6 Ice Bath Benefits To Convince You To Take The Plunge

woman taking ice bath

When it comes to staying at the top of your lifting game, a few factors matter as much as a high-quality recovery plan between training sessions. Some athletes prefer foam rolling, while others swear by low-intensity jogs on their “off” days. For others, it’s all about embracing the cold — specifically, cold water immersion (CWI).

In recent years, ice baths, a more colloquial term for CWI, have grown in popularity. Wim Hof, a fitness guru who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in his underwear and is a staunch supporter of cold exposure, and celebrities like Joe Rogan frequently opine on the benefits of sitting still in an ice water-filled tub. Ice baths are used by high-level strength and power athletes to aid recovery after high-intensity competitions and training sessions. Although the exact mechanisms are unknown, some contradictory findings suggest that CWI may or may not be an effective recovery alternative for weightlifters, powerlifters, and other athletes.

Here are the hard facts and findings on CWI, the potential benefits and potential long-term negative effects on muscle recovery and adaptation as we currently know them.

Benefits Of Ice Baths

  • Decreased Muscle Soreness
  • Increased Perceived Recovery
  • Faster Recovery from Intense Cardio
  • Improved Recovery from High Impact Training
  • Reduced Cardiac StressA Stronger Immune System

Decreased Muscle Soreness

According to a 2017 study, CWI can reduce inflammation and muscle soreness after intensive bouts of training. .The study had 15 participants immerse themselves in water that was 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) for 15 minutes after their workouts. A control group rested in ambient (room temperature) air.

Researchers found that CWI was effective at reducing the inflammatory marker neopterin two hours after participants’ mixed martial arts training sessions. In other words, 15 minutes in cold water may help you reduce muscle soreness after training rather than just chilling in room temperature air.

woman taking ice bath

Increased Perceived Recovery

Coldwater immersion can also make athletes feel as if they are recovering more quickly. According to a 2017 study, MMA competitors who dunked in cold water after working out were less sore than those who did not. A 2018 study also used 15 minutes of cold water immersion (15 degrees Celsius, or 50 degrees Fahrenheit) after a mixed martial arts competition for participants.

Participants who sat up to their torsos in cold water baths performed worse on various fitness tests shortly after immersion (sprinting, for example). Athletes, on the other hand, consistently reported feeling better after CWI, including sleeping better, feeling less stressed, and reporting less fatigue. In other words, if you enjoy slipping into a cold bath, it will most likely help you. There’s probably no need to force yourself if you don’t.

Faster Recovery from Cardio

Do you need to rest quickly in between bouts of intense cardio? In a 2010 study, 41 elite cis male athletes were subjected to 20-minute bouts of exhausting, all-out effort, intermittent exercise. These high-intensity cardio sessions were followed by a 15-minute recovery period.

Those who used cold water immersion during the 15-minute period recovered faster than those who did not. So, if you want to do multiple bouts of all-out effort, 10 degrees Celsius cold water immersion in between sessions can help you come back even stronger.

Improved Recovery from High Impact Training

A 2010 study discovered that athletes who engage in high-intensity training may benefit from cold water immersion. This is especially true if you’re training in a high-impact manner.

CWI appears to benefit MMA fighters in the short term, with athletes reporting feeling less sore and inflamed after sessions and simulated competitions.  If you’re feeling jumbled after a particularly strenuous deadlift or squat session, dunk yourself in some cold water.

Reduced Cardiac Stress

Coldwater immersion after your workouts, especially if you’re training in the heat, may be able to help relieve your cardiac stress from exercise. According to a 2019 study, CWI may not reduce physiological stress or improve hormonal recovery. However, after 45 minutes of cycling in a hot environment, the study discovered that CWI helped participants reduce their heart rate faster than passive recovery.

May Boost Your Immune System

A 2014 study looked into the idea of people strengthening their immune system response by combining meditation, breathing techniques, and cold exposure. After participants in the study were exposed to a bacterial infection, it was discovered that the group that used the aforementioned techniques experienced fewer symptoms.

The researchers note that they think deep breathing was more influential. However, deep breathing often goes hand-in-hand with colder exposure, and they do think cold exposure can help build a stronger immune system over time.

woman taking ice bath

Who Should Try Ice Baths

Ice baths aren’t for everyone, and they can be quite unpleasant, especially for the uninitiated. However, if they’re all the rage at your CrossFit box, it’s understandable to wonder if they’re right for you. In the end, it comes down to your training objectives — and your personal preferences.

Martial Artists

If your training involves a lot of being punched or otherwise slammed around, CWI may be able to help. Martial artists who train for their sport in high-impact environments — or who want to recover quickly after a competition — may choose to brave some icy waters.

Athletes who Train at High Intensities

High-intensity training can cause a lot of soreness, not to mention mental fatigue. Coldwater immersion may be exactly what you need to relieve your immediate muscle aches and prepare for your next session.

Athletes Who Enjoy The Cold

If you enjoy the cold, you can benefit from cold water immersion regardless of your sport or training methods. If you believe it will make you feel better, it is very likely that it will. That is why, according to the studies discussed above, perceived recovery after CWI is high, even if your hormone levels remain unchanged.

How to Include Ice Baths In Your Program

If ice baths sound like a good addition to your recovery routine, you’ll need to be strategic about how you incorporate them into your plan. As with most things in training, start with your goals and make sure you’re gradually changing up your routine.

Assess Your Goals

A 2020 study discovered that cold water immersion may be detrimental to hypertrophy in the long run. Muscle biopsies performed after prolonged immersion in cold water revealed that the cold exposure reduced the levels of proteins required to build muscles after training sessions. Keep this in mind as you consider incorporating ice baths into your program. If hypertrophy is your goal, you should avoid CWI.

However, if your goal is to recover faster between intense sessions or experience less muscle soreness after a high-impact workout, you may want to proceed.

Find Your Tolerance Level

The majority of the studies discussed in this article had athletes immerse themselves in cold water for 15 minutes (around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, or 10 degrees Celsius). That’s fantastic if it sounds like a walk in the park. However, if the thought of even 15 seconds in cold water makes you shiver, remember to gradually increase your tolerance.

Just as you gradually increase your training load, you’ll need to gradually establish an effective ice bath routine. If 15 minutes is too long, start with 30 seconds or a couple of minutes and gradually increase the time each week until you reach a level you’re comfortable with.

Periodize Your Recovery

A periodized approach to recovery, according to a 2021 study, can help athletes benefit the most from CWI. Just as you don’t train in the same way all year, you don’t have to recover in the same way all year. According to the findings of this study, you should base your CWI approach on what you’re doing with your training.

Are you in the midst of a particularly high-intensity or high-impact training period? Are you on your way back from a competition? CWI could be ideal for you. However, if you’re in a hypertrophy block, you might want to hold off on the cold water. If you want to get the most out of your CWI, schedule it in the same way you schedule your training.

Should You Try Cold Water Immersion?

If CWI immersion is detrimental to hypertrophy goals and potential long-term training success, how come so many athletes swear by it? What gives? It seems that it’s a matter of perspective.

If you’re evaluating CWI’s effectiveness, you should consider how you’re measuring effectiveness. If your goal is to make you feel better, and it does, that’s fantastic. If your goal is to gain muscle or improve your performance, you may want to stick to more tried-and-true recovery methods.

rahul

Rahul aims to cover the latest trends in the entertainment industry with his own unique perspective thrown in for a good measure. He loves dogs and reading about topics ranging from sports to science and technology. Rahul has a master's degree in exercise science and holds NSCA CSCS and CISSN certification

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