Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ice Baths--Recovery on the Rocks

One of the best ways to be able to help your body handle a regular routine of intense and/or high mileage workouts is to plunge feet first into the recovery ritual of ice baths. What does such a bone chilling experience have to offer? The benefits lie mostly in the reduction of post workout inflammation and muscle soreness. Many endurance athletes come back from those harder days feeling much more refreshed the next day if they implement this cheap and easy post workout therapy. In fact this is one of the secrets that elite/pro athletes consider to be a necessary part of training and racing. So, how do you properly bath in ice and survive?

How do draw up an ice bath? Ice baths begin with filling the tub with cool water that you can still handle getting into. While it fills, go grab a bag of ice and your recovery drink! Then, throw on a long sleeve shirt, keep your shorts on and jump into the cool water. It will take a minute or two to get used to the cold water at which point you can dump the bag of ice into the water. You will need to sit in the tub for about 10-15 minutes depending on how cold it actually is. The colder the temperature, the less time you need. So, if you only want to spend 5 minutes in the tub, then drop the temp to the lowest safe temperature of 45 degrees F. Otherwise, keeping it at 50-60 will work just fine if you sit for the longer time. And really, sitting longer is not that big of a deal because once you get numb it is a lot more bearable. Just grab a magazine and read for a little bit.

What do you do if you don’t get home from your workout for a while? Don’t stress, the ice bath will still work. Also, if you finish your long run, trail run, hard bike ride or whatever near a cool body of water or river, then dunk your legs right then and there before going home. The sooner the better… for sure.

How often should you use ice baths? If you have time, then you would jump in after any hard or long day. It is okay to use cold therapy often and regularly. At the very least, take an ice bath after those few key hard and long workouts that you have maybe never done before and are really trashed after.

When should you take a hot shower after the ice bath? Following cold with hot is a very common therapy practice. Right after is okay, but waiting 30 minutes is better. Whenever you get in, you can spend a couple minutes doing some light stretching to help restore flexibility to the muscle tissue.


Christine said...

That was very helpful. Thanks, i have been dealing with a strained hamstring on and off for a few months now. I have taken cold baths and they seem to work, but i am sometimes unassure about hot showers/baths afterwards.

Salt Lake Running said...

Taking a hot shower/bath afterwards is a technique used by many people. The hot therapy after the cold will help the blood rush back in after the muscle has been chilled. Sometimes this really helps those with injuries that occur in hard to heal places like the achilles that don't have good blood supply normally. It can, quite possibly, help a hamstring as that muscle goes very deep and can benefit from cold/hot/cold(again) therapy. However, it may not be effective for everyone. YOu will have to experiment to see what combination helps you feel the best. But for the most part, if you are dealing with inflammed tissue, then the best thing to do is always finish with cold treatment to keep that inflamation down.

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