Health

Are Ice Baths Worth The Torture?

Are ice baths really worth it? Check out the pros and cons of this recovery ritual.

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*Courtesy of RunHaven

Long-distance runners do many things that the normal population would never consider. We wear compression socks under our pants at work. We forgo happy hours in order to get to bed early for Saturday’s long run. We say things like, “I only ran 12 miles today.” One of the most bizarre habits of long-distance runners, however, is a tradition steeped in torture and masochism: the ice bath.

Runners who participate in this activity will tell you there is a definite way to “do” the ice bath. First, you stop at your local grocery store and buy a 10- to 20-pound bag of ice. Secondly, you go home, run cold water into your tub and get naked from the waist down. Then, you put on a down parka and grab a cup of hot coffee or a shot of whiskey. Next comes the fun. You immerse your lower body into the cold water while yelling to your significant other to pour in the ice, a few handfuls at a time. Don’t be surprised if you yelp like a small child — this is normal. Lastly, you set your timer for 10 minutes and promise yourself you will not emerge from this torture chamber before then.

This all sounds pretty awful, and it is — especially after a long run done in freezing cold temperatures. Is it worth it, and if so, why? Here are the pros and cons of using an ice bath as part of your long run recovery.

Pros:

  • The icy cold water can help to reduce inflammation in your legs.
  • Ice baths can decrease muscle soreness up to 20%.
  • The icy water helps to flush waste products and aids in tissue repair. “The theory is that the icy water causes the blood in tired legs to recede. When the legs warm up again they are filled with ‘new’ oxygenated blood which invigorates the muscles.” (Daily Mail, 2010)
  • The bath can simultaneously treat the entire lower body as opposed to using an ice pack, which only treats one small area.

Cons:

  • It is a miserable experience.
  • Immersing in an ice bath — especially too quickly or when the water is lower than 59 degrees — can shock the body, raising blood pressure and heart rate.
  • The benefits of the ice bath are relatively inconclusive, so this torture may be for nothing.
  • If over-used, the ice bath could limit muscle strengthening.

In conclusion, there is nothing that says you have to take an ice bath. As with all things running, you need to find out what works for you. If the bath energizes you, aids in your recovery and makes you feel like a badass, go for it!

Sources:
WebMD, “Ice Baths for Sore Muscles Can Work”; Active.com, “8 Ice Baths Dos and Don’ts”; Daily Mail, “Painful Ice Baths Can Do More Harm Than Good

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