Running - Knowledge

Benefits of Ice Baths for Runners: A Quick Guide

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After an exhausting day of working out or running, what wouldn’t you do to relieve your aches and pains? You could try out numerous methods to soothe your cramped muscles like cold compresses, heating pads, muscle relief spray, and more. One scientifically proven method that will help you with these pains is an ice bath. What is an ice bath? It is nothing but an emersion technique that follows intense workouts in which most part of your body (up to your neck) is submerged in water. Also called cold therapy or cold treatment, this trick is frequently practiced by athletes and professional runners when they are in need of taking care of their calves and other aching muscles. There are innumerable benefits of ice bath, and if you know how to make one yourself, there’s nothing like it!

Table of Content:

  • The Science behind an Ice Bath
  • What Are Ice Baths and How to Use Them
  • How to Make Ice Bath
  • Top 12 Benefits of Ice Bath
  • The Side Effects
  • Summing Up

If you are in the vicinity of a training room, a bathtub, or even a large bucket, you could make your own ice bath. It takes only 10 to 15 minutes of staying submerged in the cold water and it can work wonders for your muscles. If you can find a gym or club that prepares ice baths it will be far easier than having to make one for yourself.

No matter how difficult or freezing it may seem, the most dedicated to attaining good relaxation will always find a way. Although many do recall the experience being extremely cold and hard to do, there are reasons behind the practice and how it helps your body.

Science Behind an Ice Bath

Sceince behind Ice Bath
How Does it Work?

If you’re wondering, “What does an ice bath do to your body?” here’s your answer.

Due to a study review conducted by an NGO called the Cochrane Collaboration, the effects of a post exercise practice have now be revealed to be very useful to treating soreness. The NGO examined and reviewed findings made in seventeen research papers focused on ice baths in 2012. They found evidence showing that post strenuous exercise, a cold water submersion could reduce muscle pain for the following couple of days.

Some of the studies also mentioned that after taking an ice bath, subjects reported less of a performance drop which is usually common after high intensity workouts or long distance runs.

To answer the “how cold is an ice bath supposed to be?” question, the studies kept their bath temperatures around 50 to 58 degrees Fahrenheit (12 to 15 degrees Celsius) and had the subjects submerged for a period of 12 minutes.

Immersion therapy, which is another way to say ice baths, is generally a good method of reducing cramps and performance drops as well. The studies found that the actual immersion of a person in the water rather than the cold temperature was responsible for benefits. This is due to the fact that when you are immersed, a pressure gradient is created in the water around your body. As you go deeper inside, the pressure increases.

When submerged in the water, you can stand up to feel a hydrostatic pull on your legs. As you work out and right after a session, the fluid in your blood combines with your muscles and this leads to a collection of blood at the ends of your legs and other limbs. With the hydrostatic pull, a counter effect occurs and the fluid moves back into your blood.

This reduces the pressure and blood moves back to the rest of your body. As a result of these effects, an increase in pressure on the outside of your body improves your heart capacity and pumping, to push more blood across the body. These three reactions to immersion therapy are what constitute the benefits of ice bath.  

The Effect of Cold Temperature

It is still under researched why cold water immersion benefits the body. Most studies are done with room temperature water and cold water mixed immersion.

However, it is known that one of the many benefits of ice bath is that removes the fluid from the muscles and diffuses it back into the blood, this results in a reduction in inflammation and soreness. Most people use ice packs to reduce the swelling at injured spots, but if they immersed themselves they would see numerous other benefits.

Another benefit of ice baths is that they reduce nerve impulses, which are the reason you feel the pain in the first place, and hence stopping these impulses temporarily can rid you of that aching feeling. It is believed that ice baths can even improve and prevent the onset serious muscular damage. Further research needs to be conducted for this to be proven.

What Are Ice Baths and How to Use Them

how to use ice baths
Here's How it Works

Ice baths are an inexpensive way to soothe yourself and your muscle and joints. They also help prevent a drop in performance in the days after you have an intense workout. All these benefits take care of the risk to serious injury and may even prevent muscle tears.

There are loads of athletes that swear by using the benefits of ice baths for a quick recovery from injuries.

Experts say that the best time for an ice bath is when you’re just done with rigorous workout that leaves your muscles sore. However, if you’re planning on doing strength exercises within an hour, it is best not to cool off your muscles.

How to Make Ice Bath

Method 1

  1. If you are more adventurous, you can get three ice bags and fill up your bathtub with cold water. Do not fill the tub all the way, as you will need to put the ice in. Since this is your first time taking an ice bath you can submerge only the lower part of your body, which is from the hips down.
  2. Settle down in the bath and when you get used to the temperature you may slowly lower the abdomen area into the bath.
  3. If you can handle it, submerge yourself until your neck.
  4. How do you take an ice bath? Ideally, you should start small, try to stay for 5 to 10 minutes in the ice bath, then the next time you get in the bath you can try to stay longer for up to 20 minutes. Remember to never stay longer than 20 minutes in the bath.

Livingit Tip:
To take your mind off the freezing cold bath you are currently immersed in, why not drink a hot beverage, read a book or listen to some music.

Method 2

If you are a frequent runner or do not sustain injuries too often, then you can try this milder approach to an ice bath.

  1. For this method, take paper cups, fill them with water and put them in the freezer.
  2. After remaining in the freezer for a while the water in the cups should be frozen and you can tear away the paper cup from the ice.
  3. When you are planning to soothe your muscle aches you can take this big ice cube and apply it to the spots that are sore.
  4. You can rub the ice over your legs and arms and massage the cold sensation into them. Put a towel under the place you want to apply the ice too, to avoid discomfort.
  5. Do this for around ten minutes per spot.

Benefits of Ice Bath

the benefits of ice baths
Feels Great!

Here are some of the ways you can really benefit from ice baths (cold therapy):

1. Reduces Weary Performance

From what we discussed earlier, you know that the benefits of ice baths are from the immersion of the body in the water. The bath itself gives numerous benefits apart from the cold water or ice. The pressure gradient that surrounds the body when immersed is what causes a hydrostatic pull that reinstills blood flow around the body and especially in the muscles.

The fluid that leaves the blood and enters the muscles can be absorbed back into the bloodstream due to an ice bath. Pressure will push the blood that collects at your extremities away from the concentrated area and across the body again. The exterior pressure increases the working of the heart and improves the heart muscle’s ability to pump better.

Ice baths can also substantially reduce the pain in your feet caused by various injuries caused while running.

2. Reduces Inflammation and Secondary Damage

Since the cold water immersion helps move fluid back into the muscles, you can effectively reduce fluid build-up and inflammation. This reduces the risk of getting a further injury or secondary damage. This is the reason why the cold compress is highly recommended by doctors and physicians. Especially after an injury or intense workout, you can see the changes that occur after an ice bath.

Also, cold temperatures temporarily dull your nerve impulses, which in turn reduces the pain localized in that area. This can relax you and allow you to maintain good performance in the following days after your sustained injury.

3. Burns Body Fat

Another benefit of ice baths is that it helps in the process of weight loss. When you immerse yourself in an ice bath, your body will try to heat you up and thus your mechanism to generate body heat will kick start. This means your metabolism starts working faster to keep you warm and protected from the freezing cold bath. By using your metabolism, the body is breaking down carbohydrates and the fat stored in the body to produce heat. This is an easy way to burn fat and effective for soothing your muscles.

4. Helps Maintain Healthy Hair

Cold water can really benefit your hair if you use it every time you bathe. By getting into an ice bath and submerging your head inside, your hair gets wet and the cold water works to close your hair cuticles. This helps maintain the structure of your hair and improves the strength. By strengthening your hair cuticles, this prevents your hair from easily breaking. If you do a cold bath as well as a massage, it can improve blood circulation and smoothen your scalp.

5. Improves Blood Flow

When your body gets into the cold bath, your blood circulation will actually slow down. This effect gets reversed when your metabolism kicks into work. Your body actually improves the circulation of blood, as your metabolism requires blood flow to break down fats and generate heat. This, as a result, improves circulation and allows your body to transfer nutrients faster and more efficiently.

6. Gives a Natural Glow to Your Face

Cold water relaxes your face by closing the pores on your skin. It makes the pores contract, and you are left with a tight and smooth face. If your pores are left open, there is a possibility that dirt and dust can enter and clog these pores. Then you could develop blackheads or pimples. Cold water improves blood circulation in the face, closes your pores and helps prevent future wrinkles, acne, and dullness.

7. Mentally Relaxing

A cold bath or shower can help boost metabolism and thus blood flow, this can result in an improved mental and physical conditions. You can clear your mind and thus improve your day. Start out first thing in the morning with a cold shower and you can stay focused and prepared for anything that comes your way. Get this boost of morale every day by just making a little change to your daily regime.

8. Increases Vitality in Men

It is commonly known that if men bathe using hot water too often or at temperatures too high then this can result in a reduction in vitality. Therefore if you use a cold water bath, you can reduce this risk and improve the flow of blood in the body.

9. Relaxes the Muscles

As seen before, ice cold water helps remove the water from the muscles and diffuse it back into the blood. This relaxes the muscles instantly, leaving you with tension-free muscles that are ready to get back to work!

10. Prevents Sore Muscles

We know that relaxed muscles are more flexible, and the more flexible the muscles, the less chance of them getting sore. So, ice baths not only relax your muscles, they also prevent them from soreness.  

11. Wakes You Up in the Morning

When the ice cold water hits your body, it activates your nerve ends, instantly waking you up in the morning and keeping you active and fresh all day long (well, most of the day anyway).

12. Improves Immune System

Another benefit of ice baths is that they improve your immune system. How? Well, experts say that cold treatment increases your metabolism. And, as your metabolism increases, so does your immune system.

The Side Effects of Ice Baths

ice bath side effects
That's Way Too Cold! (Source)

Although there are numerous benefits, you could also come across a few side effects of ice baths. These are the following:

  • Potential Hypothermia

The most harmful side effects of an ice bath is that you could develop hypothermia. This could occur because your body may not be able to cope with the extreme change in temperature. The metabolism that your body uses to heat you could not be able to effectively generate heat or burn fat fast enough. The thermoregulatory mechanism is pressured to work harder and could malfunction. This strains your nerves and can also put your body into a state of shock.

It is very important that you do not stay in an ice bath for more than 20 minutes and make sure that you do only stay as long as you think you can. Do not push yourself as everyone reacts to the cold in different ways.

  • Can Cause Nerve Pain and Arthritis

Adding to the worrisome side effect of hypothermia, you could also develop a severe nerve problem due to the strain on your body to make heat. This results in damage to your nerve and joints. The constriction of blood vessels in your body also makes the oxygen absorption by organs difficult and could result in pain far worse than any pain you get when you running injuries.

Summing Up

Benefits of Ice Bath
Don't Forget to Have Fun!

So there you have it, the benefits of ice baths for your relaxation, and muscle pain relief and how to take an ice bath. If you remember to time yourself, stay within your comfort zone, and not strain your body, you can enjoy all that these cold baths have to offer.

Have a good soothing ice bath, heal those cramped muscles!

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Running - General
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