Do’s and Don’ts of Ice Baths

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DO YOU USE ICE BATHS TO RECOVER FROM YOUR LONG RUNS AND RACES? ICE BATHS MAY OFFSET ANY DAMAGE DONE IF YOU USE THEM CORRECTLY!
The general theory behind this type of cold therapy is that the exposure to cold helps to combat the microtrauma (small tears) in muscle fibers and resultant soreness caused by intense or repetitive exercise. The ice bath is thought to constrict blood vessels, flush waste products, and reduce swelling and tissue breakdown. Then, as the tissue warms and the increased blood flow speeds circulation, the healing process is jump-started. The advantage of an ice bath submersion is that a large area of intertwined musculature can be treated, rather than limiting the cold therapy to a concentrated area with a localized icepack.
Should you use ice baths as a routine activity to help you recover after your long runs and put you in a better position to get you to the finish line of the marathon? I highly recommend ice baths and have used them myself to prevent damage to the intertwined muscle groups that may not heal by simply placing an ice pack on one area that I have tweaked. If you ask a variety of people, you are likely to receive a varying degree of significance placed on the benefits of ice baths. However, most agree that while it may not be guaranteed to help or outright prevent an injury, it certainly can’t hurt. That said, my recommendation is to treat this much like any other part of your training program: experiment with ice baths for your next few runs or long runs, so you know how your body reacts and how any nagging injuries feel on post-bath runs. Then if you decide to use an ice bath as a recovery tool after your longest training run and after the marathon itself, you can rest assured you have tested it out.
Here are some Dos and Don’ts of ice bathing:
  • DO: Be conservative with water temperature as you get started. Most rehabilitation specialists recommend a water temperature between 54 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Consider starting a bit higher and inch this downward a degree or two each exposure.
  • DO: Recognize that each individual will have his or her own cold threshold. Play within your personal comfort zone.
  • DON’T: Overexpose! At the recommended temperature range above, 10 minutes should be sufficient. Unless you have history with ice baths, do not exceed 20 minutes.
  • DON’T: Assume colder is better. Spending a prolonged period of time in water colder than 54 degrees could be dangerous.
  • DO: Be aware that moving water is colder water. Much like the wind chill created when you run, if there are jets in your ice bath and the water that is warmed at the skin’s surface gets pushed away, the resulting impact of the water will be cooler than measured by the thermometer.
  • DON’T: Assume 54 to 60 degrees or bust. Cool water (say, 60 to 75 degrees) can still be beneficial, as can active recovery (very light exercise to facilitate blood flow to musculature).
  • DO: Seek to simplify. Building a personal ice bath daily can be tough, especially if you have a very short window of time to fit in your workouts as it is! Look for a gym that has a cold plunge, or if you live close to a river, lake or the ocean, keep tabs on the current water temperature. I find that filling the tub with cool water and then dumping whatever ice I have in my refrigerator’s bin works perfectly for my ice baths.
  • DON’T: Rush to take a warm shower immediately after the icebath. The residual cooling effect and gradual warming are ideal. Consider initial warming options of a sweatshirt, blanket and/or warm drink – but DO take the shower if you are unable to warm yourself.
Article adapted from Active.com