Intense activity causes itty bitty tears in the muscle fibers (microtrauma). This muscle breakdown is important as the repair process that follows makes muscles grow and become stronger. A downside is stiffness, pain or soreness a day or two after the activity, (delayed onset muscle soreness – DOMS), which can interfere with training.
Ice baths are believed to help by causing the blood vessels in the muscles to constrict and flush out waste including lactic acid. The cold therapy can also reduce inflammation. When the muscles warm back up and blood circulation increases, the healing process can be improved.
The ice bath is a common practice many competitive/elite athletes use after intense training to help prevent injury, reduce soreness and recover faster. Studies vary regarding the efficacy of this practice, but it remains highly recommended in endurance running circles. I’m neither competitive or elite, but wanting to ward off soreness, I figured aside from the pain – what could it hurt to try? (tee hee)
To research the how to, I went to YouTube and saw clips of people cussing and losing their mind as they eased into tubs of ice water.
I have a high tolerance for pain and a low tolerance for cold, so it was not clear where this would shake out. But I took the plunge.
I won’t front, taking an ice bath is beyond uncomfortable – but well worth the results. I’ve added them to my post long/hard run routine and believe this step, in combination with PraiseMoves stretching, and stick massages have helped ward of injury and sore muscles.
Here’s the process I use to make ice baths bearable:
Keep the top part of my body as warm and dry as possible: Our lower body can tolerate cold much better than our upper body. Keeping my arms, head and torso toasty helps me forget about the part that is absolutely freezing. I warm the bathroom using a space heater placed far enough away to be safe, but close enough to feel the heat. Then I put on long sleeved shirt and tie it around my waist to keep it from getting wet.
Ease in the cold: Next comes the “how to boil a frog” method in reverse. Get into the empty tub and turn on the cold water. This allows the body to transition as it slowly fills with cool water.
When the water is waist high and both legs are submerged, its time to grit and bear it. I roll up a bath towel, squeeze it with all my might and allow myself one good screech as my husband pours a 16 pound bag of ice into the tub and sets the timer. (10-15 minutes.) Don’t go too long or you can risk cold injury.
Refocus the mind: After the initial shock, it doesn’t take long to adjust as long as I take my focus off how ding-dang cold I am. I drink a cup a warm herbal tea, read a magazine, watch tv, sing or pray. Fill the time and my mind with things that bring me comfort.
Rewarm the muscles: After the ice bath, I reward myself with a warm shower. Rewarming the muscles is important to prevent stiffness.
If soreness is a problem, give an ice bath a try and see if it works for you.