Ice Bath: Does It Really Help in After Workout Muscle Recovery?

Photo credit: Bigstockphoto
Photo credit: Bigstockphoto

It’s common for athletes and those who work out to immerse themselves to icy water after training to minimize muscle pain, prevent swelling, and recover faster from muscle strain especially after intense competitions or practices. The ice bath is a standard routine among the most elite of pro athletes while others utilize contrast water therapy, alternating cold water and warm water to soothe tired or inflamed muscles. But is an ice bath really beneficial to the muscles? Does it really help boost muscle recovery after training?

The Ice Bath Theory

According to the ice bath theory, intense exercise cause tiny tears in the muscles called microtrauma. When the muscle is damaged, it excretes chemical irritants that stimulates the pain receptors and this is why we feel pain after straining our muscles.These tears damage the muscle cells.One way to stop this is by immersing the affected area in cold water 24 hours to 72 hours after exercising. The ice bath has the following benefits:

  • Drains fluid waste products like lactic acid away from muscle tissues and constrict the blood vessels.
  • Decreases metabolism and slows down the physiological processes of the body
  • Minimizes tissue breakdown and prevents swelling, soreness, and inflammation of the muscles.

When you warm yourself after an ice bath, the blood will flow at a much faster rate in a bid to normalize the body temperature. This will result in faster healing process. While there is no fixed time for cold immersions, most trainers recommend around 5 to 10 minutes in an ice bath and not exceeding 20 minutes in cold immersion. The ideal temperature for an ice bath is around 12 to 15 degrees Celsius.

Benefits of Cold Water Immersion

According to a clinical test conducted by the Health and Rehabilitation Sciences department at the University of Ulster in Country Antrim, Northern Ireland, cold water immersion seem to yield positive effectsin the body. Apart from boosting the body’s natural healing abilities, below are other benefits you get from an ice bath:

Minimizes Soreness

In around 17 clinical trials that involved more than 360 participants that either rested or immersed themselves in an ice bath after resistance training, running, or cycling, research concludes that cold water bath seem to relieve sore muscles faster, which cuts the recovery time radically.

May Help Burn Fat

Ice bath may do more than just soothe tired muscles, it may actually help you burn off more fat! A book published by Tim Ferriss titled The Four Hour Body explored the possibility of ice baths boosting a person’s metabolic rate. In the book, Ferriss claims that an ice bath can help a person burn fat by as much as 300%! What’s more, an article by LiveStrong is backing up this claim in an article. The write-up states that:

“A NASA scientist told ABC News that’s no hyperbole. In studying the effects of temperature on astronauts, he saw people’s metabolism boost by 20 percent in environments as mild as 60 degrees. A Joslin researcher told National Public Radio that 3 oz. of brown fat could burn 400 to 500 calories daily.”

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