential risks and side effects to cold water therapy are and how to avoid them. Keep reading for a breakdown of the how-to side of cold water therapy.
How to prepare for your ice bath experience
Preparing an ice bath is wonderfully simple. All you really need is a bathtub, plenty of ice cubes and thermometer.
If you are brand new to ice baths, you may want to start by simply bathing in colder water than usual, with only a minimal amount of ice added. As you get more comfortable and more experienced with the process, you can up the proportion of ice to the proportion of water you pour in the tub.
The temperature of your ice bath should be approximately 10–15° Celsius, or 50–59° Fahrenheit. Use a thermometer to ensure that the temperature is right.
Too much of a good thing can turn into a problem, and ice baths are no exception. Make sure that you do not stay in your ice bath for more than 10-15 minutes max.
You also want to time your ice baths right – as soon as possible after a hardcore workout is the best time to take the plunge.
The effects of cold therapy can be enjoyed to varying degrees. Cold therapy can be as simple and direct as applying a bag of ice cubes to a sore hamstring, or it can involve visiting a full-body cryotherapy chamber.
However, much of the same affects can be experienced at home using just your bathtub and plenty of ice cubes, either from your own fridge or from a convenience store. To get as much as possible out of your ice bath, immerse your entire body – or as much of it as possible.
Risks to consider
The first and probably most obvious side effect of immersing your body in ice cool water is the discomfort associated with cold temperatures.
One important risk to consider is hypothermia, which can set in if you stay submerged in your ice bath for too long. You really only want to aim for a few minutes before getting back out again.
For most people, this is as far as side effects go, as long as you only stay in the ice bath for a couple of minutes as is recommended.
For those who have a cardiovascular disease or blood circulation or pressure poblem there are a few additional risks to consider. When you lower your body into an ice bath , you simultaneously lower core body temperature. This can be risky if you already have an impaired blood flow and circulation. In rare cases, you could be at risk of cardiac arrest or stroke.
If you suffer from diabetes, whether type 1 or 2, you should also be extra careful about cold immersion, as your ability to maintain your core temperature during dramatic temperature changes is likely to be impaired.
If you think this any of this might apply to you, consult with a medical professional before experimenting with ice baths or other forms of cold therapy.
Cold water immersion Q & A
If you are still left with any questions about cold water therapy, I hope that you will find them answered here.
Are ice baths good for you?
Although the benefits of ice baths have not been definitively proven, professional athletes and health professionals have long sworn by them. Ice baths have a host of potential benefits that can dramatically improve your health and your athletic performance.
How many tomes a week should you take an ice bath?
There is no hard and fast rules about how often you should take an ice bath. It similar to working out, in that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and not everyone has the time and resources to commit to working out or taking ice baths daily.
One thing is for certain, however. Some of the effects of cold therapy – including a strengthened vagus nerve and overall better immune system – are known to accumulate with repeated exposure to the ice cold water.
How long do athletes sit in ice baths?
Athletes who have worked up their tolerance of icy temperatures and extreme physical conditions are usually able to sit in ice baths for longer than the average person. An athlete’s ice bath could last anywhere between a couple of minutes to over an hour.
How long should you soak in an ice bath?
How long you should sit in an ice bath is going to depend on a few different factors, including the overall condition of your health and your level of tolerance and experience with icy cold temperatures.
If you are brand new to the ice baths, don’t fall for the temptation to push yourself to stay in the tub for longer than you should.